Recently I had the privilege of doing a Q&A with Hockeys Future writer Christian Litscher on the New York Islanders’ prospect pool. For those die-hard NHL fans not following HockeysFuture.com, this must become part of your weekly hockey reading. Without further ado, here is my interview:
Overall how would you break down the Islanders’ system, in terms of overall strengths and weaknesses?
I feel the Islanders have one of the better systems in the NHL, all things considered. The strengths of their prospect pool lie with their strong depth both on defense and in goal. At forward, they have numerous players with star potential with the likes of Michael Dal Colle and Mathew Barzal. A weakness of their system is that many of their forward prospects are of the boom or bust variety.
Matthew Barzal opened eyes in a major way at this year’s Islanders training camp. How is Barzal developing and what are the odds he is in the opening night lineup for New York come next year?
He is developing very well this season playing in the WHL. He has seemingly taken the next step in his development and had a strong showing for Team Canada at the world juniors championships. I would say the odds are against Barzal making the Islanders roster next season. The organization has been patient with their prospects since Nino Niederreiter and I don’t see that changing with Barzal. Coupled with the fact that guys like Tavares, Nelson, and Grabovski are all capable centers hurts Barzal’s chances. The AHL would probably be the best place for Barzal, but unfortunately the NHL-CHL transfer agreement prevents that.
After having a brilliant year with the Oshawa Generals last year, Michael Dal Colle’s pace has cooled down this season. How would you describe his season so far and what is his ceiling in regards to the NHL?
There is no doubt that Dal Colle had a slow start to the season. It was probably disappointing for him to get cut by the Islanders and he came back to the OHL with little to prove after winning the Memorial Cup last year. A turning point in Dal Colle’s season was when he was traded to the Kingston Frontenacs, who currently sit first in the Eastern Conference, right before the OHL trade deadline. Since then Dal Colle has caught fire with 31 points in 14 games, a pace that would put him amongst the league’s scoring leaders. His ceiling in the NHL is as a pure offensive winger capable of 30+ goals, someone in the Patrick Sharp or Bobby Ryan mold.
Islanders fans keep waiting for the team to call up Ryan Pulock. How close is he to being NHL ready and what does he have to work on?
I feel he is close to being ready for the NHL, having been one of the better players for the Sound Tigers for the past two seasons. His skating needs to continue to improve for him to reach the next level in his development, but his overall game is starting to round out.
We all know Josh Ho-Sang has a lot of ability but have we learned anything more about him since he was drafted late in the first round in 2014? What does Ho-Sang have to work on to be a top six NHL forward?
Ho-Sang needs to work on his shift to shift consistency and compete level. He possesses elite skill, but you have to be able to win the 50/50 battles to play in the NHL today. Ho-Sang does have an arsenal of tools that will give him an opportunity to become a top six forward in the NHL though and the potential is sky high with him, if his offense can translate to the next level. Next year will be a big year for him as he looks to turn pro.
The Islanders traded Griffin Reinhart to the Oilers for the 16th overall pick in this past draft, which turned into Barzal and the 33rd overall pick. After trading up five slots to 28th in last year’s draft the Islanders selected Anthony Beauvillier. Did the Islanders get a steal with Beauvillier and has he exceeded expectations this season?
I think it’s too early to say if Beauvillier is a steal; the 2015 draft was deep and some very talented players were taken in front of him. However, Beauvillier is having a strong season and the organization has to be pleased with his development. He played well for Canada at the World Juniors and has torn apart the QMJHL. Beauvillier is looking like a strong bet to play in the NHL as a player who can play a variety of roles.
Do you have any sleepers we should be keeping an eye out for in the Islanders’ system?
Two players come to mind as guys that might surprise some people. Islanders third rounder in 2014, Ilya Sorokin, and Islanders fourth rounder in 2015, Parker Wotherspoon. Sorokin leads the entire KHL in both save percentage at .956 and goals against average at 0.99. He is a classic, athletic Russian net minder and the sky seems to be the limit with him.
Wotherspoon does enough things well to believe he could develop into an NHL player. He possesses many of the traits that are becoming more prominent in NHL defensemen today, as he skates well and makes good decisions with and without the puck. Wotherspoon was one of the youngest players in his draft and his game has continued to improve.
Finally, which Islander top prospects could make an impact with the big club next season?
I think two players will have the best shot depending on how the Islanders’ offseason goes. The two question marks in the organization right now are Travis Hamonic and Kyle Okposo. If Hamonic were to get traded, I see a real opportunity for Ryan Pulock to step into the lineup. If Okposo chooses to leave via free agency, Michael Dal Colle may get a long look in the top six, possibly with Tavares. No matter what happens, both players are important pieces to the Islanders’ future.
Once again my thanks to Christian Litscher and Hockeys Future for this interview on the Islanders farm system. I cannot stress enough for all hockey fans to check out HockeysFuture.com for great coverage on all the top NHL prospects, as well as the upcoming NHL draft.
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