Every week of the 2018-19 season, our Rob Taub will discuss one player from the Islanders to look out for. Whether it’s past performances, certain matchups, or something about that player that makes worth spotlighting, each article will describe why they are being featured. Also — if one or two players, or the team is coming off a good week — there will be multiple spotlights.
When I gave my list of prospect rankings for the New York Islanders after last summer’s draft, there was a pretty easy choice for who ranked last — Michael Dal Colle.
Dal Colle, 22, was drafted fifth overall by the Isles in the 2014 NHL Draft. In the system for almost four years, The Richmond Hill, ON had yet to live up to the expectations set for him as a top-five overall pick.
When former g.m. Garth Snow and Co. selected Dal Colle, he was highly touted as one of the best forwards in juniors. Playing for the OHL’s Oshawa Generals, Dal Colle became a premier goal scorer. In the year he was drafted, the 6’3 winger led the Generals in points with 95 playing with future Philadelphia Flyers forward Scott Laughton. His 39 goals put him second on the team behind Laughton who led the club with 40. That phenomenal campaign earned Dal Colle OHL Second All-Star Team honors and had scouts gushing.
When the Isles decided on Dal Colle, many of the critics were calling it a homerun while the natives on Long Island quickly envisioned him on the wing with franchise center John Tavares for years to come. Back then, Tavares himself saw big things for newest member of the organization.
All things were going smoothly for Dal Colle at the start of his time in the Isles system. He made a good impression in his first rookie and training camp stint. Shipped back to juniors to develop, Dal Colle only continued to look like a slam dunk prospect. In his third year in Oshawa, Dal Colle — wearing an A on his chest — scored 42 goals and notched 93 points, leading the Generals to an OHL Championship and the franchise’s fifth Memorial Cup title.
After that championship run, Dal Colle took part in his second rookie camp and had a chance to make the Islanders squad when during camp in September. He was returned to junior club. But beyond that, the first creeps of doubt about him panning out began to take shape. Dal Colle’s skating and pace of play were not up to NHL standards. Even after another impressive showing during the 2015-16 season in Oshawa — where he was captain — and with the Kingston Frontenacs for just over a quarter of their season and the playoffs, Dal Colle’s stock seemed lower than it should have been. He was already being passed on the prospect depth chart by guys like Josh Ho-Sang, Anthony Beauvillier, and even Mathew Barzal.
Dal Colle finally got his first taste of post-junior hockey when he made his way to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, playing three games to end the season and in the team’s first round playoff series. He went 0-1-1 in the three-game sweep at the hands of the Toronto Marlies.
Once again, Dal Colle was given another shot to win a roster spot before the start of the 16-17 season. Again it wasn’t meant to be, except this time the flaws in his game on full display. Instead, the Isles brass decided to stick him in Bridgeport where he could learn to play the pro game and experience how much faster it is.
Spending his first year as a pro, Dal Colle had a sound season — 41 points in 75 games. But even with those numbers, there was still chatter that the then 20-year-old still hadn’t evolved in his overall game to adjust to the pro level. The word “bust” began to circle around Dal Colle’s career.
Last season, it seemed like their might finally be light at the end of the tunnel. Dal Colle was playing a much heavier style and producing more consistently.
Finally looking like he was ready for the varsity, Dal Colle got the call up in mid-January to the show.
Dal Colle only saw four games of action and did not record a single point. In fact, he showed very little. He was sent back to the AHL for the rest of the season.
Fast forward to this season. Dal Colle showed some signs in training camp, but still didn’t show enough to make the team. Everyone expected him to keep developing in the minors, but then something changed.
The light finally turned on for the youngster.
Dal Colle started this season like a bat out of hell, scoring at a big rate. Confidence growing, he quickly found himself as one of the top scorers in the AHL. Before anybody looked, Dal Colle had totaled 28 points in 29 games. New g.m. Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz took notice and collectively brought Dal Colle up in mid-November.
Playing in just two games, Dal Colle wasn’t given much chance to succeed. Sent back down, he showed no signs of discouragement. A month after his first call-up of the season, he got his second.
Now in that second stint, Dal Colle has looked like a completely different player.
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) February 3, 2019
Suiting up in 15 games so far, the rookie has scored two goals — first NHL goal and first career game-winner — and added an assist. Looking past the stats though, Dal Colle’s maturity in his game is night and day from when he first started. He’s been smarter with and without the puck, playing more two-way then one-dimensional, and his total feel for the game has gone to new heights.
“Michael didn’t have much pace during training camp,” Trotz reiterated to Newsday’s Andrew Gross back in mid-January. . “Maybe he was a player lacking a little bit of confidence. I think he’s got pace back into his game. He’s got size. He’s got a lot of things you look for.”
Now, Dal Colle has become an important player for the team.
He’s earned his place on the third line and has deserved the ice time given to him by the coaching staff. The decision to send him back down when veteran Andrew Ladd returns will be a difficult one for the organization based on how he’s progressed and is playing well at the NHL level. Dal Colle still has a few weeks before that might happen.
“I just wanted to prove I could play in this league,” Dal Colle told The Athletic NYC last week.
He has. And it could mean a future with the Islanders, something that didn’t seem realistic for too long a time.
Follow me on Twitter at @RTaub_