Loads of depth in New York Islanders top-20

By Josh Buckingham
Photo: Ryan Strome could develop into the number two center the New York Islanders have needed for several years now. (Photo courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL)

As the season winds down there has been a lot of action among the Islander’s prospect pool. Some has been very positive and some negative. Mostly positive though. Forwards Casey Cizikas and David Ullstrom look to have established themselves as viable NHL forwards. On the negative side of things, the Isles may have lost a solid prospect in Corey Trivino due to some very serious off-ice issues at Boston University.

Another bright spot for the Islanders is their vast array of promising young defenseman playing for not only playing in the AHL, but also in the collegiate ranks. For the most part the good has overshadowed the bad with this very promising and talented group of prospects.

1. (2) Ryan Strome, C, 8C
Drafted 1st round, 5th overall, 2011

Strome picked up right where he left off after an outstanding WJC performance. He potted three goals and added six helpers while centering Team Canada’s first line; looking head and shoulders above many other top prospects. His stick handling is uncanny and his vision is outstanding. His hockey sense is second to none, as he seems to know where everyone is on the ice at all times. At the junior level with the Niagara IceDogs of the OHL, he has become more of a pure goal-scorer. He has 30 goals in 46 games, almost matching his 33 goals from last year but in 19 fewer games. His assist total is way down, but there is nothing to be alarmed about because he is still a brilliant playmaker. Before this season he signed an entry-level contract so that will not be a distraction heading into next season. He projects as a top two center at the next level and has a very good chance of beginning the next season on the Islanders.

2. (1) Nino Niederreiter, LW, 8C
Drafted 1st round, 5th overall, 2010

Though Niederreiter was bumped to number two on the overall list, he still has loads of potential. In his first full season with Islanders he has really struggled to find his niche scoring just one goal in 49 games. For most of the year he has received less than ten minutes of ice time per game and has played mostly on the fourth line.

He has great size, but still may need to fill out his frame a bit in order to protect the puck at the NHL level. He has very soft hands and is very creative with the puck. In order for him develop his offensive game and get his game going the Isles need to surround him with offensive minded linemates. Overall, he still projects as a top six scoring winger in the long run.

3. (3) Calvin de Haan, D, 7C
Drafted 1st Round, 12th overall, 2009

Despite all of his injury issues, de Haan has settled in nicely playing for Bridgeport. He has dealt with shoulder issues throughout his young career, but has been relatively healthy this season. He has not been a huge point producer in his first full season at the professional level, but nonetheless he has been a very solid contributor on the backend. He is a great puck mover and makes a great first breakout pass. He is also more than capable of anchoring the power play. He projects as a top four offensive defenseman and will have a chance to fight for a spot with Islanders this summer.

4. (4) Brock Nelson, C, 7C
Drafted 1st Round, 30th overall, 2010

After an average freshman year with North Dakota, Nelson has shown a massive amount of improvement scoring 28 goals in 42 games this season, compared to just eight last season. He has a great frame, capably uses his size to his advantage on face offs and to dominate in the corners. Though he plays mostly center, he can also switch to wing.

It will be very interesting to see if he leaves the collegiate level early to make the jump to the professional ranks. He projects as a top six forward at the next level, but is more of a long-term project.

5. (5) Matt Donovan, D, 7C
Drafted 4th Round, 96th overall, 2008

Much like fellow prospect Calvin de Haan, Donovan also having a stellar rookie season in Bridgeport. He has recorded an impressive 39 points in 66 games so far this season. He could still benefit from throwing his body around more, but this should happen as he becomes more comfortable at the professional level. He also has a cannon of a shot from the point to go along with great vision. Next season will most definitely be a dogfight to see who will make up the Islanders backend out of camp. He projects as a top four offensive-minded defensemen with Islanders in the very near future.

6. (13) Casey Cizikas, LW, 6.5B
Drafted 4th Round, 92nd overall, 2009

After an outstanding start to his professional career in Bridgeport, Cizikas was rewarded with a chance to play with the big club. He has not disappointed one bit and has thrived by picking up four helpers in 14 games thus far. He is a very versatile player as he is able to play any forward position. The Islanders slotted him in the lineup primarily as a winger, though he has played a bit of center as well.

What stands out most about his play is the endless energy and high motor he plays with. He is very crafty with the puck and is able to protect it very well for such a small player. He is also not afraid to fight for the puck in the corners. He is very quick and has great vision. In the right situation he can become a versatile player, similar to teammate P.A. Parenteau. If he keeps up his current play he will stick with the Islanders for a long time.

7. (10) Anders Nilsson, G, 7C
Drafted 3rd Round, 62nd overall, 2009

Nilsson has really come into a league of his own after struggling to adjust to the North American style of play. In his first two NHL starts he really struggled, but in his two most recent starts he has really proven why he was so highly touted. He recorded his first career shutout in his third career NHL start against a very tough New Jersey Devil squad stopping 24 shots. Then he had another great outing in a loss against that same Devil team stopping 33 of 35 shots. Before his call up he was brilliant in Bridgeport as well. At the start of the New Year to the end of February he was unbelievable, winning 10 of 11 starts. In those 11 starts he never once allowed more than two goals.

Nilsson is a hulking goaltender at 6’5 and uses every inch to his advantage. He also has great positioning in the crease, but could improve his quickness. Overall, he projects as the goaltender of the future, and he should benefit from the presence of veteran Evgeni Nabokov, who was recently re-signed to a one-year extension.

8. (7) Scott Mayfield, D, 7C
Drafted 2nd Round, 32nd overall, 2011

Mayfield is enjoying a very steady freshman season at the University of Denver. He is a very sound stay at home defender unlike de Haan and Donovan. He has a huge frame at 6’4, but like many of the other prospects he would benefit from filling it out a bit more. Mayfield has a bit of snarl to his game as well and is not afraid to get nasty in front of the net and in the corners. He also has solid vision and puck-distribution abilities. His positioning is above average, but he could improve the use of his long stick and reach. He also needs to work on his footwork and foot speed if he wants to be able to keep up at the next level. Mayfield would benefit from another season or two at the collegiate level to hone his defensive skills. In a few years he projects as a minute munching shutdown defenseman with the Islanders.

9. (18) David Ullstrom, LW, 6.5B
Drafted 4th Round, 102nd overall, 2008

After a scoring outburst of 19 goals in 32 games to start the season in Bridgeport he was called up to Islanders. Once he joined the Islanders he had to deal with adversity of overcoming a concussion, which he took in stride. Since joining the Islanders he has fit in perfectly playing mostly on the wing with the third line, often playing alongside fellow rookie Casey Cizikas. He has great size, which helps him to shut down the opposing teams top players. He also is not afraid to punish the opposing players using his large body. At the moment it seems as if he has locked in a spot with the Islanders for now and should continue to thrive. He projects as a bottom-six shut down winger with some offensive upside.

10. (8) Kirill Kabanov, RW, 7C
Drafted 3rd Round, 65th overall, 2010

Kabanov is a very intriguing prospect given his offensive instincts and goal scoring ability. The Russian Factor has haunted him his whole career regardless of the fact that he came over to play junior hockey in North America and has already signed an entry-level deal with the Islanders. He has solid, top-six offensive upside, but he tends to love the spotlight and any controversy that follows.

A goal-scorer, he has managed 21 goals and 34 assists in 55 games this season, playing for the Shawinigan Cataractes of the QMJHL. He definitely needs to improve his play without the puck and in his own end. Also, it would not hurt him to put a few extra pounds on his lengthy frame. With the right coaching he has the chance to be a top-six winger with the Islanders in the next few years.

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

Poulin has experienced a very hectic season so far given the constant goalie carousel. He has started six games for the Islanders this season winning just two of those games. On the other hand, he has been very streaky while playing in Bridgeport appearing in 37 games. This season he has proven to be very inconsistent, but when he is hot, he is unstoppable. Much like Anders Nilsson, he too started the New Year off on a tear lasting until the beginning of March where he won 10 of 13 games. He has ideal goaltender size and is extremely competitive. He will do anything to stop the puck and has very good reflexes. With some more seasoning he can prove to be a good journeyman starting goaltender or a serviceable backup.

12. (9) Anders Lee, C, 7.5D
Drafted 6th Round, 152nd overall, 2009

Lee proved to everyone that his outstanding freshman campaign at Notre Dame was not a fluke. His numbers have fluctuated just a tad, but he has improved in other areas of his game, namely his play in his own end and in the faceoff circle. He has really matured defensively as well and has stepped up as a leader in the locker room. Like the other collegiate prospects it is still up in the air as to what he will decide to do next year. With his size he is well suited to succeed at the next level, but still needs to improve his speed. He projects as a second or third line center with Islanders sooner rather than later.

13. (11) Rhett Rakhshani, RW, 7D
Drafted 4th Round, 100th overall, 2006

This has been a very pivotal year in Rakhshani’s career as he is inching closer and closer to becoming marked as a career AHL player. He really has nothing else to prove at the AHL level, as he is a dominant offensive talent in Bridgeport. He has appeared in just seven games with the Islanders and has yet to record a point in those games. His size is what really holds him back because he is a very diminutive forward, which makes it hard for him to fill a role in the bottom-six. He is still fairly young at 24, but the clock is ticking on whether he can be a consistent offensive contributor at the NHL level.

14. (15) Johan Sundstrom, C, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd Round, 50th overall, 2011

Sundstrom has really come into his own this season performing very well in the SEL. He has 11 points in 49 games, which is very good for a 19-year-old playing in an adult proffesional league that is known more for defense then goal-scoring. He played admirably wearing the "A" for the gold medal winning Swedish team in the WJC. He recorded five points in six games while proving to be a great leader for a very deep and talented Team Sweden; a performance that definitely boosted his stock.

He is a very big center who has great strength and is able to play wing as well. He also has good hands and is not afraid to go into the high traffic areas. He is reminiscent of forward David Ullstrom, but could have a slightly higher ceiling in terms of overall talent. His immediate future remains a big question mark due to the fact his contract with Frolunda lasts until the end of the 2013-14 season. He projects as a second or third line player once he decides to come over to North America.

15. (14) Kirill Petrov, RW/LW, 7D
Drafted 3rd Round, 73rd overall, 2008

Petrov showed a lot of improvement in the KHL this season. He put up 29 points in 52 games this season, which are above average in the KHL. He is a very lanky winger with good hands and the speed to match. If he decides to cross the pond he has the potential to be a very useful scorer for the Islanders. Like many other young Russian prospects he needs to improve his defensive play and would likely benefit from time in the AHL, which he may refuse to do. His contract is up at the end of this season so the Islanders must sign him to a contract in the near future. Petrov has loads of potential and is a high risk, high reward prospect. If he decides to come over to North America he has the potential to become a top-six scoring winger.

16. (NR) Aaron Ness, D, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd Round, 40th overall, 2008

Ness is yet another one of the array of young defenseman playing in Bridgeport. He had a nine game stint with the Islanders and did not look out of his league one bit. He played with a lot of poise and logged a lot of minutes for a rookie defender. He is a very consistent defenseman who does not really stand out, but does all of the little things. He is not going to knock you off the puck with his size, but uses his stick very well. He also makes a very good breakout pass and has great positioning. Overall, he is a very steady defender who projects as a number five or six defenseman for the Islanders.

17. (17) Justin DiBenedetto, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 6th Round, 175th overall, 2008

DiBenedetto is much like fellow prospect Rhett Rakhshani as he may be deemed a career AHL player. He has proven he can score at the AHL level, but has been unable to become a staple in the Islander lineup. He does however have decent size, good offensive awareness, and has improved his defensive play dramatically over the last few years. If he does find a role in the NHL with the Isles, it will likely be as a bottom-six grinder who can score timely goals.

18. (12) Ty Wishart, D, 6.5C
Drafted 1st Round, 16th overall, 2006

It appears as though Ty Wishart is no longer in the Islander’s long-term plans. He played 20 games for the Islanders last season after coming over from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for Dwayne Roloson. In the summer he did not make the opening season roster and was sent to start the season in Bridgeport. He has remained in Bridgeport for all but one game this season.

He is a hulking defenseman and uses his size to knock opponents off the puck. He does not have the greatest speed or footwork, but he makes up for it with above average positioning. He still appears to have the tools to be a fifth or sixth defenseman in the NHL but it remains to be seen whether or not it will be with the Isles.

19. (NR) Johan Persson, LW, 7D
Drafted 5th Round, 125th overall, 2011

This was a very important season for Persson as he would have to prove that his success was not just reliant on having Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (EDM) as his pivot. He did nothing less by posting just three less points than the year before playing on a Red Deer Rebel (WHL) team that was unable to reach the playoffs. With his season ended, he has joined Bridgeport, but has yet to see any action. This will be a good test for him to see how he holds up playing against grown men. The WHL is considered by many to be the toughest of all junior leagues so he should be able to settle in fine. He has proven that he can play and succeed with anyone at center. His size is not in question, and he is not afraid to drive the net hard. Also, he has a great work ethic, but does need to improve his skating ability. Persson projects to be a second or third line scoring forward with more experience.

20. (NR) Andrei Pedan, D, 7D
Drafted 3rd Round, 63rd overall, 2011

Pedan is a massive Russian defenseman who has really developed his game offensively this season. Playing for the Guelph Storm (OHL), he recorded 40 points in the regular season as opposed to 12 the year before. This is a huge jump for a defenseman and is a very promising sign. Not only did he light up the score sheet, he also has a nasty side. This season he recorded 152 penalty minutes showing he isn’t afraid to engage in the rough stuff. At 6’4 he has the size to be a dominant defenseman at the next level. He is still very raw and has lots of room to grow. Pedan would definitely benefit from another year playing in the junior ranks and hopefully a WJC appearance with Team Russia before he turns professional. It is still hard to tell where he will end up, but he could prove to be a steal for the Islanders.