Plenty of New Faces for the Farm

By Joe Muccia

Plenty of New Faces for the Farm

The Islanders have recently signed or extended training camp invites to a number of players. In addition to looking at some of those players, I’d also like to take a quick look at Cory Stillman. Again I have to give credit to Islanders CEO Charles Wang for green-lighting Mike Milbury to increase payroll and organizational depth. It cannot be overstated how important it is for the Isles to have good depth on their farm teams. This affords them the ability to not rush youngsters into the NHL.

Having the Bridgeport SoundTigers as their primary affiliate and the Trenton Titans (shared with the Philadelphia Flyers) as their ECHL affiliate, the Isles will have two solid organizations to let their players develop. With the added responsibility of being the parent organization for a new AHL team, the Islanders and Mike Milbury have jumped right into stocking that team.

It is evident that some of the players signed or invited to camp are earmarked for the SoundTigers. In order to keep that franchise a healthy, viable and profitable organization many players are brought in to provide minor-league level experience and firepower. I am not saying that none of these players has a shot at making the Islanders team, I’m just saying that with the amount of quality talent available to the Isles, it is conceivable that many experienced players may end up on the Tigers or Titans. This isn’t a bad thing. These players can make the team very successful and everyone knows that that is the goal of any professional sports team.

Now on to the players:

Dave Roche – LW: The Islanders, looking to add feisty play and scoring from the left side, signed the 27 year-old former Flame and Penguin. At 6’4”, 230lbs, Roche is an imposing figure. He played last year for the AHL St. John Flames and finished the year with 58 points (32 goals, 14 PPG’s) and 179 PIM’s. He followed that up with a solid postseason finishing with 3 goals and 9 points in 19 games and helping the Baby Flames capture the Calder Cup as AHL Champs.

If Roche does not make the Isles roster, he’ll be looked to provide leadership to what will probably be a relatively young Tigers team. He’ll also be looked to shore up the left wing especially because it appears to be one of the areas the Isles and Tigers have the least amount of depth. The Tigers will rely on Roche’s experience, goal-scoring ability and toughness.

David Nemirovsky – RW: A Toronto native of Russian heritage, Nemirovsky has previously skated for the Panthers and Maple Leafs. Originally a 4th round pick of the Panthers, Nemirovsky was well regarded when drafted. He was never able to parlay his minor league success into NHL points at the same pace. In addition to his inability to light the lamp at the NHL level, time has shown Nemirovsky to be player who does not pay attention to defensive assignments. After signing with the Leafs, he was assigned to the St. John’s Maple Leafs. He played sparingly and later went to Sweden. He ended up tallying 18 points in 26 games for Jonkoping of the Swedish Elite League.

Nemirovsky will come to camp without a contract. He will have a tough battle due to the depth at right wing (including his former teammate from the Panthers, Jason Podollan). Although he is a long shot to make either team, if he does win a contract, he will likely be ticketed for Bridgeport. For that to happen though, Nemirovsky will have to show more dedication to the defensive aspects of hockey.

Jason Podollan – RW: Another veteran of the Florida and Toronto organizations (along with the Los Angeles Kings), Podollan has been a prolific minor league scorer. He too has been unable to replicate his minor league success on the NHL level.

Podollan has excellent shooting instincts and a quick release. Even though he is not overly quick, he has good acceleration. The Isles staff is familiar with Podollan because as a member of the Kings organization, he skated for the Lowell Lock Monsters of which the Islanders shared affiliation with the Kings. That is probably one of the reasons why he was signed (in addition to the need for minor league depth).

Again with the depth at right wing very good, Podollan could find himself playing at Bridgeport. Even though he is only 26 years old, Podollan will be looked upon to provide leadership and offensive spark to the new franchise.

Daniel Bergeron – D: Bergeron is another graduate of Baie-Comeau (QMJHL). The Isles are looking for another unpolished gem in the same manner they found Marco Charpentier and David St.-Germain. The hulking 6’5”, 212lb defender racked up 380 PIM’s in 67 games. He also managed to tally 3 goals and 5 assists went not in the sin bin.

The Isles may feel that they may have another Eric Cairns on their hands with Bergeron. He is a raw defensive prospect with pugilistic skills. He may take some time before he comes around, but as was the case with Cairns, the finished product may be worth the wait. He could end up being that big, nasty defenseman that everyone hates to play against. It’s safe to say that he is a long-term project.

If Bergeron does impress enough to get a contract, he’ll probably be assigned to Trenton due to the plethora of defensive personnel available to the Isles and Bridgeport staff. In addition to that, the ECHL will be a much better league for Bergeron to find his legs and get this feet wet. Either way, Bergeron is an intriguing training camp invite.

Cory Stillman – C: The Isles 4th round pick (101st overall) from the 2001 Entry Draft was also the Isles first pick of the draft (after trading the 2nd overall to Ottawa in the Yashin deal). During the CHL Prospects testing, Stillman was rated 1st overall in the strength category. The Isles staff couldn’t believe that the 19th rated North American skater had fallen into their laps in the 4th round.

The cousin of the St. Louis forward of the same name was elated upon hearing that the Islanders had drafted him. The Isles were elated to have the 6’2”, 204lb centerman from Kingston (OHL) available that late in the draft, they felt that he would go in the second round. The stocky left-handed shooter has excellent size, skating and strength. He is hard to knock off the puck and works the corners well.

Due to the fact that Stillman has a year of eligibility left he will return to Kingston. The Isles feel that, as a number one center on the Frontenacs, Stillman’s learning curve will expand rapidly. With him getting more ice time and responsibility, he will be better prepared for moving up to the ECHL or AHL level. It is unknown whether or not Stillman will attend the Isles training camp, but it is likely considering that Justin Mapletoft and Raffi Torres attended last years camp and then returned to their junior teams. It could only be a positive experience for the youngster.

So there’s a quick look at some of the new faces that will be around for training camp at Lake Placid. Some of these players are earmarked for the AHL and others are long-term projects. The Tigers appear to have excellent depth available to them. As training camp proceeds and Peter Laviolette pairs down his roster, we will get a better idea on what the Bridgeport roster will look like. If you look at the Islanders organizational roster, with a few minor exceptions, most of the lines and defensive positions are spoken for on Long Island. What is left are a couple of third/fourth line jobs and maybe one or two defensive spots. For goalies, it is relatively wide open. With intriguing possible line combinations/defensive pairings still up in the air and a new hope around the team, the next four weeks will be the most interesting time in Islander land since the ’93 playoffs.

Finally, in one of my previous articles, I identified the minor league teams of Worcester, Hershey and Rochester and their fine relationships with their parent teams (St. Louis, Colorado and Buffalo), as something the Isles should emulate with Bridgeport. I would be remiss if I did not also give “props” to the outstanding Albany River Rats and how they have kept the Devils supplied with excellent players for years.

So enjoy the preseason, I know I will!