Islanders NCAA prospect update

By Al Alven

The New York Islanders’ selection of two college-bound players at the 2005 NHL Entry Draft represented a departure from the norm for an organization that has recruited almost exclusively from the major junior and European ranks over the past five years.

With the additions of current Clarkson University freshmen Shea Guthrie and Tyrell Mason, the franchise actually tripled the size of its NCAA reserve. This duo has joined with Notre Dame junior Wes O’Neill to form a very small, but well-regarded stable of collegiate talent for the organization.

The following is a look at the performances of these players to this point in the season.

Shea Guthrie, C
Freshman, Clarkson University (ECAC)
Drafted: 2005 (3rd round, 76th overall)

Coming to Clarkson after a stellar high school career at St. George’s (Division II Prep) in Newport, Rhode Island, Guthrie wasted little time in establishing himself as an impact player with the Golden Knights.

The 18-year-old pivot has been one of the team’s go-to guys since the opening faceoff of the season, playing in all game situations and contributing at both ends of the ice.

Statistically, Guthrie has racked up an impressive 24 points (7 goals, 17 assists) and 54 PIMs in 28 games. He currently ranks third overall on the Golden Knights and 14th in the nation among freshmen in scoring.

At 6’0, 198 lbs. (and growing), Guthrie possesses an excellent blend of size and skill. He is an explosive skater, and has the hands, sense and vision to start or finish off plays. He still has some work to do in the defensive end, but his overall game never lacks for effort.

A smart, coachable player who displays a high level of maturity both on and off the ice, Guthrie has the potential to become a very complete performer at the collegiate level rather quickly. He should be a key player and leader for the Golden Knights for the foreseeable future.

Guthrie enjoyed an outstanding senior year with St. George’s in 2004-05, playing a vital role in leading the Dragons to their first ever ISL/New England Division II title. He finished his final season at the school with 50 points (26 goals, 24 assists).

The Carleton Place, ON native earned numerous honors for his outstanding season that included the ISL’s Eberheart Division MVP award and a selection to the All-England Division II First Team. He also took home NEPSIHA and U.S. Hockey Report (USHR) Division II Player of the Year awards.

Tyrell Mason, D
Freshman, Clarkson University (ECAC)
Drafted: 2005 (6th round, 180th overall)

A big, mobile defenseman with above-average vision and fine puck-moving skills, Mason has thus far adjusted well to the style and pace of the collegiate game.

While he has not yet made the type of impact that fellow freshman Guthrie has on the Clarkson program, the Golden Knights are counting on the Grand Prairie, Alberta native to ultimately develop into a strong two-way force for the team.

Mason, who has earned a regular shift since the start of the season, is one of only four players to appear in all 30 of Clarkson’s games to this point. He has received high praise from his coaching staff for his durability and consistently steady level of play.

Envisioned as a future power play specialist for the Golden Knights, Mason has yet to register a special teams point in limited duty on the team’s first power play unit. He has, however, shown lots of promise, particularly with a low, accurate point shot and solid perimeter passing game.

Mason displayed plenty of offensive potential over the past two seasons with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks of the BCHL, registering 78 points (14 goals, 64 assists) in 110 total games. He has registered three points (1 goal, 2 assists) for Clarkson thus far.

The offense is expected to come as Mason assimilates himself and picks up more experience at the collegiate level. To this point, however, the 19-year-old rearguard has done a solid job in his own end, keeping mistakes to a minimum with simple, safe plays.

He has shown a propensity to make a strong first pass, moves the puck out of his zone effectively and uses his teammates well.

Mason has added considerable muscle to his 6’1, 185 lb. frame over the past year. He must continue to focus on this area, as additional strength will be an essential factor in helping him battle the bigger ECAC forwards as his collegiate career moves forward.

Wes O’Neill, D
Junior, Notre Dame University (CCHA)
Drafted: 2004 (4th round, 115th overall)

O’Neill enjoyed a breakout season as a sophomore in 2004-05, emerging as the uncontested leader of Notre Dame’s defensive unit and finishing second overall on the team with 20 points (6 goals, 14 assists) in 38 games.

The 6’3, 226 lb. rearguard has taken his game to yet another level in his junior campaign, displaying consistent signs of improvement in virtually every aspect of play and further solidifying his reputation as a top all-around threat in the CCHA.

A blue collar player who has worked tirelessly to develop his skills since arriving in South Bend, O’Neill logs tons of ice time for the Irish. He currently ranks first among defensemen and fourth overall on the team with 20 points (5 goals, 15 assists) in 29 games.

Like Tyrell Mason, O’Neill is a big, mobile defenseman who possesses solid puck skills. He skates very well for his size, chewing up large chunks of ice with his long, deliberate strides. He has also honed a heavy, accurate slapshot, and exhibits strong instincts and hockey sense at both ends of the rink.

O’Neill has become more of a physical force, though he still relies mainly on body positioning and his long wingspan to defend against opposing forwards. He has shown more of a willingness to initiate contact along the boards and behind the net, and will not back down from one-on-one confrontations.

Decision-making is one aspect that the Windsor, ON native still must work on, as he is occasionally guilty of over-thinking things in his own end. He is also prone to taking seemingly unnecessary gambles from time to time, launching long, low-percentage passes that result in turnovers.

More than likely, however, these are attempts by O’Neill to generate offense for a team that has struggled mightily to score in recent years.

At this point, O’Neill remains something of a wildcard prospect for the Islanders. While he has developed into a rather complete defenseman at the collegiate level, it remains to be seen how his game will translate at the professional level.

He is all but a lock to return to Notre Dame for a fourth and final season in 2006-07. In the meantime, look for O’Neill to continue to step up his game as the Irish head toward the stretch run to this year’s CCHA tournament.

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.