Newsday's Arthur Staple looks at how the top Islanders prospects are doing at Bridgeport and elsewhere while the NHL lockout continues
The Islanders’ best young defenseman has filled the same role with Bridgeport, utilizing the sort of maturity to lead the Sound Tigers that makes him future captain material with the Isles.
It was thought that, had there been a full NHL season, the Isles’ 2010 first-round pick would have benefited from starting the year in the AHL to rebuild his confidence after an ugly rookie year. The lockout has made that decision moot, and Niederreiter is already showing that his confidence has returned, playing with an edge and scoring touch that deserted him during a confusing struggle of a season in 2011-12.
Making the most of his first pro season, the rangy forward is showing why Garth Snow traded into the end of the first round in 2010 to nab Nelson. His nine goals are fourth for all AHL rookies and he’s doing it against the better competition provided by the lockout.
Another rookie pro who has adjusted well to the AHL game, perhaps a surprise given his pedigree as a 2011 fifth-round pick who hadn’t produced much in his native Sweden. Isles like his size and he doesn’t mind the physical side of the game.
Isles fans (and the front office) liked what they saw from his injury-shortened stay with the big club last season, but another concussion — he suffered one with the Isles last season — has limited him to 13 of Bridgeport’s 21 games thus far.
Another promising forward who would have almost certainly started the year with the Isles, he’s had a rough go so far with the Sound Tigers, missing time with a concussion and having a hard time resuming his role as a determined two-way center. His minus-14 rating is second-worst in the AHL.
One of the young, promising defensemen the Islanders may have been (or still are) relying upon to round out the big club’s blue line, he’s produced decent numbers this season with the Sound Tigers (0-10-10 in 21 games). Still a question as to his ability to handle the physical side.
In the same boat as Aaron Ness, but Donovan perhaps has been showing more poise and growth in his all-around game. He leads Bridgeport with a plus-5 rating and may be a more straightforward player than Ness, enhancing his chances of being a sixth D-man with the Isles when the NHL returns.
CALVIN DE HAAN
Another year lost for the No. 12 overall pick in 2009 due to a shoulder injury, the second on his left shoulder in three years. He will try to return in 2013-14, but if there were hopes of him being NHL-ready in the near future, those are definitely on hold.
Like Johan Sundstrom, a fifth-rounder in the 2011 draft out of Sweden who has opened some eyes. The difference here is Persson (above, left) had three seasons in the Western Hockey League, getting accustomed to the North American style, before turning pro toward the end of the 2011-12 season. He’s advancing well.
The Isles’ most prized goaltending prospect played well to open the season, but like the entire Sound Tigers team, has cooled off considerably of late. His 3.37 GAA and .895 save percentage are not NHL-worthy numbers. The Islanders could use Poulin playing well; if there’s a CBA settlement soon, the big club could use one of their AHL goaltenders to get them through while Evgeni Nabokov and Rick DiPietro shake off the rust.
A nasty virus set Nilsson back at the start of the season and now he’s struggling as much as Poulin is and the Sound Tigers are overall. Still plenty of time for the big goaltender to get his game right.
The Islanders would surely prefer their top pick from 2011 to be in Bridgeport right now, but they’ll take Strome dominating the Ontario League. He’s running away with the scoring title with 59 points (20 goals) through 30 games for Niagara. He’ll also be a leader on Canada’s World Junior squad. If there’s a CBA deal he will be able to attend camp.
The 6-4 defenseman has been developing well, slowly and steadily, out of the spotlight at the University of Denver, and that’s the way the Islanders like it. He’s having another solid season thus far for the Pioneers and could turn pro after the season, but there’s no rush.
Pelech is beginning to separate himself from the pack of Isles’ 2012 draft picks. He’s already surpassed his point total of last season in just 29 games for Erie of the OHL and earned an invite to Canada’s World Junior team camp. No guarantees he gets beyond there, but he’s taken some strides.
Steady as ever, the No. 4 pick in the June draft is doing his thing with Edmonton in the Western League. You won’t hear about flashy numbers or eye-popping plays, but that’s not his game. Reinhart will likely join Strome on Canada’s World Junior team.
Again one of the NCAA’s goal-scoring leaders in his third year at Notre Dame, Lee resisted signing a pro contract last summer despite strong overtures from the Isles. He should be ready to turn pro after this season and, at 23, have a shot to contribute right away.
Pedan, a big defenseman, has proved he can score and rumble at the junior level. Isles gave him a third junior season to keep developing and will see where he is at season’s end.
Kichton leads WHL defensemen in scoring so far this season, as he did last season. Size still a concern, but he’s certainly worth a pro contract to see what he can offer.
Russo is off to a good start on the blue line at Notre Dame, the 2011 fourth-rounder is still a ways off.