Islanders exercise patience in development of elite prospects

By Christian Litscher
Photo: Although Michael Dal Colle did not join Team Canada at the World Junior Championships, he helped lead the Oshawa Generals to a Memorial Cup Championship. (Courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

Photo: Although Michael Dal Colle did not join Team Canada at the World Junior Championships last season, he helped lead the Oshawa Generals to a Memorial Cup in May. (Courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)



As the New York Islanders get set to move to Brooklyn next season, the organization has renewed confidence heading to the 2015-2016 season after making the playoffs last season. The roster has accumulated both high end talent and depth and the system is flush with talent. The Islanders will contend in a competitive division that saw the Columbus Blue Jackets, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Washington Capitals all make major offseason acquisitions. The Islanders should be right in the thick of things in what will be an intriguing race to watch.

The Islanders prospect pool remains a strong point. With strong depth at the NHL level, they have had the luxury to let their prospects develop at their own pace. General Manager Garth Snow has continued to add depth to their system and draft high potential prospects. Their depth on defense is the strength of their system, however many high end forward prospects have been added in the past couple drafts.

20. (16) Sebastian Collberg, RW, 7.0 D
Trade with Montreal Canadiens, March 2014

Collberg was the main piece the Islanders received in the Thomas Vanek deadline deal two seasons ago. Up to this point in his career, Collberg has been a disappointment. He has struggled to score at the professional level, scoring 18 points in 121 SHL games before crossing the pond. In his first season in North America last year, Collberg only scored four goals in 43 AHL games.

Despite these struggles, Collberg has the tools to be a high-end prospect. He has an NHL-caliber release and the ability to get to the scoring areas. Collberg dealt with injuries last season, and was never able to get his game going. This will be a big season for him, as he is coming into the season healthy and now has some experience on North American ice. A good season will point his career in the right direction, but his time is starting to run short.

19. (7) Mike Halmo, LW, 5.5 B
Signed as a free agent, March 2012

Halmo will look to get back on track this season after dealing with injuries for most of last season. During the 2013-2014 season, he looked like a solid bet to become a full time NHLer in a fourth line role. He got in on the forecheck and was a pain for the other teams to play against. Halmo never got a chance last season, although he was good for the Sound Tigers in the games he did play. He had 18 points in 33 games and was one of the better players for the team. The pesky forward will likely return to Bridgeport again next season, where he will be one of their top players and a first call-up when injuries hit the big team.

18. (12) Devon Toews, D, 6.5 C
Drafted 4th round, 108th overall, 2014

Toews will enter his junior season looking to build off last year’s successful season. The fourth-rounder led all Quinnipiac defenseman in goals with four, and was one of two defensemen on the team to amass 20 points. Quinnipiac was the top-ranked seed in the ECAC tournament last season, but was upset by Harvard in the semifinal. In the NCAA tournament they lost to North Dakota in the first round. Most of the team returns this season, and it will be looking to make another run this year.

Toews will likely spend all four years in college developing. With Justin Agosta gone, Toews will be the Bobcats go-to defenseman in all situations. Toews is an asset on the powerplay, where his offensive skills shine. With the depth of defense in the New York’s system, Toews must continue to improve his all-around game over the next two years to merit contract consideration from the Islanders.

17. (14) Kyle Burroughs, D, 6.5 C
Drafted 7th round, 196th overall, 2013

Burroughs will transition to professional hockey this year after four seasons in the WHL, where he finished with 120 points in 250 games. The seventh-rounder made strides in each season to earn a contract from the Islanders this past spring. This upcoming season will serve as an adjustment period for Burroughs similar to that of Adam Pelech and Jesse Graham last year. Burroughs already has some AHL experience appearing in 9 games for the Sound Tigers at the end of the 2013-2014 season.

Burroughs will likely start on the third pairing for Bridgeport this season. The Sound Tigers have a crowded blueline with Pulock, Scott Mayfield, and Graham already set as right handed defenseman. Burroughs’ ability to play both ends of the ice will help him get into the everyday lineup.

16. (18) Alan Quine, C, 6.5 C
Drafted 6th round, 166th overall, 2013

There might not have been a more surprising player among the Islanders prospect pool last season than Alan Quine. He was the best player in Bridgeport, leading the Sound Tigers in scoring with 61 points improving substantially from the previous year’s 27. Quine will look to build off last season’s success for the Sound Tigers as their top line center.  Quine will have a tough time ever cracking the Islanders lineup as a top six forward, but could find himself in a bottom six role if he continues to improve.

15. (11) Kevin Czuczman, D, 6.5 C
Signed as a free agent, March 2014

Czuczman will enter his second professional season with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Czuczman has the ideal size you look for in a defenseman and is capable of playing a physical game. He didn’t show the offense last year he displayed at the collegiate level, with only one goal and six assists in 50 games. Czuczman also had an ECHL stint where he had a goal in nine games.

Czuczman has the potential to be a depth defenseman in the NHL, but at 24 years old, he will need to take major strides in the next couple years. The Islanders have several defense prospects that will be looking to turn pro over the next couple of years, so the time is now for Czuczman to make an impact.

14. (10) Jesse Graham, D, 6.5 C
Drafted 6th round, 155th overall, 2012

Graham will enter his second season with the Sound Tigers next season. He had success in the offensive end last season with 19 points in 39 games. However, Graham fell victim to the numbers game and was sent down to the ECHL as his overall game is not as polished as some of the other Sound Tiger defenseman. Graham took the ECHL by storm scoring 14 points in 23 games and posted a plus seven rating. He also added six points in 12 playoff games.

Graham will always be dangerous with his speed and ability to create from the backend. Should Ryan Pulock make the NHL team, Graham could see top-unit powerplay time with the Sound Tigers. Graham has the potential to be a third pairing defenseman in the NHL who can add some offense.

13. (NR) Mitchell Vande Sompel, D, 7.5 D
Drafted 3rd round, 82nd overall, 2015

Vande Sompel is coming off a fantastic season where he put up 63 points and won a Memorial Cup with the Oshawa Generals. The third rounder finished in the top five in the OHL in scoring from the backend. Vande Sompel is an intelligent defenseman who makes a great first pass and is also a great skater. He can struggle in his own end, but has improved in that regard since coming into the OHL. The skilled defenseman is going to see a ton of ice time this year, as the Generals will lose many players from last year’s winning team, which will benefit his development.

Vande Sompel has the highest offensive potential amongst all Islanders defenseman other than Ryan Pulock. He has the ability to quarterback the powerplay. The skilled defenseman needs to work on his defensive game to be able to make it at the NHL level.

12. (8) Ilya Sorokin, G, 7.5 D
Drafted 3rd round, 78th overall, 2014

Sorokin is the most athletic amongst all goaltenders in the Islanders system and has the highest ceiling. It remains to be seen where Sorokin will end up on the depth chart for CSKA Moskva. Stanislav Galimov will return after appearing in 35 games for the club last season and they added former NHLer Viktor Fasth in the offseason. Sorokin had success in the limited games he played for CSKA Moskva last season appearing in six games, sporting a 1.31 goals-against average and .937 save percentage.

Sorokin is signed in the KHL until 2017, but it is not unfathomable that he could step into a backup role for the Islanders during the 2017-2018 season if he chooses to come over to North America.

11. (20) Stephon Williams, G, 7.0 C
Drafted 4th round, 106th overall, 2013

Williams will enter his first professional season after a very up and down college career. There were mostly ups as Williams was named to the WCHA First All-Star team his freshman year and the WCHA Second All-Star team his junior year where he backstopped Minnesota State to a WCHA regular season and playoff title. After losing to RIT in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Williams appeared in five games for the Sound Tigers where he put up a stellar 2.12 goals against average and a .936 save percentage.

He will likely split time with Kevin Poulin in Bridgeport this season in what will be a major test for Williams. If he can take over the starting role with success, Williams can solidify himself as legitimate NHL prospect and potentially have the inside track at the backup role behind Jaroslav Halak for the 2017-18 season.

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