New York Islanders prospects show ample progress and promise

By Josh Buckingham

Nino Niederreiter - New York Islanders

Photo: Forward Nino Niederreiter has had a solid bounceback season in the AHL, managing 26 goals and 45 points through 64 games. (courtey of Fred Kfoury/Icon SMI)

The New York Islanders have done a tremendous job of stockpiling a very deep and talented prospect pool. General Manager Garth Snow has learned to not rush his youngsters and to make sure they are one hundred percent ready before he calls upon them for full-time NHL duty. The next few years will be critical in the development of these young guns and will prove if they can play at the NHL level.

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

Strome has proven that he can do it all at the OHL level captaining the Niagara IceDogs. He has really fine-tuned his game and has become a much more complete player. In 53 games with the IceDogs he has potted 34 goals and added 60 helpers. He added another six points in six games playing for his native Canada in the WJC. He is a great skater who with outstanding hands and great vision. This season he has really improved his defensive game, which was the thing he needed to improve the most headed into the 2012-13 season.

If Strome is going to be successful at the NHL level he could definitely add a bit more muscle this off-season. He appears on his way to becoming a top two center as early as next season.

2. (2) Griffin Reinhart, D, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 4th overall, 2012

Reinhart has put together another very solid season as captain of the Edomonton Oil Kings of the WHL. His point total is down from 36 to 29 points this season, but that is most likely due to the defensive style of play implemented by the Oil Kings. He also gained some valuable experience playing for Canada in the WJC. He did not receive a lot of minutes due to the amount of talent the Canadians had, but when he was on the ice he did not seem out of place. He has ideal size for a defensemen, but he does not physically punish opposing players. He makes up for his lack of physical play with superb positioning and stick work. He owns a very good breakout pass and is capable of running the power play. His skating ability and footwork are above average for a big guy and have improved this season.

If he can somehow develop a mean streak of some sort he could be an absolutely dominant player. For now he projects a solid minute munching top pairing defenseman that can shut down the oppositions top lines and contribute offensively.

3. (3) Matt Donovan, D, 7.0B
Drafted 4th round, 96th overall, 2008

Due to the shortened season and the acquisition of Lubomir Visnovsky, Donovan has remained in Bridgeport for the whole season thus far. He has played very well in Bridgeport scoring 11 goals and adding 25 assists in 65 games. He is not the biggest defensemen, but he is very solid weighing over 200 pounds. He uses his rock-solid frame to knock opposing players off the puck and to blast the puck from the point. He skates very well and has good vision in his own zone and on the power play.

If the Islanders decide to make some moves at the trade deadline he could definitely be called up this season. If not he will most likely fight for a spot at next seasons training camp. Overall, he projects as a top four defenseman with offensive upside. 

4. (6) Nino Niederreiter, LW, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 5th overall, 2010

Niederreiter has bounced back nicely this season even though he is competing in Bridgeport rather than Long Island. After an extremely disappointing season last year, which saw him score just one goal in 55 games with the Islanders, he has 26 goals and 19 assists in 64 games in Bridgeport so far this season.

Some were surprised he was not on the Islanders opening night roster due to this hot start at the AHL level, and it created a brief distraction. Now that everything has settled down, he has continued to thrive with the Sound Tigers, playing top line minutes and gaining the valuable experience he needs. There is no doubt that he has the skills needed to succeed at the NHL level, it is just the fact of whether or not he can consistently put it all together.

For now he will continue to play a large role in Bridgeport until the Islanders believe he is ready for full-time NHL duty. He still projects as a top six scoring winger as early as next season.

5. (5) Brock Nelson, C, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 30th overall, 2010

Nelson is another youngster enjoying a very successful rookie season in Bridgeport. He has played in 56 games and has buried 19 goals and assisted on 25 others. He has played a lot on a line with Niederreiter and they have gained some very good chemistry. He is not known as a real playmaker, but more of a powerful center. He skates very well and is very responsible in all three zones. He is also very good in the faceoff circle.

He will continue to play big minutes in Bridgeport and adapt to the pro style of play. He could make the Islanders as early as next season and has the potential to be a number two center or top six winger if they decide to move him onto the wing.

6. (13) Ville Pokka, D, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 34th overall, 2012

Pokka has rose up six spots since the beginning of the season due to his great play for Finland in the WJC and his improvement in Finland's top professional league. For the second consecutive season he turned a lot of heads with his outstanding play in the WJC. This year he scored two goals and added four assists in six games. He controlled the game and played with a lot of poise and confidence. This then translated into his game for Kärpät in the SM-liiga. In 47 games against grown men he has scored six goals and assisted on six others. He is not the biggest guy on the ice, but he is very well rounded and plays a solid defensive game. He knows how to move the puck well from the backend and has a high hockey IQ. He does tend to make mistakes, but that happens when you are an 18 year old playing against the best players in Finland.

He will continue to develop his game in his native country of Finland until he and the Islanders feel he is ready to make the jump to North America. He has the potential to become a top four defenseman with the Islanders.

7. (7) Kirill Kabanov, LW, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 65th overall, 2010

Kabanov is finally back in the lineup for Bridgeport after recovering from surgery due to a wrist laceration he suffered at the beginning of the season. Since returning to the lineup he has just one goal and seven assists in 27 games. He has been playing mostly in a bottom six role, which helps explain his lack of offensive production. Overall, he is a big winger with good hands and skating abilities capable of putting the puck in the back of the net.

For now this young winger will hone his game in Bridgeport and hopefully regain his scoring touch. He projects as a top six winger with a good amount of offensive upside.

8. (20) Adam Pelech, D, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 65th overall, 2012

Pelech is the biggest mover in this most recent ranking period due to his offensive outburst playing for the Erie Otters of the OHL this season. In 59 games he hammered home eight goals to go along with 32 assists. What is most impressive about his offensive stat line is that he was able to do this playing for the second worst team in the league. He is a great competitor and leader in the locker room. He makes opposing forwards lives miserable with his nasty play.

He will most likely play another year with the Erie Otters where he has a good chance to be promoted to captain. If he continues to improve at this rate he could become a very effective NHL defenseman.

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

Lee captained his Notre Dame squad to the last ever CCHA championship with a victory over Michigan and clinched them a birth in the NCAA tournament. He also led the CCHA in overall scoring and goals with 20 goals and 18 assists good for 38 points. He has really proven to be "Mr. Everything" at Notre Dame this season becoming a much more complete player. The one knock on his game is his skating, where, as a big guy, he has at times struggled.

It will be very interesting to see whether he decides to return to Notre Dame for his senior season or make the jump to the professional level. He has the skills to become a very effective power forward.

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

Mayfield played a bigger role on the Pioneer blue line this season and received many more minutes as a result. He is a hulking defender that uses his body to crush opposing forwards and is a very intimidating force. He is a very gritty defender that will fight for every inch. He is not going to blow you away with his offensive play, but he possesses a strong shot and good vision. He is fast but must become a stronger, more explosive skater. He also, in general, needs to add more muscle to his frame.

Like Lee, it is still up in the air whether he will decide to play another season at the University of Denver or sign an entry-level contract with the Islanders. Mayfield has the potential to be a top four shut down defenseman and a great complement to an offensive defenseman.

11. (10) Anders Nilsson, G, 7.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 62nd overall, 2009

This has been a very eventful season for this promising netminder. His season was off to a rocky start before he suffered an illness, which has kept him off the ice since January. Before the illness his numbers were nowhere near where they needed to be. He has just recently begun skating again in Bridgeport and hopefully has made a full recovery. Nilsson is a very imposing netminder given his tremendous size. He is not the quickest goalie but he makes up for that with his superb positioning.

There were very high hopes this year for Nilsson that he has yet to live up to, but there is still time for him to turn it around. Overall, he still has a ton of potential and the upside to become a reliable number one goaltender at the NHL level.

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

Poulin struggled a bit out of the gates, but he recently has been called up to the big club due to the downfall and demotion of Rick DiPietro. He has started two games since being called up and has lost both decisions. With the Islanders he has posted a 3.88 goals against average and a .866 percent save percentage. The numbers are not indicative of his overall play however. He is a very competitive goaltender that is very flexible and athletic. He possesses ideal size for a netminder as well.

For now Poulin will continue to back up Evgeni Nabokov as the Islanders continue to fight for a playoff spot. He has the chance to become a number one in the next few years if he continues to develop and gain the experience he needs, but he is more likely fitted to become a high-end back up. 

13. (8) Casey Cizikas, C/LW, 6.5A
Drafted 4th round, 92nd overall, 2009

Cizikas is enjoying his first season as a fulltime NHL player, appearing in 32 of the Islanders first 35 games. In those games he has scored five goals to go along with eight assists for 13 points. He has been mostly used in third line role and has brought a lot of energy to the team. He plays with a lot of intensity and is ferocious on the forecheck due to his great speed. His offensive output is also not too shabby either considering he usually plays a little over 10 minutes a night.

At this point he appears to be settling in nicely with the Islanders and knows his role. He should be an effective third line spark plug for years to come.

14. (14) David Ullstrom, LW, 6.5B
Drafted 4th round, 102nd overall, 2008

Ullstrom appeared to have been putting together a very nice season before suffering a groin injury, which currently has him on the injury reserve. In 20 games with the Islanders prior to his injury he scored two goals and set up three others for five points. Most nights he was most playing on the third and fourth lines receiving a little less than 10 minutes per game. He has good size, which makes him tough to move off the puck and hard to handle in front of the net. He has good wheels for a big guy, but he needs to be a bit more physical with his large frame.

If he can stay healthy he has a slight chance of working his way up into a top six role, but he most likely will be a third line shut down winger who can also contribute offensively.

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

Sundstrom has enjoyed a successful rookie campaign so far this year in Bridgeport. He has competed in 49 games and has recorded 29 points. He is a big Swedish pivot capable of both creating offensively and shutting down the opposition's top lines. He is very responsible defensively and very effective in the faceoff circle.

He will continue to receive top line minutes in Bridgeport this season to continue to adjust to the North American style of play. He projects to be a third line shutdown center in the next few years.

16. (17) John Persson, LW, 7.0D
Drafted 5th round, 125th overall, 2011

Persson has put the puck in the net at every level he has played at and that now includes the AHL. In his rookie season with Bridgeport he has potted 16 goals in just 55 games. Most of his goals come due to his knack for going to the net and being able to complement skilled players. He creates space for them by forechecking and driving the net hard. The one knock on his game is his skating ability, but he has shown some improvement in that department this season.

He will continue to develop in Bridgeport until they feel he is ready to compete at the next level. If he continues to put the puck in the back of the net he has the potential to be a top six winger capable of scoring 20 goals a season.

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

De Haan is by far the biggest faller in this most recent ranking period due to yet another season-ending injury just three games in Bridgeport. He has dealt with chronic shoulder problems his entire career and having them this early on in his career is extremely alarming. When healthy he has the potential to be a top four defenseman with some offensive upside. However, until he proves he can stay healthy for a full season his future is very murky.

18. (18) Andrey Pedan, D, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 63rd overall, 2011

Pedan put together another very solid season playing for the Guelph Storm in the OHL. This season he scored 14 goals and added 30 helpers to go along with 145 penalty minutes. He is a big tough Russian defensemen that loves to throw his body around and will not shy away from dropping the gloves. He also possesses a very heavy shot from the point. If he is going to succeed at the next level he will definitely need to work on his footwork and overall speed.

19. (20) Robbie Russo, D, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 95th overall, 2011

Russo has settled in as a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame. His point total is up from 15 last season to 23 this year. This season his role has increased as he has moved up into the top four and is receiving a much tougher minutes. He also played a key role in Notre Dame's CCHA title run He is not going to blow you away with any aspect of his game, but he is a very rock solid defender. He plays with a lot of intensity and will never back down.

He will most likely return to Notre Dame for a junior season to gain some more valuable experience before making the jump to the pro level.

20. (NR) Brenden Kichton, D, 7.0D
Drafted 5th round, 127th overall, 2011

Kichton has proven to be one of the most prolific scoring defensemen in the WHL playing for the Spokane Chiefs. He is playing in his fifth and final season with the Chiefs as he ages out of the WHL following this season. In the past three seasons he has played in 206 games and recorded 240 points. In each of those three seasons he has lead the league in both points and assists by defensemen.

The stats do not lie and Kichton is a player to watch in the near future. He is not the biggest defensemen, but is very mobile and shifty. He is an outstanding power play quarterback and moves the puck very well from the back-end. After this year's playoffs he will most likely join the Tigers in Bridgeport and hopefully proves he can score there like he did in the WHL.