We are now just two months away from the start of the 2018-19 season. You could feel the tense but exciting feeling amongst the New York Islander faithful, and for good reason.
While a new regime now running the organization headlined by Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz are poised to bring credibility and a winning attitude back to this once proud organization, their future seems to be in a better place than what it was just three years ago.
And what I mean by future, is that the Isles pipeline is now stocked with soon to be NHL-ready talent. Many pundits lauded Lamoriello and Co. for the work they did in this past draft with the assets they held. “The Islanders are on the upswing right now. Clear winners of the draft,” was the response from NHL Network panel once the draft concluded.
Now we won’t know the impact of these kids until they finally get the call to the show, but seeing some of their statements from rookie camp last month and at other times, many of them have bought into this new team mentality of having to prove the doubters wrong.
Lamoriello is clearly taking his time — as he noted when he first arrived, revealing he was going to evaluate every piece of the Islander system — and he is building something special. Some might think the team might be far off from success, but it’s the total opposite based on how swiftly the franchises’ prospect pool has been revamped.
There has been a lengthy debate since the draft ended as to how the Isles system should file from top to bottom. And now with the World Junior Showcase taking place and training camp just a few weeks, it’s the perfect time to dig into where these kids rank on the totem pole.
Here’s IslesBlog’s ranking of prospects 1-25:
1. OLIVER WAHLSTROM
Wahlstrom is the clear-cut number prospect in the system at the moment. After falling to the Isles good graces at 11 in June, Wahlstrom’s stock immediately rose. Already dubbed to have the best shot in his draft class, acknowledged for his solid frame, and coming off his breakout season (48 goals and 46 assists) for the U.S. National Development Program a year ago, Wahlstrom has the makings of a future stud. Taking part in the Junior Showcase for the U.S. right now — almost guaranteeing him a spot on the team for Vancouver and attending Boston College in the fall — Wahlstrom seems primed to be on the Islanders come the start of 2019-20 season.
Scout’s take: “He’s one, if not the most explosive forward outside Svechnikov from the 18′ draft class. He brings instant offense in all situations. Wahlstrom can be the guy you set up in the Ovi spot on the power play. Has great hands and speed to beat defenders at even strength.”
2. KIEFFER BELLOWS
Another USNTDP product, Bellows development since he was drafted in 2016 has been some of the Isles best. Former g.m. Garth Snow and his colleagues took their time with Bellows, and after making good at Boston University and being head above the competition with Portland in the Western Hockey League, the 20-year old is ready to fight for a regular spot on the big club this September. Bellows shot has been gushed about since he was picked, but it was his skating that drew questions marks. His skating has improved immensely, meaning he seems to be on the path as the team’s next great power forward, hopefully, side by side with Anders Lee.
3. ILYA SOROKIN
Where to start with Sorokin? We can start with how the Isles and their fans are still pining over him, hoping that he does indeed join the team two years from now when his KHL contract is finished or we can start with how this guy is probably the crown jewel of the team’s system and Russian royalty to boot. However you deem it, Sorokin could still very well be a key part of the Isles future long-term. He’s got all the tools of a number one goalie and the experience needed not to be done in by the bright lights of the National Hockey League. It really is a shame this guy has not suited up in the blue and orange yet, but when he does, the long payoff will have been worth the wait.
4. NOAH DOBSON
The first thing that jumps out about Dobson is his size. At 6’3, he’s projected to a big, physical d-man that can have the impact at both ends of the ice. What also jumps out is that even though he might be raw, he is going to fight for a spot on the blue line in training camp, even if it means getting the nine-game tryout. That just says that Dobson is beyond his years and he will add something different to the Islanders defense. Dobson right now is sharing the defensive spotlight for Team Canada at the World Junior Showcase with American Quinn Hughes and has been praised for his 200-foot game, despite him being younger than most of what the Canadians are putting on the ice. Just like Wahlstrom, Dobson could turn out to the be the steal of the draft, only time will tell.
Scout’s take: “Dobson really shot up at the end of this year and exploded the last two months of the season. At the Memorial Cup, he might have been the most impressive player of anyone his age. If he can build off those performances, he could be a really special defensemen.”
5. LINUS SODERSTROM
Soderstrom has finally made his way to North America. And to say it’s been a long time coming is an understatement. Soderstrom has torn up the Swedish Elite League for HV-71 and Sweden’s junior teams the past few seasons, ultimately ending with a title win with HV-71 to end his amateur career in his home country. The 95th pick in the 2014 Draft, Soderstrom has been right beside Sorokin as the possible long-term solution for the Islanders. Soderstrom did have surgery this past year, but he’s now healthy and could challenge for the Islanders back up role, although it’s expected for him to at least get one full year in the AHL to make his transition to the North American style less difficult. Another imposing presence at 6’4, 194 pounds, Soderstrom will hopefully play a major role for the franchise in the near future.
6. DEVON TOEWS
Toews has been commended for quite some time now as the Isles next great defensemen. He looked fit to make the varsity last season but was unfortunately hit by the injury bug costing him his season. Now with a new contract — one that has him banking on himself — Toews will be once again right in the mix to steal to grab a spot on the backend, making him a full-time regular. The former Quinnipiac Bobcat has already proven his worth with Bridgeport and has gotten a ton of marks for his instincts and ability. With the Isles getting younger on defense, Toews, who is 24, is in the right place and the right time to finally make the jump.
This from his former head coach Rand Pecknold via Chris Botta on Toews: “He understands the game better than most players. He has talent. He can skate. He’s got the ability and, more importantly, the proper mindset and hockey IQ.”
7. SEBASTIAN AHO
Some could argue that Aho could be lower on this list, but at the same time, to go from being a fifth-round pick to playing in the NHL just a mere six months later, that’s an accomplishment. Playing for eight seasons in Sweden, Aho has a ton of experience. It definitely showed last year in Bridgeport and at the NHL level, where there were of flashes of him being a capable d-man in the 22 games he got to play with the Isles. There still some things Aho needs to develop, but that process could progress further depending on if he makes the team this season, mainly his defensive style. With the team building up their backend, Aho should be right at the forefront of the movement.
8. MITCH VANDE SOMPEL
Vande Sompel, the 82nd pick back in 2013, is another d-man that could soon find his way up to the Islanders. He played his first year of pro hockey with the Sound Tigers this past season, putting up a strong campaign that saw him show some good offensive qualities and learn to be more sound defensively. Only 5’10, Vande Sompel does pack a punch to his game and plays with a lot of speed. He is well aware that it’s his defensive prowess that is going to attract the attention of the coaching staff, and if he can help the Islanders backend — who let up an appalling 293 goals in 2017-18 — who’s really willing to question his motive? Vande Sompel might need one more year in the A to really set himself apart, but he’ll be fighting for an NHL gig next month which will push his development further.
9. PARKER WOTHERSPOON
Vande Sompel’s running mate, Wotherspoon isn’t talked about often, but he really opened some eyes with his solid play last season. It took some time for the 4th rounder from 2015 to settle into the pro-style, and once he did, he took advantage of the opportunity. Wotherspoon notched 17 points in 50 contests for Bridgeport, all while receiving time on the power play and penalty kill. The Surrey, CDN native still needs to hone more of his game before he could be considered a full-time NHL-er. Wotherspoon will be in that group of youngsters looking to snag a middle or five or six role in training camp, but I wouldn’t rule out him getting a call to the show this year, depending on the team’s situation on D or if injuries occur.
10. BODE WILDE
Some have argued with me that ten is a bit low for Wilde. And maybe I’m basing that off the fact the words “attitude issues” were thrown around after he fell to the second round in June, but it seems that some might be low-balling the 18-year old. Wilde has a chip on his shoulder, who could blame him? But when I spoke with a former scout who is close to Wilde and has watched him since he was 14, he had great things to say about the young man. Wilde can take that pissed off mentality and most certainly move his way up these rankings. But for now, will know more about just how composed this young man is hopefully very soon.
Scout’s take: “The attitude issues are blown out of proportion. His upside is higher than any of the defensemen in his class outside Dahlin and Dobson. If he ever comes close to hitting his ceiling, he’ll be a star. The Islanders will have to get him a little more focused.”
11. DAVID QUENNEVILLE
Even at 11, I almost think Quenneville gets lost in the shuffle with now how much talent the Isles have in the pipeline on defense. Contrary to the fact, Quenneville has really come into his own and dominated the WHL with the Medicine Hat Tigers notching 80 points in 70 games in the regular season. Some still look at his 5’8, 173-pound frame as a disadvantage, but it doesn’t seem to have affected Quenneville who plays a fast, slick style. His booming shot is also something that hasn’t been accounted for that could very well be a weapon in the future if he ever takes the place of his uncle Johnny Boychuk. He only got to play three games in Bridgeport to end last season, but he should be a regular for the Sound Tigers this season unless he just blows everyone out of the water and wins a spot on the Isles. He’s not far off from being in the big leagues.
12. YANNICK RATHGEB
It’s hard to say what we really know about Rathgeb, who was one of Snow’s last signings as general manager. Rathgeb did draw rave reviews from his time at the Isles rookie camp at the end of June. He has experience in North American from his time with the Plymouth Whalers in 2014-15, but other than that he has displayed his talents in his homeland for HC Fribourg-Gotteron. Rathgeb makes it into the top 15 because the Islanders brass seemed to have their eyes set on Rathgeb for quite a while, and they possibly see him as a help in restocking the farm system and as a possible depth option for the main roster. If the 22-year old’s rookie camp is any indication of what will see next month than the Isles might have found an unknown gem.
This quote from Rathgeb: One thing is certain, he knows what aspect of his game to work on: explosiveness: “I focused on this point throughout the summer. I am convinced that this can make the difference between being successful in NHL or not. Currently, I already feel a difference of liveliness on the first shots skates.”
13. ARNAUD DURANDEAU
Another standout from rookie camp, Durandeau is quietly building a reputation as one of the team’s better-known prospects. Durandeau was fantastic for last season for the Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL) totaling 53 points in 67 games, helping them reach the second round of the President’s Cup playoffs. Drafted only a year ago, Durandeau’s skills and offensive ability have taken an uptick — 41 points in 2017-18 to 53 a year later. Another smallish forward — 5’11, 180 lbs — Durandeau adds to the group of forwards in the pipeline more set on skill and creativity than size and strength. Durandeau could see one more or two more seasons in the Q before he’ll definitely be Bridgeport bound.
14. OTTO KOIVULA
The Finish player of the year in 2016-17, Koivula has steadily produced but has yet to seriously put himself in a position to where he can be an NHL player in the near future. Koivula did have 27 points in 53 games this season and represent his native Finland in the World Junior Championships. There wasn’t much said about him during rookie camp, so he can still be considered a project despite his crafty hands and eye-catching size — 6’4, 220 pounds. Koivula as a big man still needs to fine-tune his skating if he’s going to want his game to translate in North America.
15. LOGAN COCKERILL
Cockerill has flown a bit under the radar as a seventh-rounder in the 2017 Draft. Right now, he’s competing with fellow prospect Oliver Wahlstrom at the World Junior Showcase for the United States. Cockerill produced a solid season in his freshman year at B.U., producing 20 points in 37 games played. Just 5’9 and 165 pounds, Cockerill does have offensive prowess that draws him to scouts and coaches. He still has a long way to go before he even touches the AHL or NHL, but he might be a sleeper that can catch Isles fans attention over the next few years.
16. ROBIN SALO
Oh back to the defense, this time another Finnish by-product in Robin Salo. Salo was selected in the second round, 46th overall in 2017. Salo’s production dipped from his draft year (54 games, 15 points) to this past campaign (45 points, 5 points) with Sport and Hermes in Liiga. The Fin has yet to be signed to his ELC, which should probably come in the near future. Salo still has a boatload of talent to rebound next year and put himself back into the organization’s tabs.
17. BEN MIRAGEAS
The last of the Islander trio being represented at the WJSS, Mirageas softly has shown he might be one guy for the organization to keep an eye on. The 19-year old freshman was second in points for a defenseman with 19 in 40 games for Providence College. Mirageas has good size but can put on some muscle before he really comes into his own. He’s another long-term project, but so far is off to a good start.
18. JAKUB SKAREK
The newest netminder in the Isles system — first since Sorokin and Soderstrom were drafted — Skarek some believed was the best goaltender in this year’s draft. Only 18, Skarek already made noise in his homeland of Czech Republic moving up the ranks for HC Dukla Jihlava from age 16 till now. He’s also played a good amount on the international stage and has won medals and championships in his short career. Some believe Skarek when he’s on top of his game can be consistent, but when he struggles, his confidence can take a hit. Hopefully new goaltending czar Mitch Korn can find what makes the 6’3 behemoth tick, and that can push him closer to being an NHL-caliber goaltender down the road.
19. ANATOLI GOLYSHEV
Golyshev could be higher on this list if there was more to hear about him. All we know is that Russian selected 95th overall in 2016 can put the puck in the net. This past campaign, Golyshev scored 18 goals in 40 games for Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg, increasing his numbers from the year prior where he only scored 17 points in 49 games. At 23, he still not signed to his ELC, and it doesn’t seem like there’s any rush to get him to come to North America. Maybe, will get some more inside track on Golyshev once this year kicks off.
20. RUSLAN ISKHAKOV
Another Russian prodigy, Iskhakov could be looked at as a risk that the Isles are willing to take a chance on. Selected back in June in the second round, the compact Iskhahov was a monster for his Slovakian U-18 squad totaling 104 points in 44 games in 2016-17. He shifted to the MHL in Russia last year notching just 33 points in 30 contests. Now set to attend UConn this fall, Iskhahov will need to bulk up or keep sharpening his skills if he wants to develop into a player for the future.
21. NICK PASTUJOV
Pastujov, another seventh-rounder — from 2016 — will be entering his third season with the Michigan Wolverines this coming fall. In 36 games for the Wolverines last year, Pastujov scored four goals and added 11 helpers. Even though he was a pick from the final round, Pastujov does have NHL size, but other than that needs to show he’s more capable offensively.
22. COLIN ADAMS
Adams is set for his second season at North Dakota after playing 26 games for the Sioux in 2017-18. There’s not much out there about Adams, besides the fact that he was a very good forward for Muskegon Lumberjacks in the USHL before committing to North Dakota. Will see if he raises his rank by this time next summer.
23. JACOB PIVONKA
One of the Islanders final two picks from this most recent draft, Pivonka is at the bottom of the club’s re-establishment down the middle. Pivonka could be a late round find that might surprise fans and some in the organization. He still has time to work on becoming a good player.
Scout’s take: “Pivonka is hard to play against and he does have a decent amount of skill. Might be able to crack the roster in a few years.”
24. CHRISTIAN KRYGIER
The one thing to know about Krygier is he’s tall and has played for U.S. National teams the past few years. Other than that, it’s hard to really pinpoint if Krygier will ever find his way to the NHL down the line.
25. MICHAEL DAL COLLE
I feel sorry to have to do this to Dal Colle, but when you’ve just attended your fifth Islanders rookie camp, there’s something that just not working anymore. It’s not hard to examine why Dal Colle, the fifth overall pick in 2014, is last — his skating, the fact that he’s never displayed that offensive prowess he did in juniors, or that he simply doesn’t have that drive that teams want from their prospects who want to be a pro. Maybe Lamoriello and Co. can finally get through to him. At 22, Dal Colle is still young enough to turn it around. But as of right now, he’s in the doghouse and it’s going to take a lot for him to find his way out.
A few other thoughts from what’s going on in Isles Country.
I was really impressed with what Trotz had to say about Josh Ho-Sang this past week in his interview with Stan Fischler. Trotz hit the nail right on the head with his comment about Ho-Sang being misunderstood by the former regime of Snow and Weight. Many have questioned what Ho-Sang’s future with the franchise might have been when Lamoriello and Trotz entered the fold, but now all those doubts can be thrown away. Ho-Sang is not only a part of the team’s overall path to success, but he will play a significant role in making sure to prove Trotz’s faith in him.
Playing around with what could be the potential lines once the season begins October 5th, there is definitely going to be some moving parts that will make it hard for everyone to get into the lineup. I would hope to see Ho-Sang grab one of those bottom-six spots, the same can be said for Bellows even if it’s only nine games. Other than Mat Barzal, Anders Lee, Anthony Beauvillier, Jordan Eberle, and Josh Bailey, I find it hard to see where Brock Nelson is not in that group to round out the top-six. And that could mean that Jan Kovar is on the outside looking in, but that doesn’t mean he can steal that third line center job from Leo Komarov or Valtteri Filppula.
People will disagree, but if Nelson does fall to the three spot down the middle, matching him with Ho-Sang — who got the best out of him early last season — would be the right play.
If the team does with a no captain system this year, my three picks for who should wear the “A” for home games: Lee, Cizikas, Hickey. For the road: Bailey, Martin, Barzal. Never to early to let the kid shows he’s a leader.
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