Islanders 2002 draft evaluation

By Jeffrey Bausch

The 2002 draft has not yet yielded any full-time NHL-level talent for the New York Islanders, but there are two prospects who are seemingly on the cusp.

The Islanders 2002 draft class has played in a total of 61 NHL games to date, averaging 8.7 games per pick, well below the NHL average of 22.5.

Sean Bergenheim, LW
1st round (22nd overall) – Jokerit, FIN
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 46

Perhaps the one player who shows the greatest potential in eventually playing for the Islanders is Sean Bergenheim. The team has already put him in their lineup for 46 games, where he’s collected five goals, six assists and 11 points along with 24 penalty minutes.

The one thing that’s held Bergenheim back from gaining more NHL experience this season is the contract dispute that occurred at the beginning of the 2006-07 season. The Islanders’ refusal to negotiate a contract post-deadline left Bergenheim searching for a team to play with at the beginning of the season. He started out with Lokomotiv Yaroslav of the Russian Super League, scoring one goal, four assists for five points and 26 penalty minutes in nine games before eventually settling on Vastra Frolunda HC Goteborg in the Swedish Elite League. There, Bergenheim fast became one of the team’s leaders and a game-to-game offensive threat for opponents, scoring 16 goals, 17 assists for 33 points and 80 penalty minutes in only 36 games. After the season was over, Bergenheim represented Team Finland at the World Championships and, over the course of nine games played, he put in one goal, two assists for three points and 31 penalty minutes.

Bergenheim was drafted 22nd overall because he’s a crafty player who also plays with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. One shift he might be taking players out along the boards, the next he’s stealing the puck and faking out defensemen. This kind of skill and drive are absolutely necessary in making to the NHL, however, his on-ice discipline desperately needs work. After all, he’s much more effective carrying the puck over the blue line than sitting idly in the penalty box as his team kills off yet another one of his penalties.

To date, Bergenheim has proven to be successful in all the other leagues he’s played in, from the AHL to elite leagues overseas; his next goal is and should be making it in the NHL. And now that the dust has settled following the contract discrepancy, Bergenheim can re-focus his efforts on playing for the Islanders which, if he continues playing at the level he’s at right now, shouldn’t be a problem. 

Frans Nielsen, C
3rd round (87th overall) – Malmö, SWE
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 15

A pleasant surprise has been the recent development of third rounder Frans Nielsen. The 2006-07 season saw Nielsen gain his first NHL experience, a total of 15 games, in which he contributed one goal, one assist, two points and an astounding 0 penalty minutes. He also made a little bit of history by becoming the first born-and-raised player of Dutch descent to play, record a point and record a goal in the NHL.

Meanwhile, during his time with the Sound Tigers, Nielsen logged in 54 games played, with 20 goals, 24 assists for 44 points and only 10 penalty minutes. He also represented Team Denmark at the World Championships, turning in three assists and six penalty minutes in six games played. The Islanders selected Nielsen partly for his on-ice intelligence. He’s a terrific playmaker and has great vision.

Nielsen was given the chance to play for the Islanders this season alongside Sound Tigers teammate and fellow prospect, Jeff Tambellini. Together, the duo worked well and came to share in one another’s successes. Having this kind of support, especially from a player of Tambellini’s skill and potential, should help keep Nielsen if not on the Islanders roster, then certainly on their call-up sheet. In the meantime, he will continue to develop himself into the offensive/defensive dual threat that everyone in the Islanders organization projects him to be seasons down the road.

Marcus Paulsson, LW
5th Round (149th overall) – Mörrum, SWE
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Since being drafted in the 2002 draft, Marcus Paulsson has yet to show the skill and determination necessary in making it to the AHL, let alone to the NHL. Instead, he has spent seasons skating in the WHL, Elitserien, Allsvenskan (Sweden’s second highest hockey league) and SM-Liga (Finland’s top hockey league) – all while trying to find a place that best suits his abilities.

Originally, Marcus Paulsson was involved in the Mariusz Czerkawski trade with the Montreal Canadiens at the 2002 draft, which sent Paulsson and Aaron Asham to the Islanders for Czerkawski. To date, the only one of the three involved in this trade who’s had any sort of significant impact on either team has been Asham.

Last season, Paulsson played 50 games for Malmö Redhawks in the Elitserien, scoring nine goals, three assists for 12 points and 51 penalty minutes. The team has since been bumped to the Allsvenskan and Paulsson is expected to return once again next season. Pending any significant improvement, don’t expect to see Paulsson wearing an Islanders jersey any time in the near future.

Alexei Stonkus, D

6th Round (189th overall) – Yaroslavl, RUS
Status: NHL Bust
Games Played: 0

One of the more unfortunate busts for the Islanders has been Alexei Stonkus. A steady blue liner who showed promise to developing into a steady, middle-of-the-pack defenseman, Stonkus was injured while playing in the Russian second league. Stories collected surrounding the incident describe the following: Stonkus was followed into the boards by a "dirty" player who struck Stonkus in the back of the neck with his stick, causing Stonkus to fall into the boards head first. The fall resulted in Stonkus breaking two disks in his neck and surgery was required to replace the broken bones with a plate.

It was recommended that a year be taken off from the game for Stonkus to fully recover. The actual time it took was two years. Stonkus rehabbed hard and eventually made it back into the Russian hockey system before moving on to play hockey in Belarus. But the time he spent away from the game has caused him to lose a great deal of edge and skill and it’ll be a long time before he gets it all back.

Brad Topping, G
7th Round (220th overall) – Brampton, OHL
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

At the time he was selected, Topping was the starting goaltender for the Brampton Battalion of the OHL, where he was logging league-leading minutes while facing an unusually high shot total each game, and still putting up decent numbers. After being selected, Topping went back for a few more seasons in the OHL before eventually enrolling at the University of Western Ontario in the competitive CIAU. This past season with the Western Mustangs, Topping saw 20 games, posting a noteworthy 13-5-1 record with a 2.41 GAA and a save percentage of .917.

At 6’1, Topping knows how to utilize his size in covering the net. He’s worked with former NHL-ers Jeff Hackett and Billy Smith at improving various aspects of his game and has statistically proven to be solid between the pipes at the collegiate level. Topping still has two years of eligibility left at Western and is as focused on earning his degree as he is at winning a championship. With Topping eventually coming up in the system, the Islanders will begin to develop some nice goaltending depth. There are some parts of his game that still need developing, particularly his quickness down low and ability to handle the puck, otherwise, Topping has the ability to compete at a higher level.

Martin Chabada, LW
8th Round (252nd overall) – Sparta, CZE
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Shortly after being drafted by the Islanders at age 25, Martin Chabada earned a spot on the Bridgeport roster. There, he played in 66 games, putting up 17 goals, 13 assists for 30 points and 50 penalty minutes, a rather strong start for the freshman winger. Next season, Chabada again didn’t make it onto the Islanders roster, instead being sent back to the Sound Tigers. Frustrated with the lack of progress in making it to the NHL, Chabada asked the Islanders to allow him to return home to play in the Czech Republic. The Islanders granted the gifted goal scorer his request. Chabada has not looked back since leaving and as of July 1, 2006, he became an unrestricted free agent.

Last season, Chabada played for Luleå HF in the Elitserien, posting 18 goals, 21 assists for 39 points and 102 penalty minutes in 42 games played. He’s expected to play for them again next season.

Per Braxenholm, D
9th Round (283rd overall) – Mörrum, SWE
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

With their last pick in the 2002 NHL draft, the Islanders selected rugged blue liner Per Braxenholm. Known for his North American style of play, Braxenholm’s game is centered on maintaining good position to break up plays and being his team’s reliable defensive-minded defenseman. Despite a powerful release, he does not put up good offensive numbers. Also, he’s not known for utilizing his tremendous size — 6’3 and 220 pounds — to deliver big, bone-crunching hits. But what Braxenholm does do is he goes into the corners to dig the puck out; he’ll squeeze an oncoming player along the boards to stop a play, and he’ll be in the right spot to break up a cross-ice pass. He has a solid foundation in many of the basic aspects of the game.

In 42 games played this past season with Nybro Vikings IF in the Allsvenskan, Braxenholm put up four assists to go along with 63 penalty minutes. There are still many areas to Braxenholm’s game that need developing for him to have any chance at making it to a higher league but a lot of scouts agree that he still does possess promise. The good thing is that, at 23 years of age, time is on his side. While he’s expected at the Islanders training camp this year, Braxenholm is scheduled to play with Nybro once again next season.

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future.  Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.