The New York Islanders used a total of six rookies this past season. A team that’s seemingly always in the search for more offense, they called upon five rookie forwards and only one defenseman in their bid to make the 2006-07 playoffs.
Jeff Tambellini, LW
LA Kings 2003 first-round draft pick (27th overall) – Traded to the Islanders in 2006
Forward Jeff Tambellini accomplished a lot this season, and there’s little doubt that he is the one Islanders prospect closest to landing a full-time spot on the team’s roster next season.
Tambellini played well enough coming out of training camp to earn a spot on the opening day roster. He played in one game before being sent down to the minors. Throughout the course of the season, Tambellini bounced between the Islanders and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the NHL club’s minor league affiliate. By the end of the season, Tambellini played 23 NHL games, registering two goals, seven assists and nine points to go along with six penalty minutes.
During the rest of his time playing for the Sound Tigers, the speedy forward racked up 30 goals and 29 assists for 59 points to go along with 46 penalty minutes in only 50 games played. Despite his long periods of absence, his statistics held up as most on the team for the season.
Tambellini possesses a classic mix of speed and skill. His offseason conditioning will be key to him finally earning a permanent spot on the Islanders roster next season.
Frans Nielsen, C
2002 3rd round pick (87th overall)
Centerman Frans Nielsen broke many statistical barriers this season. Nielsen became the first Danish born-and-trained player in the NHL to score a goal when he notched the game-winner against the Montreal Canadiens on Feb. 24. It was actually not his first, as he also scored in a shootout when he was the surprise choice by coach Ted Nolan to go first in the extra tie-breaking session. Regardless, in the Feb. 24 game, Nielsen also recorded the first assist and thus the first official NHL point by a born-and-trained Danish player in the NHL. All of this led to him being named the game’s first star, despite him having seen only 3:25 of ice time. These were the only points he recorded during the 15 games he played for the Islanders this season.
In 54 games played for the Sound Tigers, Nielsen emerged as an offensive leader, scoring 20 goals and 24 assists for 44 points and only 10 penalty minutes. His points were fifth most on the team.
Unfortunately, Nielsen missed the Sound Tigers final 11 games of the season with a concussion, nixing any call-up opportunities and also greatly hurting the Sound Tigers chance at making the playoffs. He eventually recovered from the symptoms and went on to represent Team Denmark at the World Championships.
Nielsen’s exposure to the NHL gave this prospect the experience and education he needed. During the offseason, Nielsen will have to work hard at gaining the strength and conditioning necessary to compete in the NHL. He shows the potential of eventually becoming an effective top-two line centerman and there’s a small chance of him making the opening day roster.
Blake Comeau, RW
2004 2nd round pick (47th overall)
While Blake Comeau’s had no points in three games with the Islanders, this right winger has showed flashes in the minors that he could eventually become an offensive threat. Comeau was called upon by the Islanders for his ability to play an offensively strong game that carries a bit of an edge to it. During his time with the team, he averaged nine minutes of ice time and was relied upon to go against other team’s top lines and throw his body around. He was effective in this aspect, recording a series of big hits over the three games and an even plus/minus.
Meanwhile, Comeau continued to develop nicely down in the minors. He finished sixth on the team in points, three points shy of finishing third. Towards the end of the season, Comeau missed the final two games with a sprained ankle.
All in all, the young power forward has had a respectable first season. There are still areas of his game he needs to improve, particularly his quickness at the NHL level, in order for him to compete more effectively. Comeau certainly has the skill to play against the world’s best and he will have to work hard with Islanders staff during the offseason to aptly prepare for training camp.
Don’t expect Comeau to make the Islanders roster right away. Another season in the minors with longer call-ups to the NHL will best suit this talented forward for now.
Drew Fata, D
2001 3rd Round Pick (86th overall) – Acquired as a free agent in 2007
Looking down the road, Drew Fata is a defenseman the Islanders may want on their blue line staring down other team’s top playmakers. He has tremendous size and strength and plays with a punishing tenacity that makes forwards fearful of carrying the puck past the blue line.
Fata has played in a total of three games this season and, more notably, got to play in one playoff game following Sean Hill’s suspension for violating the NHL’s drug policy. During the four games, Fata collected his one-and-only NHL goal and no assists to go along with five penalty minutes. His penalty time was served following his having gone toe-to-toe and punch-for-punch with New Jersey Devils enforcer Michael Rupp.
In 64 games for the Sound Tigers this season, the Sault Ste. Marie native collected 3 goals and 7 assists for 10 points and 185 penalty minutes.
The feisty defenseman has learned to play — and play well, at that — using his size and strength. However, he has yet to show the discipline it takes in becoming an effective defenseman outside the penalty box. Fata plays with a chip on his shoulder and sometimes the intimidation factor works out well for the team, but he could have a bigger impact on the game if he learned to keep his emotions – and his penchant for taking penalties – in check.
Fata has the makings to become a solid, middle of the pack defenseman, who kills penalties. Hill still has many games to serve on his suspension at the start of next season and with a strong offseason, there’s no reason why Fata can’t make a case for earning a spot with the Islanders next season.
Jeremy Colliton, RW
2003 2nd Round Pick (58th overall)
This past season was a bit turbulent for forward Jeremy Colliton. Following a strong freshman campaign, one that saw him net 53 points in 66 games, Colliton started off slow but eventually picked up his game with the Sound Tigers in mid-to-late November. He was succeeding so much that the Islanders gave him a call-up in early December for his first NHL game against the Ottawa Senators. During the game, he received five minutes of ice time over the course of six shifts, recording two solid hits and left the game with a plus/minus of -1.
Shortly thereafter, in early January, things started to go downhill. Colliton was forced to leave a Sound Tigers game with shoulder problems, eventually returning to practice in late January and back to game form in early February, a stretch that saw him miss 12 games. He played well throughout the month of February but the nagging shoulder injury came back again, bad enough this time around that he had to have season-ending surgery to repair the damage. By early March, Colliton’s season was over.
Colliton is a quick forward with a dynamic set of skills. He is a strong playmaker and is often the target of other team’s tough guys. The good thing about the shoulder surgery is that it was done at a time that will allow for maximum recovery, allowing him to focus a good majority of the offseason to getting the strength in his shoulder back to where it should be. Considering the time he’s had away from the game, don’t be surprised if Colliton’s season once again begins with the Sound Tigers.
Steve Regier, LW
2004 5th Round Pick (148th overall)
Every game left winger Steven Regier has played for the Islanders (10 to date), he has earned through his strong work ethic and solid play. Regier saw one game with the Islanders this season, following the nine he played with them last season. In the one game he played, he saw just under five minutes of ice time and recorded one hit.
Meanwhile, for the Sound Tigers, Regier played in 77 games, establishing career highs in goals with 19, assists with 27 and points with 46.
Regier is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. He has the physicality of a third-or-fourth line forward and shows flashes of skill. As to where Regier plays next season remains up to him, but he still has the potential to become an NHL player.
Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.