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Islanders prospect watch: Breaking down defensemen
Here’s a bit more on some of the defense prospects I wrote about in Tuesday’s paper:
-- Ryan Pulock shed six pounds from his post-draft weigh-in last summer, down to 212, but he looks a lot more chiseled than he did a year ago. Being physically prepared for his first pro season will be just as important as the mental preparation and it seems the Isles' first-rounder from 2013 is prepared.
He can certainly see that Griffin Reinhart has the edge in fighting for a roster spot in September, but Pulock is undeterred.
“I’m still young and I’m fighting for a spot here in New York,” Pulock said. “If that doesn’t work, I’ll be in Bridgeport and keep working on my game to be here. . . . My goal is to come back in the fall and make a good impression. If that doesn’t end up this year, I’m content to go down and keep working. It’s good to know you can fill that spot if they come up.”
-- Another big, young defenseman to watch is Adam Pelech, a third-round pick in 2012. He’s physically imposing at 6-3 and 220 pounds and Isles people are greatly enthused by the way he carries himself. He had a superb season with Erie of the OHL, leading the team’s defense with 54 points and a plus-52 rating (I know, I know, it’s plus/minus. But plus-52 has to be good, right?).
The Erie team was stacked this season, with projected 2015 No. 1 or No. 2 pick Connor McDavid and Ryan Strome’s kid brother Dylan, among others.
“With the team’s success we had, it was definitely a lot easier for the individual players and it showed in guys’ play and in their stats,” Pelech said. “It’s easy to keep improving when you’re part of a winning culture. That was huge for me.”
He will need to learn at Bridgeport, like many of the other prospects in camp this week, but Pelech is one to keep an eye on.
-- Jesse Graham got a taste of pro life when he joined the Sound Tigers for the final seven games of last season. The 2012 sixth-round pick had already gotten some online attention for an empty-net goal save he made during his OHL season with Saginaw in February, hustling back to sweep the puck off the goal line and start a play the other way that led to a goal.
“I just wanted to try and keep the game alive, not get scored on and it ended up happening,” Graham said. “Then there were some tweets and texts and YouTube and it went from there.”
Graham is still on the small side, but his offensive skills are not in doubt -- he had 54 points in 66 games with Saginaw and Niagara, then a goal and three assists with Bridgeport.
He’ll be in the mix of young D with the Sound Tigers, along with new pro Loic Leduc (2012 fourth-rounder) and second-year pro Andrey Pedan (2011 third-rounder), who split his time between Bridgeport and Stockton of the ECHL, which just signed up with the Isles for a second year as an affiliate.
-- Add in Scott Mayfield, who had seven games with the Isles at the end of his first full pro season, and Kevin Czuczman, who at 23 would either fit right in age-wise with the Islanders defense or would possibly be the most senior member of Bridgeport’s kiddie blue line corps, and this is a young, young group.
“Yeah, we’re young, but the quality is high-end,” Brent Thompson said. “My first year in Bridgeport, me and (assistant coach Eric Boguinecki) had a pretty young corps there -- we worked with them on a regular basis. Aaron Ness, Matt Donovan, Calvin de Haan, those were three young guys just feeling their way around and they turned out to be pretty good defensemen. There’s no reason this new group can’t take the same route and develop the same way.”
Funny that after Snow’s all-defenseman 2012 draft, there may actually be some prospects in there.
-- As for that group of three Thompson mentioned: Ness and Donovan were both given qualifying offers, though there may not be room for them in this packed system. My feeling is Ness may go to Europe and Donovan will be signed but possibly traded or give the Isles a ready call-up when needed.
De Haan is an Islander for near certain.
-- And what of Ville Pokka, the Isles’ 2012 second-round pick? Pokka’s language skills are about the only thing he needs serious work on. He won an SM-Liiga crown with Karpat in Finland last season and, at 19, was an alternate on the Finns’ world championship team (and they take that tournament seriously).
“I think everything -- I improve almost everything,” Pokka said after his first day of camp. “Mostly skating, but I still need to work on it.”
He’s shed a bit of the baby fat he had during his draft year, down to 194 pounds. My understanding is that if he does not make the Islanders out of camp in October. He will return to play for Karpat, where most of his fellow D-men last season were in their 30s.
That’s not a drawback or a setback, it’s just reality with young European-based players.
-- The forward group is a little thinner than past prospect camps, with only six draftees on hand. Of course, that includes 2014 first-rounders Michael Dal Colle and Joshua Ho-Sang, so the spotlight is very much on them this week and Thursday night in the Blue-White scrimmage.
The only forwards here this week who will be likely in Bridgeport this season are Mike Halmo, who did some nice things in his 20 games with the Isles last season; Alan Quine, an overage 2013 sixth-round pick; Lukas Sutter, an overage seventh-rounder this year and Victor Crus-Rydberg, who got a seven-game stint with the Sound Tigers at the end of last season.
There could be a couple depth signings off of camp, of course, but the focus here is on the group of defensemen who are pro-ready. Even with a trade for a top-four D-man, someone out there this week -- or a couple someones -- could be challenging for third-pair minutes, either at the start of the season or somewhere down the road in 2014-15.
-- Sebastian Collberg (shoulder) and 2014 draftee Kyle Schempp (unknown) are doing non-contact skills work this week, alongside three “veterans” in Ryan Strome, Johan Sundstrom and John Persson.
Strome told me he’s happy to come down for the week, even though he’s not a camper anymore. “It’s a chance to show some leadership, get to know some of the new guys,” he said, in addition to some other comments you’ll be seeing in a fuller story later in the week.
Strome’s challenge to find a significant role got tougher last week with the Isles’ signings of Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski, but there’s no free rides, even for someone with his future.
I’ll be back out at the Coliseum Thursday for the scrimmage and I’ll have some post-scrimmage thoughts to scribble here on Friday.