Islanders Top 20 prospects, Fall 2009

By Sean Kass

Top 20 at a Glance

1. John Tavares, C
2. Calvin de Haan, D
3. Kirill Petrov, RW
4. Mikko Koskinen, G
5. Jesse Joensuu, LW
6. Aaron Ness, D
7. Trevor Smith, C
8. Robin Figren, LW
9. Jason Gregoire, LW
10. Rhett Rakhshani, RW
11. Corey Trivino, C
12. Travis Hamonic, D
13. Anders Nilsson, G
14. Justin DiBenedetto, C
15. Mark Katic, D
16. Matt Donovan, D
17. Jyri Niemi, D
18. David Toews, C
19. Casey Cizikas, C
20. David Ullstrom, C

1. John Tavares, C, 18

Acquired: 1st round, 1st overall, 2009

The top overall selection in the 2009 NHL Entry draft figures to be a big part of the Islanders future. Tavares holds the OHL record for career goals and in the process, he broke Wayne Gretzky’s OHL record for most goals by a 16-year-old with 72 in 2006-07. He split his last OHL season between the Oshawa Generals and the London Knights, recording 58 goals and 46 assists in 56 games. Tavares represented Team Canada in the 2008 and 2009 World Junior Championships, earning gold both times. In 2009, was named the tournament’s most valuable player, posting eight goals and seven assists in six games. He is expected to step right into the NHL and improve the Islanders anemic offense.    

2. Calvin de Haan, D, 18

Acquired: 1st round, 12th overall, 2009

de Haan had a strong debut in the OHL, posting eight goals and 55 assists in 63 games and winning the OHL Rookie of the Year award. Tavares and de Haan began the year together with Oshawa, and it was after Tavares was traded and de Haan’s production stayed steady that his stock started to skyrocket. He also won the puck control relay at the OHL Skills Competition and performed admirably at the U18 World Championships with six assists in six games. After trading up twice, the Islanders selected him 12th overall in the 2009 NHL Entry draft. de Haan has been praised as a strong skater and excellent passer, but he is far from ready due to his physical development. Although he is six feet tall, he weighs just 170 pounds. He will spend another year in the OHL with the Oshawa Generals as he tries to add bulk to his lanky frame.   

3. Kirill Petrov, RW, 19
Acquired: 3rd round, 73rd overall, 2008

The Islanders selected Petrov in the third round of the 2008 NHL draft after he spent the 2007-08 season with Kazan of the Russian Super League, recording four goals and 10 assists in 47 games as well as one goal and two assists in eight playoff games. At the 2008 Under 18 World Junior Championships, Petrov posted five goals and two assists in six games for Team Russia. His stellar performance helped propel Team Russia to a silver medal and earned him “Best Forward” honors. His development took a step backward in 2008-09 as a fractured collarbone limited him to six games with Kazan and reduced his playing time with Team Russia. The biggest question surrounding Petrov and the Islanders is whether he will leave a lucrative career in his native Russia for the NHL. Next year will be the second of a four-year contract he signed with Kazan. 

4. Mikko Koskinen, G, 21

Acquired: 2nd round, 31st overall, 2009

Koskinen is a king-sized goaltender selected with the first pick of the second round (31st overall) of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. He spent the last two years playing with the Espoo Blues orgainzation in Finland. After being passed over in the 2008 NHL Draft, Koskinen returned to Espoo Jr. and was dominant with a 1.65 goals against average, .930 save percentage, and two shutouts in nine games. He was quickly promoted to the SM Liiga, Finland’s top league, where he continued his strong performance. In 33 games there, Koskinen had a 1.91 goals against average, .931 save percentage, and one shutout. At 21 years of age, Koskinen is older than most new draftees. He will probably spend 2009-10 playing for AHL Bridgeport and getting acclimated to the North American style of play.

5. Jesse Joensuu, LW, 21
Acquired: 2nd round, 60th overall, 2006

After four seasons of professional hockey in Finland, Joensuu made the jump to North America for the 2008-09 season. His first season in the AHL was a success. He scored 20 goals and 19 assists in 71 games with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and added two goals and one assist in five playoff appearances. He also made his NHL debut, recording a goal and two assists in a seven-game stint with the Islanders. At 6’4” and 207 lbs., Joensuu already has NHL size. After his strong performance in 2008-09, his skill seems near that level as well. He will likely compete for a job with the Islanders in training camp. If he does not make the team outright, he will return to Bridgeport and likely join the Islanders mid-season.  

6. Aaron Ness, D, 19

Acquired: 2nd round, 40th overall, 2008

At 5’10” and 170 pounds, Ness has always faced concerns about his size as a defenseman. Nonetheless, his outstanding skating may be enough to overcome his critics. Ness capped a stunning career at Rouseau High School in Minnesota with 28 goals and 44 assists in 31 games in 2007-08. He was a remarkable plus-67 and was presented with Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey award. He also helped the United States earn a bronze medal at the 2008 U18 World Championships with six assists in nine games. In 2008-09, Ness moved on to the University of Minnesota, where he played in all 37 games and scored two goals and 15 assists. He was a standout at the Islanders’ prospect minicamp in July. Ness will return to Minnesota for his sophomore season and will be a strong candidate to join Team USA for the World Junior Championships.  

7. Trevor Smith, C, 24
Acquired: Free agent signee, 2007

Smith signed with the Islanders as a free agent in 2007 after earning first team ECAC honors in a surprisingly productive sophomore year at the University of New Hampshire. He played part of the 2007-08 season with the Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL, but finished the season in the AHL with 20 goals and 17 assists in 53 games for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and was named Rookie of the Month for February. In 2008-09, Smith was the Sound Tigers’ second leading scorer with 30 goals and 32 assists in 62 contests. He also appeared in seven games with the Islanders. Smith will be a strong contender for a spot on the NHL roster in 2009-10. He may make the team out of training camp, but more likely he will start the year in Bridgeport and join the Islanders on a full-time basis later in the season.     
8. Robin Figren, LW, 21
Acquired: 3rd round, 70th overall, 2006

Figren is a gifted forward originally drafted in the third round of the 2006 NHL Entry draft. He is perhaps best known for his show-stopping lacrosse style goal at the 2008 World Junior Championships. As that goal and the other six points he registered in six games for Team Sweden attest, the 5’11” 176 lb. Swede is a gifted playmaker. He spent the 2007-08 season in North America, scoring 18 goals and 13 assists in 33 games with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL before his season was cut short by a wrist injury. Figren returned to Sweden for the 2008-09 season to play in the Swedish Elite League. He scored three goals and six assists in 49 games for Djurgardens before joining the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the AHL for three games. Figren will play with Bridgeport next season.
9. Jason Gregoire, LW, 20
Acquird: 3rd round, 76th overall, 2007

Gregoire, a 5’10” 175 lb center from Winnipeg, was selected by the Islanders in the third round (76th overall) of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He spent the following season with the Lincoln Stars of the USHL, scoring 69 points in 54 games, en route to being named the 2008 USHL Player of the Year. In 2008-09 he matriculated at the University of North Dakota and made a solid debut, scoring 12 goals and 17 assists in 42 games as a freshman for the Fighting Sioux. Gregoire will return to North Dakota next year for his sophomore season.  

10. Rhett Rakhshani, RW, 21

Acquired: 4th round, 100th overall, 2006

After a strong freshman season with the University of Denver Pioneers, the Islanders selected Rakhshani in the fourth round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. As a sophomore in 2007-08, he finished third in team scoring. As a junior in 2008-09, his totals increased to 15 goals and 27 assists in 38 games and he was the team’s second leading scorer. He performed well at the Islanders’ prospect minicamp while playing on a line with Tavares. Rakhshani has decided to return to Denver for his senior year and has been named captain. 

11. Corey Trivino, C, 19
Acquired: 2nd round, 36th overall, 2008

Trivino attracted a lot of attention in 2007-08 while playing for the Stouffville Spirit of the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League. He posted 19 goals and 50 assists in 39 games with the Spirit and another five goals and 17 assists in 15 playoff contests. He represented Canada at the 2008 U18 World Championships and turned in a strong performance with four goals and three assists in seven games. Trivino moved to Boston University and appeared in 32 games for the Terriers in 2008-09, scoring six goals and seven assists en route to a NCAA championship.  Trivino will return to BU next season and will likely see an increased role since many of the top forwards from the championship team have moved on.

12. Travis Hamonic, D, 18

Acquired: 2nd round, 53rd overall, 2008

The Islanders selected Hamonic, a solid defensive prospect with a low risk factor, in the second round (53rd overall) of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. He is touted for his toughness and at 6’2” and 210 pounds, he has good size. Playing with the Moose Jaw Warriors in the WHL, Hamonic posted 13 goals, 27 assists, and 126 penalty minutes in 57 games in 2008-09. Hamonic is attending the Team Canada evaluation camp for the 2010 World Junior Championship. After being one of the final cuts last year, he should be a strong candidate to make the team. He will play with Moose Jaw again in 2009-10 but is likely to join AHL Bridgeport the following year.

13. Anders Nilsson, G, 19
Acquired: 3rd round, 62nd overall, 2008

Many were surprised when the Islanders selected Nilsson, a Swedish goalie, with 62nd overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. The team had selected Koskinen with the 31st overall selection and seemingly acquired an insurance policy for starter Rick DiPietro. Like Koskinen, Nilsson is an oversized netminder, standing at 6’5”. His 2008-09 performance with Lulea Jr. was impressive. In 37 games, he recorded a 2.05 goals against average, .927 save percentage, and four shutouts. Nilsson will return to Sweden for 2009-10. 

14. Justin DiBenedetto, C, 20

Acquired: 6th round, 175th overall, 2008

Despite scoring 39 goals and 54 assists in 58 OHL games and another three goals and seven assists in nine playoff games, DiBenedetto was drafted late at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Many attributed his lofty statistics to the fact the he played on a line with Steven Stamkos, the first overall selection that year. As a result, the Islanders were able to select him in the sixth round with the 175th overall pick. In 2008-09, DiBenedetto proved that assumption largely false by posting equally impressive totals of 45 goals and 48 assists in 62 games along with three assists in five playoff games. He finished third in league scoring and was named the OHL Overage Player of the Year. Most importantly, he did it without Stamkos. DiBenedetto joined the Bridgeport Sound Tigers following his season in Sarnia and scored one goal in three playoff games. DiBenedetto will play next year in the AHL with the Sound Tigers.   

15. Mark Katic, D, 19

Acquired: 3rd round, 62nd overall, 2007

Katic, an undersized defenseman (5’10”, 180 lbs.) with outstanding vision, is known for his strong skating and passing ability. The Islanders selected him in the third round (62nd overall) of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft with hopes that he would become a puck-moving defenseman in the NHL. Katic’s game has progressed steadily ever since. Katic showed marked improvement in his output in 2008-09 by recording 13 goals and 41 assists in 63 games and one goal in four playoff games with the OHL Sarnia Sting. He signed a three-year contract with the Islanders in April of 2009 and is expected to play for Bridgeport in 2009-10. 

16. Matt Donovan, D

4th round, 96th overall, 2008

Donovan put up nearly a point a game from the back line in the USHL this season for Cedar Rapids, leading the USHL in scoring by a defenseman. This fall he will join Rakhshani at the University of Denver, where big things are expected of him. Donovan was invited to Team USA camp for the 2010 World Junior Championships this summer. The questions surrounding him right now are how will his offense translate to higher levels and is his skating NHL-quality?

17. Jyri Niemi, D, 19
Acquired: 3rd round, 72nd overall, 2008

Niemi is an intriguing prospect with good size and an impressive skill set who has had an up and down career in the WHL. Following a strong 2007-08 campaign with the Saskatoon Blades, the Islanders selected him in the third round (72nd overall) of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Niemi also won the hardest shot competition at the 2008 NHL/CHL Home Hardware Top Prospects Skills Competition with a 97 mph slap shot. In the 2008-09 season, however, he took a step backward with seven goals and 25 assists in 60 games. Nonetheless, he finished strong with one goal and six assists in six playoff games and an impressive performance for Team Finland at the World Junior Championships. He missed the Islanders’ prospect minicamp in July with an undisclosed injury. He will return to Saskatoon for another year in the WHL and is likely to again represent Finland at the World Junior Championships.    

18. David Toews, C, 19

Acquired: 3rd round, 66th overall, 2008

Toews, younger brother of Chicago Blackhawks star Jonathan Toews, has been following in his brother’s footsteps as best he can. The younger Toews was a star for Shattuck-St. Mary’s and led them to a national championship with 44 goals and 56 assists in 51 games in 2007-08. The Islanders then selected Toews in the third round (68th overall) of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Like his older brother, the younger Toews decided to attend the University of North Dakota, where he is a teammate of Gregoire. In an injury-shortened true freshman season, Toews scored five goals and six assists in 23 games. He will return to North Dakota for his sophomore season. 

19. Casey Cizikas, C, 18
Acquired: 4th round, 92nd overall, 2009

Cizikas has more talent than most fourth rounders, because he comes with some baggage. In a 2007 rugby match, Cizikas tackled an opposing player, who died two days later of a head injury. He was indicted for manslaughter. In July 2009, less than two weeks after he was drafted by the Islanders in the fourth round (92nd overall) of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Cizikas was sentenced to one year of probation and 100 hours of community service. Last year, Cizikas played for Mississauga St. Michael’s of the OHL where he recorded 16 goals and 20 assists in 55 games and another five goals and four assists in 11 playoff games. He will play for Mississauga again in 2009-10. 

20. David Ullstrom, C, 20

Acquired: 4th round, 102nd overall, 2008

After being passed over in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, Ullstrom scored 27 goals and 27 assists in 40 games with HV-71 in the Swedish junior league in 2007-08. He also joined HV-71’s Swedish Elite League team for seven games. In light of his strong performance, the Islanders selected the 6’3” 198 lb forward with in the fourth round (102nd overall) of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Ullstrom split 2008-09 between the Swedish second tier league and the SEL. In 15 games with Boras HC, he scored nine goals and seven assists. He had one goal and three assists in 19 SEL games with HV-71 and added a goal in 14 playoff appearances. At the 2009 World Junior Championships, he posted two goals and two assists in six games. Ullstrom was a standout performer at the Islanders’ prospect minicamp in July. He will return to HV-71 this fall.