Ryan Strome joins Nino Niederreiter as top two Islanders prospects

By Andrew Sykes
Photo: Scott Mayfield brings a lot of size and mobility to the Islanders defensive prospect pool. Mayfield will be attending the University of Denver in 2011-12. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

After years of losing and the subsequent additions of high draft picks, the Islanders are loaded with organizational talent to complement their current young star players like John Tavares, Michael Grabner, and Kyle Okposo.

2010 first-round pick Nino Niederreiter and 2011 first-rounder Ryan Strome rank as the top two New York Islanders giving the club two elite forward prospects. They are joined by a strong group of defensemen led by Travis Hamonic and Calvin De Haan, and two promising goaltenders in Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson.

1. (1) Nino Niederreiter, LW, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 5th overall, 2010

There was a lot of buzz surrounding Niederreiter’s debut to start last season and although his stint with the Isles was brief, it gave fans a taste of what they can expect from the Swiss star this year. Once returning to his junior team in Portland, Niederreiter was dominant. In 55 games he scored an astounding 41 goals and totaled 70 points, forming an unstoppable duo with fellow top prospect Ryan Johansen (CBJ).

The nine games in which the 19-year-old played with the Islanders was an excellent learning curve. Even though he already possessed the physical stature to withstand the pounding of the NHL, he wasn’t quite able to adjust to the mental side of the game in terms of positioning and two-way play. El Nino will go into training camp with more composure and a better understanding of what to expect in all facets of the game, and it should help him as he fights for a spot on the roster on a full-time basis.

2. (NR) Ryan Strome, C, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 5th overall, 2011

As the Islanders first-round, fifth-overall selection, Strome is in the exact spot that Niederreiter was a year ago. Like all high draft-picks he will have to deal with the pressure and lofty expectations of making the jump from junior to the NHL at just 18 years old. These expectations will be something new for Strome as he was completely off the radar in NHL circles following a 27 point campaign in his rookie season in the OHL. The Mississauga, Ontario native then took the league by storm racking up 106 points for a remarkable 79 point jump from his rookie total.

A slick offensive center who possesses an instinctively gifted skill-set, Strome has excellent hand-skills and a bag full of tricks with the puck on his stick. He has the ability to protect the puck in traffic and is also a very good passer with a playmaker’s vision.

Expected to return to junior, Strome will have a strong chance at the OHL scoring title and also figures to play for team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships; something that will further prepare him for NHL duty in the very near future.

3. (2) Travis Hamonic, D, 7.5B
Drafted 2nd round, 53rd overall, 2008

Hamonic played in 62 games for the Islanders as a 20-year-old rookie but his performance was anything but that of a first year player. While he was known to have some offensive ability, Hamonic wasn’t exactly expected to be much of a contributor in terms of point production but the young rearguard surprised everyone by racking up five goals and 21 assists for a 26 point total which ranked second on the team among defensemen scoring.

Required to step up due to the injury of all-star Mark Streit, Hamonic was the Islanders most consistent defenseman at both ends of the ice throughout the 62 games he played. In addition to his scoring prowess he was a rugged and nasty player to play against, leading club blueliners in penalty minutes but also maintaining a strong plus-four rating.

There is little doubt that Hamonic is now on his way to a long career as an NHL defenseman. He enjoys the physical aspect of the game and has the potential to be an elite shut-down defender but he also has the ability to move the puck efficiently as well as being a weapon on the power-play. For all of the young talent the Islanders are starting to build up front, the back-end is starting to round out as well, thanks in part to this talented player.

4. (3) Calvin de Haan, D, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 12th overall, 2009

A teammate of Hamonic’s at the 2010 World Juniors, De Haan is another defenseman who was a star in junior. Through three seasons with the Oshawa Generals, de Haan ranked as one of the top offensive-defenseman in the OHL. An excellent puck-mover and fluid skater, the 20-year-old plays a similar game to that of another youngster, Alex Pietrangelo of the St. Louis Blues. Like Pietrangelo, he controls the game from the back-end with his ability to lug the puck and distribute it efficiently. Although he plays a quiet game and doesn’t appear to be a rah-rah type of player, de Haan leads through his play and was a two-year captain of the Generals.

With a very young group of defensemen vying for spots with New York this season, de Haan certainly has a chance to be on the opening night roster. His offensive ability and strong puck skills would be a welcomed addition to a young blue line.

5. (8) Brock Nelson, C 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 30th overall, 2010

A first-round pick from the 2010 draft, Nelson is coming off a good freshman season at the University of North Dakota. The lanky center put up 21 points in 42 games taking a backseat to a handful of the team’s more experienced star players. At 6’3, Nelson has the size and speed of a prototypical two-way center. He put on 12 pounds in the off-season giving him more power in his stride, helping him become a stand-out player at the Islanders prospect-camp this past July.

Still just 19 years of age, Nelson will head back to North Dakota where he will carry an added responsibility of being one of the top guns for a team that should once again challenge for a national championship.

6. (6) Matt Donovan, D, 7.0C
Drafted 4th round, 96th overall, 2008

Donovan enters his first-pro season right on the heels of Calvin de Haan as one of the organizations most NHL-ready defenseman. After starring for two years at the University of Denver and capturing a gold medal with team USA at the 2010 WJHC, Donovan is on his way to becoming a good offensive-defenseman in the pros.

Following the completion of his sophomore season at Denver, the 21-year-old was immediately signed to a professional contract and played six games with the AHL affiliate Bridgeport Sound Tigers. In didn’t take long for the young blueliner to get accustomed to things as he scored a goal and dished out four assists in the six game stint.

With his ability to create offense on the back-end, it is a possibility that Donovan could see some games with the Isles this season but most of his year will likely be spent in Bridgeport where he will be a part of what should be a solid defensive core.

7. (11) Kevin Poulin, G, 7.0C
Drafted 5th round, 126th overall, 2008

Not much was expected from Poulin entering his first pro season but after an impressive start in the AHL, the 2008 fifth-round pick made his way to the big club and continued his surprising play. The 21-year-old was one of six different net-minders to appear in the Islanders goaltending carousel and in 10 appearances he compiled a 4-2-1 record with a 2.44 goals against average and a .920 save percentage.

Poulin’s stellar performance in both the AHL and NHL have put the Montreal native in a good position to grab one of the Isles two goaltending spots. He will likely have to beat out Al Montoya for the backup duties to Rick Dipietro, but with Dipietro seemingly always on the shelf with injuries, there should be plenty of starts to go around.

8. (NR) Scott Mayfield, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 34th overall, 2011

An impressive combination of size, skill and toughness, Mayfield was the Islanders second-round pick in 2011. Playing with the Youngstown Phantoms in the USHL, Mayfield was an often dominating force, owning the blue line with his speed and strength. His play one-on-one and puck distribution skills are also strong.

The 18-year-old Mayfield plays the game with poise and intelligence of a much older player. While his strong point is certainly his defensive play, he also possesses some developing offensive skills and is already a very good skater for his size. Committed to play at the University of Denver, Mayfield is in excellent hands as the Pioneers continue to be one of the NCAA‘s elite hockey programs.

9. (15) Kirill Kabanov, RW, 7.5D
Drafted 3rd round, 65th overall, 2010

Kabanov’s skill and ability is something that has never been questioned, but it is his off-ice issues and mentality that has raised red flags. Blessed with tremendous speed and a dynamic puck-handling ability, Kabanov plays the game with tons of energy and is one of those players who you can tell just loves to play the game. But that extremely engaging personality has got him into trouble through two seasons in the QMJHL. The 19-year-old had to be disciplined several times for showing up late to meetings and practices, and his decision to get a tattoo on his neck was another eyebrow raiser.

On the ice however, the talented Russian is an elite-level talent. In 37 games last year with Lewiston he registered 28 points and then led the club with 20 points in 15 playoff games. At 180 pounds, the 19-year-old still could use some strength to go with his 6’3 frame and he also needs to work on his play without the puck, but what the Islanders really want to see is Kabanov become more mature both on and off the ice as he enters his third season in North America.

10. (7) Anders Lee, C, 7.0C
Drafted 6th round, 152nd overall, 2009

A big-body center with impressive physical gifts, Lee is coming off his freshman year at Notre Dame. The Edina, Minnesota native ranked as one of the best first-year players in the country scoring a team-best 24 goals and totaling 42 points. He finished first in goals among freshmen, was second behind Denver’s Jason Zucker in points, and was named a CCHA second-team all-star capping off an outstanding season with the Fighting Irish.

A sixth-round pick who was passed over in his first year of draft eligibility, Lee has quickly turned into one of the best steals of the 2009 draft. The 21-year-old is a unique blend of strength, athleticism and natural ability; and with the way he dominated in his first year of college hockey, it isn’t foolish to think that he has the potential to become a top two-line player in the NHL.

11. (13) Anders Nilsson 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 62nd overall, 2009

At 6’5 and 220 pounds Nilsson is an enormous figure between the pipes. The 21-year-old Swede is coming off a season in which he was dominant for Lulea in the SEL; in the process becoming one of his countries top goaltending prospects. Nilsson led the league with a dazzling 1.92 goals against average using his size and strong technical play to make it near impossible to get a puck past him.

The big man is right there with Kevin Poulin as the organizations top goaltending prospect and is expected to begin his career in North America this upcoming season. Although he figures to start the season in Bridgeport, Nilsson has a chance to see some starting duties with the Islanders as their goaltending situation continues to be ever-changing.

12. (9) Rhett Rakhshani 7.0D
Drafted 4th round, 60tth overall, 2006

Rhakshani is coming an impressive season as a first-year pro where he led Bridgeport in every major offensive category. The former University of Denver stand-out totaled 62 points in 66 games and finished tied for first in points among AHL rookies with Buffalo Sabres prospect Luke Adam. His strong play earned him a call-up to the Island where he played in his first two NHL games.

The 23-year-old is a diminutive winger who plays with a lot of speed. Despite his small stature Rakhshani is able to survive on the wing due to his quickness and ability to read the play. He is dangerous as a transition player because of his good vision which allows him to move the puck and then join the rush very quickly.

Depending on what GM Garth Snow and Head Coach Jack Capuano are looking for out of their forward lines, Rakhshani has a chance to be on the Isles opening night roster. His performance at training camp will decide whether or not he starts the year with the big club or returns to Bridgeport for another stint in the minors.

13. (5) Ty Wishart 6.5C
Acquired in trade with Tampa, 2011

Drafted by the San Jose Sharks in 2006, Wishart is already with his third NHL organization. Acquired through a mid-season trade with the Lightning, the 23-year-old played in 20 games with Bridgeport and then another 20 games with the Islanders. With New York he utilized his massive 6’5, 225 pound frame to play a solid defensive game and was also able to chip in five points. Although his defensive game is his strong point, Wishart also has some offensive ability with a heavy shot on top of being a mobile skater and a good puck mover.

14. (10) Casey Cizikas 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 92nd overall, 2009

Cizikas is coming off a very busy year that saw him play in a gold medal game at the WJC as well as captaining his Mississauga-St. Michael’s Majors all the way to the Memorial Cup finals. The Toronto native was one of Canada’s biggest heart and soul players throughout the World Junior’s and again an emotional leader throughout the Majors playoff run. A very smart two-way hockey player, Cizikas is effective as a fore-checker and is responsible defensively.

While his offensive skills might be limited at the NHL level, the 20-year-old has the smarts to make up for it and projects as a future third-line center. He will test those abilities as he enters his first pro season set to begin in Bridgeport.

15. (4) Kirill Petrov 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 73rd overall, 2008

Based on talent and skill alone Petrov is one of the Islanders most exciting prospects, but his ongoing contract dispute continues to delay his North American development. The 21-year-old forward had planned on coming over to Long Island for the upcoming season but his KHL team in Kazan decided to keep him under contract, forcing the young Russian to wait at least another year before is able to sign with the Islanders.

With loads of skill and speed to go along with his 6’3, 200 pound frame, Petrov can be a dominating force on the wing. With size, speed and skill, Petrov possesses the total package of an elite offensive player but there are still some areas of his game that need improvement. Defensive awareness as well as playing more of a team game are two areas that need polishing and while there is nothing wrong with a young player playing in the KHL, the Islanders will most certainly want to see him up close and personal before it is too late.

17. (17) Corey Trivino 7.0D
Drafted 2nd round, 36th overall, 2008

A second-round pick in 2008, Trivino continues to make progress as a playmaking center at Boston University. In his junior season Trivino established career highs in every offensive category finishing third on the Terriers in scoring with 28 points in 37 games. The 21-year-old improved greatly on his first two collegiate seasons which were highly criticized due to the fact that he was drafted so highly.

As mentioned, Trivino possesses natural playmaking ability. He sees the ice extremely well and plays the game with a high intelligence. Although he doesn’t have top-end speed, Trivino’s east-west style and his craftiness with the puck make him tough to defend. Continued strength gains and a better willingness to battle for the puck will go along way in determining whether or not he can be a point producer at the pro level.

18. (NR) Justin DiBenedetto 6.5C
Drafted 6th round, 175th overall, 2008

A scoring star in junior, DiBenedetto showed some of that promise in 2010 as he finished second in goals for Bridgeport with 19 tallies. His offensive prowess didn’t go unnoticed and he was called up for eight regular season games with the Islanders. The recently turned 23-year-old is a good all-around player with skill and a hard working quality to his game. He is very quick on the forecheck and is dangerous as both a set-up man and as a threat to score.

DiBenedetto has a chance to be on the Isles opening night roster as a third or fourth line winger but it is more likely that he will again start the season in the AHlL. Regardless of where his season starts, he should see some time with the big club throughout the season.

16. (NR) Johan Sundstrom 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 50th overall, 2011

A second-round pick in 2011, Sundstrom is a two-way center who plays with a disciplined approach possessing the ability to be an effective player at both ends of the ice and in many different situations. A member of Sweden‘s World Junior team last year, the 18-year-old spent the 2010-2011 season split between Frolunda’s junior team and their top team in the SEL. In the junior ranks he was a dominant player amassing 18 goals and 16 assists in 22 total games.

Sundstrom will return to Frolunda where he will look to use his 40 games of SEL experience to his advantage as he should be see him ice-time increased. The young Swede projects as a second or third line center as a pro but his versatility as a two-way player also could see him line up as a winger.

19. (16) David Ullstrom 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 102nd overall, 2008

A big rangy center, Ullstrom is coming off an excellent debut as a pro in North America. Making the jump from the SEL, Ullstrom finished fourth on the Sound Tigers in both goals with 17 and points with 41. The 22-year-old uses his size to his advantage as a dangerous player with the puck. He is a good skater, stick-handles smoothly and has the finishing ability of a natural goal scorer, but to get to the next level Ullstrom will need to become more of a complete player. If he can improve on his defensive awareness and consistency the big Swede could be an NHL player, but for now he will have to continue to develop in the AHL.

20. (NR) Anton Klementyev 6.0C
Drafted 5th round, 122nd overall, 2009

Klementyev continues to progress as a reliable defensive defenseman who can be counted on to take care of his own end and play a safe puck-moving game. The study Russian played last season with Bridgeport performing as one of the club’s most consistent blue-liners and his solid play saw him get the call for his first NHL action. Although it was brief stint, the experience gave the 21-year-old a taste of the highest level of hockey and what he will need to do to get back.

While he certainly doesn’t play a flashy, stand out game, Klementyev contributes through his hard-nosed style and physical play. He will begin the season in the AHL but the possibility of him seeing some time with the Isles remains open.