Islanders Top 20 prospects

By George Bachul

The New York Islanders have a prospect pool that is developing quite nicely. Late draftees are exceeding expectations and early round draft picks are starting to hit their stride while carving their niche within the organization. With the recent additions of Denis Grebeshkov and Jeff Tambellini from the Los Angeles Kings in a trade for Mark Parrish and Brent Sopel, the Islanders prospect stable looks increasingly deep and strong.

Top 20 at a Glance

1. (4) Robert Nilsson

2. (1) Petteri Nokelainen

3. (2) Ryan O’Marra

4. (NR) Jeff Tambellini

5. (NR) Denis Grebeshkov

6. (3) Sean Bergenheim

7. (6) Chris Campoli

8. (5) Jeremy Colliton

9. (7) Bruno Gervais

10. (15) Blake Comeau

11. (17) Shea Guthrie

12. (8) Dustin Kohn

13. (9) Wes O’Neill

14. (11) Igor Volkov

15. (10) Ryan Caldwell

16. (12) Frans Nielsen

17. (13) Masi Marjamaki

18. (16) Sergei Ogorodnikov

19. (14) Evgeny Tunik

20. (19) Steve Regier

Key: Rank (previous rank), Name, Position, Grade, Current Team

1. (4) Robert Nilsson, LW – 8.0B – New York Islanders (NHL)

It was the thought of many pundits and observers that what Robert Nilsson may have needed is to come over to North America to develop. After a fine training camp, Nilsson was given opportunity to stick with the big club. As with most rookies, the adjustment became a struggle and “Mini-Magic” was reassigned to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Dec. 4. Nilsson has been recalled as of Feb. 8, but spent the Olympic break with the Sound Tigers and has since returned to the NHL.

Nilsson has started to show the puck skill and skating ability that made him a first round pick in 2003, including a including a beautiful lacrosse style goal against Wilkes-Barre. According to Islanders Assistant Coach Dan Bylsma, “Nilsson’s skill package is outstanding. There’s an excitement when he has the puck but his challenge is to learn how to handle the puck and play a team game. He still needs to learn how to play the North American game. The skill is there, the skating is there. He just needs to manage the puck better.”

2. (1) Petteri Nokelainen, C – 7.5B – New York Islanders (NHL)

It is a good news, bad news season for Petteri Nokelainen. The good news is he made the New York Islanders out of training camp. The bad news is that 12 games into the season his year appears to be over with a knee injury (patella tendonitis).

Nokelainen has already endeared himself to the Islanders coaching staff for being a “hard worker and a talented kid. He’s a strong physical player,” according to Bylsma.

The injury is expected to sideline the 2004 first draft pick for the remainder of the season but he is expected to make a full recovery. “He just needs to time and treatment and he’ll be 100 percent. There are injuries that are more serious [for the knee]. This is tendonitis and so with time and treatment he’ll make a full recovery,” according to Bylsma.

Nokelainen, once recovered will continue his development as a versatile, physical, energy forward. His strong defensive game will continue to make him an asset to the Islanders forward ranks.

3. (2) Ryan O’Marra, C – 7.5B – Erie Otters (OHL)

When the New York Islanders selected Ryan O’Marra with the 15th pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, it seemed that everyone knew what they were getting, a strong two-way center that finishes checks. Although, O’Marra himself thinks that his offense is underrated.

O’Marra has had a slow start to the season offensively for the Erie Otters of the OHL but as the calendar turned to 2006 his pace picked up considerably including 17 points in the first 11 games in February.

O’Marra had a strong training camp for the Islanders but his development required being returned to the Otters and also an important role in Canada’s second consecutive gold medal at the Under 20 World Junior Championships.

As a complete player, it appears that it isn’t a matter of if he makes the NHL but when. He has tremendous physical tools, skills and hockey sense and the Long Island brass are bullish about his future in an Islander uniform.

4. (NR) Jeff Tambellini, LW – 7.5B – New York Islanders/Bridgeport Sound Tigers

On deadline day in a trade that also brought fellow Manchester Monarch Denis Grebeshkov, the
Islanders acquired Jeff Tambellini for Mark Parrish and Brent Sopel.

The first round pick in 2003(27th overall) has had a very solid first year as a pro after a solid three years at Michigan in the NCAA in which he was CCHA All-Star in two out of three seasons and the CCHA tournament MVP in 2004-05. This season he has played at a point a game pace for Manchester and was named to the 2006 Rbk Hockey AHL All-Star Classic. Tambellini was also called up for a four-game stint in Los Angeles in which he recorded no points and was a -1.

Tambellini is a solid two-way forward with good hands around the net and is a solid skater. Has a strong accurate shot. Expect his arrival in the NHL as a full-time player in the near future.

5. (NR) Denis Grebeshkov, D – 7.5B – New York Islanders/Bridgeport Sound Tigers

Grebeshkov the 18th overall pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft is a back-to-back AHL All-Star and in 2004-05 was fourth in points for all AHL defensemen with 49 points. This season though Grebeshkov has struggled a bit defensively although he was called up for an eight-game stint with Los Angeles earning two assists while accruing a -4 rating.

Grebeshkov is still as highly touted as he was in his draft year as the fourth-ranked European skater. He has an impressive array of offensive skills with a hard shot and the ability to see the ice very well and is a solid power play quarterback. His is a good all-around skater with a quick first step and good top speed. The only deficiency in his game right now appears to be in the back end. His defensive zone coverage still needs work and his positional play will have to continue to develop for him to be successful at the NHL level.

6. (3) Sean Bergenheim, LW – 7.0B – Bridgeport Sound Tigers (AHL)

In the world of hockey, being cut or demoted is never an easy thing. It is even more difficult when you are the last player cut from any one roster. That was the case this year for Sean Bergenheim. After much consideration, then head coach Steve Stirling and GM Mike Milbury made the decision that Bergenheim’s development would be better suited in a top line leadership role in Bridgeport as opposed to a limited role on the Islanders.

The 2002 first round draft pick “has lots of flair,” Bylsma told Hockey’s Future. “This is something we’ve gone more towards — skill.”

Bergenheim channelled his energy into a solid season thus far for the Sound Tigers leading the team in goals three quarters of the way through the season with 25 and second in points with 46.

This coupled with a PlanetUSA selection for the Dodge AHL All-Star Classic, makes the season a success for Bergenheim to this point. Bergenheim was also called up to the Islanders for a three-game stint in January in which he did not register any points.

Bergenheim’s strong skating and puck handling skill will continue to open doors for him at the NHL level.

7. (6) Chris Campoli, D – 7.0B – New York Islanders (NHL)

As a generality, a seventh round pick in any entry draft doesn’t exude top prospect. Chris Campoli didn’t seem to mind. After a very smooth transition from the Erie Otters to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Campoli took his 2004-05 AHL All Rookie year and parlayed it into a NHL job in the fall of 2005. Campoli made the Islanders right out of camp and put together a fine first third of the season before struggling a bit with the grind of the NHL schedule in January getting scratched from two games.

The seventh round draft pick in 2004 “is part of the future and part of right now. He’s a young kid with a panache for the game and is confident,” according to Bylsma.

While Campoli has proven he can score, Bylsma believes Campoli’s biggest gift is his confidence. “He sees the game really well and he’s confident. He makes mistakes but he learns really quickly.” Campoli has already proven that he can play in the NHL, but to take his game to the next level Bylsma feels he “still needs to improve on his foot speed and in particular his first stride.”

8. (5) Jeremy Colliton, RW/C – 7.5C – Bridgeport Sound Tigers (AHL)

Jeremy Colliton is another Islanders prospect who has adjusted better than expected to the rigors of his first professional season. The second round pick (58th overall) in 2003 after a solid career in Prince Albert of the WHL has left the junior mindset behind and has immediately turned into a contributing pro.

He has been a sparkplug for the Sound Tigers as well, presently ranking third in points.

“Colliton has character, work ethic and he’s matured a lot this year in the AHL,” said Bylsma. “He really fits this profile [of strong work ethic and character].”

Colliton’s play hasn’t gone unnoticed having received a couple of call-ups from the Islanders. After six games Colliton still remains scoreless showing that there is still improvement required for him to hit the next level.

“He needs to get quicker, more strength and physicality,” according to Bylsma.

9. (7) Bruno Gervais, D – 7.5C – Bridgeport Sound Tigers (AHL)

Much like Chris Campoli, Bruno Gervais far exceeded expectations of a late round pick. Selected in the sixth round of the 2003 draft, Gervais wowed Islander brass in the fall of 2003 with a stellar camp and thoughts that he was nearer to being a pro than they had first believed.

Gervais was also sidelined two years ago with a knee injury, but the defenseman has fully recovered. The 6’0, 188-pound defenseman made his NHL debut on Dec. 4 when he was called up for nine games. He notched an assist and averaged 10:10 minutes of ice time. Gervais has spent the majority of the season in the AHL and he has been successful. Bylsma agreed.

“Bruno and [Islanders defenseman Chris] Campoli played together and they’re both going to be NHL defensemen, Gervais just needs more time. The defenseman is the hardest position to play besides goalie, takes more time to mature and you certainly don’t want to rush them. He’s a smart kid, intelligent and he’s dominating at the AHL level. But it’s definitely promising when you have two young defensemen coming up [in your system].”

10. (15) Blake Comeau, RW – 7.0B – Kelowna Rockets (WHL)

For a young player playing junior hockey in Western Canada, it can be difficult to set realistic goals for yourself.

“I expected him to continue to develop and motivate himself to be a better player,“ explained Rockets head coach Jeff Truitt to Hockey’s Future, when asked about his expectations of Comeau heading in to the current season. “Over the past couple years he’s taken the steps to make himself an elite player here and a great pro prospect. He’s certainly not complacent.”

Comeau to this point in the season has met all expectations. This season in Kelowna he has emerged as an offensive leader for the Rockets and has helped the team clinch a playoff spot with six games remaining on the schedule.

Earlier in the year, Comeau played a significant role in the World Junior Championships for Team Canada leading the team in scoring (7 points in 6 games) and was heavily relied on in all roles by head coach Brent Sutter.

Comeau is the type of player that you would expect to do all the little things properly. He makes the smart play on the ice and has a deceptive skill set. With continued development, an NHL future is a solid possibility.

11. (17) Shea Guthrie, C – 7.0B – Clarkson Golden Knights (NCAA)

Seemingly out of nowhere, Shea Guthrie has burst on the scene as a legitimate prospect for the organization. Guthrie came out of US Prep School St. George’s and was relatively unknown even on draft day, ranked 117th in North America by NHL Central Scouting.

Guthrie is now making waves in the NCAA and making the Islander scouting staff look good. After a short acclimatizing period, Guthrie now is one of the highest-scoring freshman in the NCAA with 25 points in 31 games.

Guthrie talked about his experience at Clarkson with Hockey’s Future recently.

“I’m always looking to improve everything that I do out on the ice,” he said. “Defense has definitely been my biggest concern this year. The coaches are honest with me and have told me that if I play better defense then I’m going to get the ice time. I’ve really put a lot work into just getting more acquainted with my responsibilities in the defensive zone. All defensive zone stuff is just hard work really, so I think that I’ve worked very hard at it and I think I have improved a lot of that this year. It’s so much a part of the college game that you’re forced to learn and adapt to the defensive part of the system, otherwise you won’t play nor will you survive. That has been my biggest focus this year.”

12. (8) Dustin Kohn, D – 7.0C – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)

After a strong two-way season in 2004-05, Dustin Kohn decided he was going to focus his ability on the defensive side of the puck. After 38 games for the Calgary Hitmen, Kohn found himself in the middle of a mid-season trade to the Brandon Wheat Kings. The Wheat Kings were looking for some offensive help on the blue line and Kohn fit the bill. Kohn’s focus on the defensive part of the game has affected his numbers this season, and was a contributing factor in not being selected to the Under 20 Canadian World Junior final selection camp.

Paired with 19-year-old Daryl Boyle on the Wheat Kings defense, Kohn has had a solid effect since his arrival.

Kohn is a great skater with very good offensive skill. He can also fill a role on any special team and has good positioning. He sees the ice very well, but needs to work on his physical play. If Kohn were to add a gritty dimension to his game, it would go a long way to making him into a complete player.

13. (9) Wes O’Neill, D – 7.0C – Notre Dame (NCAA)

Wes O’Neill is considered the love him or hate him prospect in the Islanders stable of prospects. In his draft year, O’Neill was considered a classic case of having many tools but a questionable toolbox.

This season, O’Neill has taken further strides in all facets of his game. He is one of the leaders for Notre Dame and is considered a top threat in the NCAA. O’Neill is a hardworking player and was relied heavily on by coach Jeff Jackson. The ongoing issue with O’Neill is forcing passes into traffic and making questionable decisions with the puck. If those issues are overcome, he can have a good overall game.

O’Neill is expected back for a fourth and final season with the Irish. His strong skating and offensive skills will continue to be honed in a solid NCAA program.

14. (11) Igor Volkov, RW – 6.5B – Ufa Salavat Yulaev (RSL)

An issue during the lockout was the problematic development of European prospects due to more NHLers looking for work. Volkov was one such player whose ice time faded as the year went on in 2004-05 and was ultimately traded from his team of the last five seasons to Moscow Dynamo. He was a player that the Islanders considered quite a steal in 2003’s eighth round since he wasn’t on NHL Central Scouting list at all.

Volkov is currently back with Ufa Salavat Yulaev in the Russian league and currently ranks top 20 in scoring in the league, in the same bracket as highly touted prospects Igor Grigorenko (DET) and Alexei Kaigorodov (OTT).

Volkov is a tenacious player with good puck skill and a willingness to get into the dirty areas to score. He has decent quickness and good hands around the net.

Volkov’s future lays primarily in the Islanders deciding to bring him to North America and seeing if his Russian Super League success can translate across the pond.

15. (10) Ryan Caldwell, D – 6.5C – Bridgeport Sound Tigers (AHL)

After a moderately successful first year as a professional in 2004-05 in which Caldwell recorded 21 points and a team-worst -16 plus/minus rating, 2005-06 was to be a step forward.

At present, that can’t be said for the former WCHA defensive player of the year. His offensive production is down from a year ago and his defensive play had lapsed to the point where he was benched for parts of games in December. Things seem to have picked up defensively since being paired up with Vince Macri, but Caldwell still needs to develop some consistency.

Caldwell is a defensive rearguard who prides himself on making a solid first pass out of the zone. He will finish the year at Bridgeport and look towards competing for a spot on the Islanders next season.
16. (12) Frans Nielsen, C – 6.5D – Timra IK (SEL)

Frans Nielsen has the goal to be the first NHL player of Danish decent. His focus to this end had him change teams after four years playing with Malmo in the same league to Timra. The prevailing thought is Timra has more of a history in developing NHL players.

The third round pick in the 2002 NHL draft has been consistent in his development. He is an offensive player that is a very good skater with creative flair. The Islanders management are still high on Nielsen hoping he will soon come over to North America to continue his development.

The knock on Nielsen has been and continues to be whether or not he is physically capable of dealing with the grind of North American pro hockey.

16. (12) Frans Nielsen, C – 6.5D – Timra IK (SEL)

Frans Nielsen has the goal to be the first NHL player of Danish decent. His focus to this end had him change teams after four years playing with Malmo in the same league to Timra. The prevailing thought is Timra has more of a history in developing NHL players.

The third round pick in the 2002 NHL draft has been consistent in his development. He is an offensive player that is a very good skater with creative flair. The Islanders management are still high on Nielsen hoping he will soon come over to North America to continue his development.

The knock on Nielsen has been and continues to be whether or not he is physically capable of dealing with the grind of North American pro hockey.

17. (13) Masi Marjamaki, RW – 6.0B – Bridgeport Sound Tigers (AHL)

Masi Marjamaki was originally a second round pick of the Boston Bruins after coming to play junior in the WHL in 2002-03. Unable to come to terms with the Bruins, Marjamaki re-entered the draft and was selected in the fifth round by the Islanders.

Marjamaki scored 120 points (50 goals, 70 assists) during his junior career in 179 games. Now in his first professional season, Marjamaki is adapting to the physical grind of the AHL in hopes of progressing to the next step.

Marjamaki is a tireless worker who gives other teams fits on the forecheck. He may find his niche as a defensive forward and isn’t shy of physical play. His inability to develop his offensive skills means that Marjamaki will either find an NHL future as a third or fourth line energy player or not at all.

18. (16) Sergei Ogorodnikov, C – 7.0C – Salavat Yulayev Ufa (RSL)

After splitting the season in 2004-05 between CSKA Moscow and their feeder club CSKA Moscow 2, Ogorodnikov had higher expectations this year with CSKA. Legendary coach Viktor Tikhonov did not agree, playing Ogorodnikov in a reduced role. He was released by the club to compete in the CHL/Russia Challenge and was named the Russian team captain and led the Russian team in scoring in the exhibition series.

Ogorodnikov was also selected to play for the Russian team at the Under 20 World Juniors where he also played in a limited role. Upon his return to Russia, Ogorodnikov was transferred to Salavat Yulayev Ufa, the same team as fellow Islander prospect Igor Volkov. Thirteen games into the season Ogorodnikov has chipped in with three assists.

Ogorodnikov will have to overcome the soft label and evolve as a player to compete at the next level. His good showing in the CHL/Russia challenge shows that he does have the potential should he choose to harness it.

19. (14) Evgeny Tunik, C/RW – 7.0D – Bridgeport Sound Tigers (AHL)

Evgeny Tunik is a player who needed to come to North America to help in his development. In 2004-05 he spent time with three different teams in Russia, playing in a total of 21 games and not receiving much opportunity to excel.

Tunik has started his North American career in Bridgeport of the American Hockey League and is now adapting to life, language and a different style of game.

Tunik is a big, strong player at 6’3 and over 200 lbs that won’t impress you by making hits but utilizes his strength to go into traffic. He has decent puck skills but his skating still requires more work.

20. (19) Steve Regier, LW – 5.5B – Bridgeport Sound Tigers (AHL)

Steve Regier was a late bloomer but his perseverance in the WHL paid off by being drafted as a 19-year-old by the Islanders. Regier earned a full time spot with Bridgeport in 2004-05 with his aggressive, physical play.

After a moderately successful first season where he chipped in seven goals and 15 assists for 22 points and a +6 rating, Regier has continued to improve. He is a top two-line player and is also playing on both special teams.

Regier has decent hands and is physically imposing at 6’5 and 205 lbs and uses his size well. He is still a little rough around the edges and will require more polish to his game to move up.

With the 2006 NHL trade deadline moves, the Islanders have improved a decent system with some good pro prospects already in it. As these prospects develop, the Islanders may boast one of the higher end systems in the NHL.

Tanya Lyon and DJ Powers contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.