Nino Niederreiter still top prospect for New York Islanders

By Kyle West
Photo: The skilled and energetic Nino Niederreiter continues to be the top prospect for the New York Islander. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

No change at the top for the Islanders however the frustrations of Kirill Kabanov continue as he drops in the rankings and sees his rating downgraded. Freshman Anders Lee continues to make waves with an astonishingly good year at Notre Dame and is the biggest upward mover.

1. (1) Nino Niederreiter, LW, 7.5 C
Acquired: 1st round, 5th overall in 2010

A popular choice at fifth overall, “El Nino” promises to bring an entertaining crash and bang style to the Islanders game for many seasons to come. With a new NHL contract under his belt, Nino scored his first NHL goal in his nine game stint to start the season before being returned to the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL to further develop his game. At 6’2 and just over 200 pounds, Niederreiter doesn’t play the game with any subtle intention. Driving the net and crashing the crease are his specialty and the budding power forward has an array of shots to score once he establishes net position. Already well ahead of last year’s WHL scoring pace, Nino should begin his full-time tenure with the Islanders next season.

2. (2) Travis Hamonic, D, 7.5 C
Acquired: 2nd round, 53rd overall in 2008

Now taking a regular shift on the Islanders blue line, Travis Hamonic doesn’t have much time remaining on the Islanders’ prospect lists. A rookie in the AHL to start the season, Hamonic wasted no time proving he could hold his own in the pros and forced the Islanders hand with a recall. Partnered with steady defenseman Andy MacDonald, Hamonic has been averaging 20 minutes of ice time a game and sees action on both special teams. Hamonic has a hammer of a shot from the blue line, a weapon the Islanders plan to make good use of on the PP, and uses his solid frame to good effect in clearing the crease. A true all-rounder who looks like he can settle into a top-four role for many years to come, Hamonic is a key building block for the Islanders future.

3. (3) Calvin de Haan, D, 7.5 D
Acquired: 1st round, 12th overall in 2009

Having traded up twice to take de Haan, the Islanders have seen mixed returns in the smooth-skating blueliner’s progress. Showing off his prowess as a power play quarterback on a regular basis for the Oshawa Generals in the OHL, de Haan also impressed on the international stage with Canada in the WJCs this year. The downside of de Haan’s game is his tendency to miss time with injuries, having played only 34 games last year. Signed to a three year deal by the Islanders in the summer, de Haan returned to Oshawa and wears the “C” for the Generals this year. With 29 assists in 40 games de Haan is the passmaster from the back who ignites the offense and controls the transition game with timely precision. Having added nearly 20 pounds to his lean frame since being drafted, de Haan seems ready to test himself against the next level of opposition.

4. (4) Kirill Petrov, RW, 7.0 D
Acquired: 3rd round, 73rd overall in 2008

Finally getting a regular place in the KHL, Kirill Petrov has shown flashes of the tantalizing potential that keeps Islanders fans hoping to see him in the arrivals gate at JFK. Having played 44 games in the KHL this year, compared to just 14 games in the two previous years, Petrov has delivered eight goals and 19 points. The big winger from Kazan brings the full toolset to the rink, using his size to good advantage along with his speed and quick hands. At 6’3 and 200 pounds, he has the frame to withstand the North American game should he make the commitment to come over and no doubt his soft hands would enable him to achieve offensive success on the smaller ice surface. Without a KHL transfer agreement, the Islanders can only wait and see how the plans to add him to the active roster transpire.

5. (NR) Ty Wishart, D, 7.0 C
Acquired: Trade with Tampa Bay, January 2011

With two assists in his first game with the Islanders, Wishart has made an auspicious debut with his new club. A now or never prospect, the big defender has spent the past five years developing his game in the San Jose and Tampa Bay organizations and now finds himself with his best chance to win a regular NHL spot. Drafted 16th overall in 2006 by San Jose, Wishart was then dealt to the Lightning in the Dan Boyle trade. The former WHL standout played only five NHL games with Tampa Bay before the offer to exchange him for an established veteran goalie in Dwayne Roloson was accepted. Now with a more open depth chart ahead of him, Wishart has made good on his intention to seize his chance with both hands.

6. (14) Matt Donovan, D, 7.0 D
Acquired: 4th round, 96th overall in 2008

A gifted puck-moving defenseman, Matt Donovan uses his good hockey sense to obtain sound defensive positions and superior speed to generate offense through the transition. A dominant player on the ice for the University of Denver, Donovan is the Pioneers top-scoring defenseman as a sophomore with 20 points in 30 games. A star performer on the gold-medal winning USA WJC team in 2010, the native of Edmond, Oklahoma first caught the eye of Islanders’ scouts in the USHL, where he posted 51 points in 59 games after his draft year. Slightly built at 6’ and 190 lbs, Donovan still needs he can stand up to the rigors of the AHL, a test he will likely take on sooner rather than later.

7. (20) Anders Lee, C, 7.0 C
Acquired: 6th round, 152nd overall in 2009

The big mover in the Isles top 20, Anders Lee has continued to punish opponents in the NCAA after dominating the USHL last year. Named the Clark Cup MVP after scoring 10 goals and adding 12 assists in 12 playoff games for Green Bay, Lee has served notice that his power forward game can be devastating at the college level as well with 19 goals and 37 points in 32 games for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. A former football standout, Lee already has an NHL build at 6’3 and 220 lbs and has the hockey sense to make that physique a deadly weapon. Passed over in the 2008 draft, Lee is looking like a 6th round gem for the Islanders.

8. (6) Brock Nelson, C, 7.0 C
Acquired: 1st round, 30th overall in 2010

A big ce
nter with speed and skill, Nelson dominated the Minnesota High School circuit last season. Now with the University of North Dakota, Nelson’s offensive stats may be slightly underwhelming, with five goals and 10 points in 29 games, but he brings an element of physicality and hard work which has to be seen to be appreciated. Nelson centered the checking line for the USA WJC team this year and showed flashes of the skills that made him a runner up in the Mr. Hockey award while starring for Warroad High School. Seemingly destined for great things in the game, Nelson is descended from the Christian family that played on gold medal winning hockey teams for USA hockey in 1960 and 1980.

9. (9) Rhett Rakhshani, RW, 7.0 D
Acquired: 4th round, 100th overall in 2006

The top scorer in Bridgeport in his rookie season, Rakhshani has adapted to the AHL with ease and continues to make exciting upward progress. Called up for a pair of games with the Islanders, the California product did not look out of place in the NHL showing good speed and awareness. The native of Huntington Beach has exceeded expectations throughout his career, earning the team-appointed captaincy in his last two years at the University of Denver and leading the Pioneers in scoring with 50 points in 41 games as a senior. Currently with 34 points in 42 AHL games, Rakhshani has shown quick hands in close and sublime passing skills. He continues to defy the critics regarding his 5’10 stature and seems poised to make an exciting impact on the Islanders roster in the next few seasons.

10. (12) Casey Cizikas, C, 7.0 C
Acquired: 4th round, 92nd overall in 2009

Having fallen into the Islander’s laps in the 2009 draft, Cizikas is making a lot of teams think twice about not selecting him prior to the fourth round. The industrious two-way centerman has been having a breakout year for the Mississauga Majors in the OHL and was also a key performer for Canada’s WJC entry in 2011. Assigned the difficult tasks of killing penalties and shadowing the opposition’s top centers, Cizikas achieves his goals through industry and effort and, perhaps more than given credit for, a fair bit of skill. Cizikas wears the “C” for the Majors and is second in team scoring with 27 goals and 55 points in just 43 games this year. He projects to a third-line center however there is a good deal of latent skill evident in his development that may just enable him to take on a Top-six role at some point.

11. (10) Jason Gregoire, LW, 7.0 C
Acquired: 3rd round, 76th overall in 2007

A complete player with a smooth skating stride, Gregoire has been a key performer for the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux. Gregoire is on a point per game pace in his junior year and has been a key component of the Sioux’ attack. A hidden gem in the 2007 draft, Gregoire had missed a good deal of playing time due to ankle injuries in his draft year and was projected to go in the sixth round by most scouting organizations. The Islanders reached for the Winnipeg native in the third round and have been rewarded with steadily improving returns. Having bulked up to near 200lbs, the 5’11 winger may be ready to apply his strong two-way game to the pro ranks as early as next season.

12. (17) Kevin Poulin, G, 7.0 C
Acquired: 5th round, 126th overall in 2008

The Islanders top goalie prospect now looks as though he may be the goalie of the future. Called up after just 15 games in the AHL, Poulin has given the Isles the best goaltending they’ve had all year and allowed the organization to trade Dwayne Roloson for an NHL-ready prospect. Poulin’s 10 starts in the NHL have been nervy at times, solid at best, with moments of brilliance far exceeding the expectations for a 5th round draft pick. A player who has improved with every season, Poulin continues to impress with his focus and commitment to achieving technical excellence.

Poulin recently suffered a season-ending knee injury although he should be to ready for the 2011-12 season.

13. (7) Jesse Joensuu, LW, 6.5 C
Acquired: 2nd round, 60th overall in 2006

A project on the brink of realization, Jesse Joenssu played well-enough in this year’s recall to keep alive hopes that he can fulfill his potential. The big winger with the slow feet has improved upon his weak skating to the point where he is just able to keep up with the play; most of the time. His 6 goals in 43 NHL games are encouraging stats, yet the jury is still out on whether he can secure a regular spot with the Isles. Still on record as being the youngest ever player in the Finnish Elite League, Joensuu was the top scorer on his hometown team Assat in 2007-08 and looks too good for the AHL on most nights when he suits up for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers; if he only looked good enough for the NHL every night when he plays for the New York Islanders.

14. (NR) Matt Martin, LW, 6.0 B
Acquired: 5th round, 148th overall in 2008

A leave it all on the ice type who plays with his heart on his sleeve every shift, Matt Martin has added energy and grit to the Islanders fourth line all season. Having scored his first NHL goal this season and with 50 NHL games under his belt, Martin shows no signs of letting up. Drafted from the Sarnia Sting of the OHL, this one-time teammate of Steven Stamkos scored at a point per game pace his final year of junior and showed he had some hands for more than just punching. Never one to back down from a challenge, Martin continues to give it his all every shift.

15. (13) Anders Nilsson, G, 7.0 D
Acquired: 3rd round, 62nd overall in 2009

The second of the giant goalies taken in the 2009 draft, Nilsson has been impassable for Lulea in the Swedish Elite League and has overtaken Mikko Koskinen on the goaltending depth chart for the Islanders. The 6’5 netminder has started 23 games for his SEL team this year and held his GAA to just under 2.00. After witnessing the struggles of Koskinnen, drafted one round earlier in 2009, the Islanders braintrust must be relieved at having a backup in the unofficial “draft big Scandinavian’s in net” draft strategy.

16. (19) Mikko Koskinen, G, 7.0 D
Acquired: 2nd round, 31st overall in 2009

The giant goalie from Finland was as impervious as his home country’s granite cliffs in his draft year, but has been porous as Long Island concrete for the Sound Tigers in his first full season in North America. Drafted from the powerhouse Espoo Blues in 2009, Koskinen was considered a prototype for the NHL goalie of the future. Looming over the net at 6’6, Koskinen was nigh unbeatable in Finland and had NHL GMs, who were anticipating rule changes regarding relative goalie equipment size, all in a lather. Nabbed with the first pick on day two of the 2009 draft, Koskinen readily accepted the challe
nge to test his skills in the AHL and signed a three-year contract with the Islanders. His first season has shown that he has quite a bit of work to do with regards to lateral movement, quickness and rebound control. Beaten almost 71 times in his first 20 games, Koskinen has not come as advertised. Drafted as a sure thing, he is now a project with major flaws in his game.

Because of injuries to oft-injured starter Rick DiPietro as well as prospect Kevin Poulin, Koskinen is currently plying his trade in the NHL. In three starts, he has a 3.60 goals against average and .890 save percentage.

17. (8) Kirill Kabanov, LW, 7.0 D
Acquired: 3rd round, 65th overall in 2010

Quickly sliding into prospect obscurity, Kabanov continues to waste the gifts nature has bestowed upon him. Once anticipated to be the next Ovechkin, Kabanov has the size, speed and skill to be a dominant player but seems to be short on mental strength. Traded to the Lewiston MAINEiacs earlier in the season, Kabanov has shown brief flashes of his undoubted skills, but mostly in the pre-game warm-ups. A big draw with the fans in Lewiston, a franchise that once struggled to fill the arena, Kabanov is an exuberant personality who plays to the crowd and loves to showboat. Unfortunately, with only eight goals in 26 games, his dangles and dekes have not produced much offense for the team. A frustrating character, Kabanov was known to be a high-risk project when drafted and hasn’t shown any sign of a long-term reward for the Islanders. Yet a prospect worth watching, the continuing answer to questions regarding his focus and commitment to the team is nyet. Not yet.

18. (NR) David Ullstrom, C, 6.5 C
Acquired: 4th round, 102nd overall in 2008

The AHL rookie got off to a flying start with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers but has cooled off somewhat since the turn of the calendar to 2011. The lanky centerman was the Sound Tigers top scorer in October after signing a three-year entry-level deal in June, coming over from Sweden as a 20-year-old. A member of Sweden’s WJC entry in 2009, Ullstrom has a good pair of hands and also plays a defensively responsible game. While adapting to the North American game can take time, Ullstrom has a chance to win a spot with the Islanders if he can learn to use his size more effectively and drive the net with some authority. Standing at 6’3 and weighing in at 198 lbs, Ullstrom has a powerful frame and with some added intensity and confidence could be a very effective two-way center.

19. (15) Blake Kessel, D, 7.0 D
Acquired: 6th round, 166th overall in 2007

The younger brother of Toronto Maple Leaf’s Phil Kessel, Blake boasts similar speed and skill channeled into a defenseman’s position. Able to rush the puck with superior speed and join the attack with a bullet shot, Kessel is in his junior year with the University of New Hampshire Wildcats. Having scored at a point per game pace as a sophomore, his game is all about offense from the back. Standing at 6’2 and weighing in at 210 lbs, Blake has the size advantage over his brother Phil and shows a greater aptitude for getting his nose dirty in the corners. A key player for the Wildcats, Kessel has little left to prove at the NCAA level and would be best served by turning pro this season.

20. (NR) Corey Trivino, RW, 7.0 D
Acquired: 2nd round, 36th overall in 2008

The junior at Boston University has been a consistent producer for the Terriers and excels at playing an all-round game. Drafted out of the OPJHL, Trivino was a slick playmaking center for the Stouffville Spirit who had 50 assists in 39 games in his draft year. The player known as “Vino” to his friends has since been converted to a winger who excels at setting up his linemates. Standing at 6’1, Trivino has added 10 pounds to his frame since being drafted and further bulking up will stead him in good stead when he turns pro, likely after his senior year.