Islanders Farm System is Better Than Grades Indicate

The New York Islanders prospect pool is widely considered one of the worst in the league. The Hockey Writers‘ 2021-22 midseason rankings had them at 31st, behind only the Pittsburgh Penguins. Corey Pronman of The Athletic recently published his preseason rankings with the Islanders ranked 27th (from ‘NHL Pipeline Rankings: Breakdown of all 32 teams from Corey Pronman’, The Athletic, 8/22/22). This is very concerning for a roster that is veteran-heavy and needs young players.

Related: Islanders’ Raty & Dufour Can Join NHL Roster Soon

Yes, the Islanders’ farm system is far from the best, but it’s not as bad as their ranking suggests. Specifically, New York’s prospect pool is stronger when individual players are considered, notably with one of the best young prospects in the league in their farm system.

Raty’s High Ceiling

The prospect who currently carries the Islanders’ farm system is Aatu Raty. As one of the rising stars, Raty fell to the second round in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft but has been impressive ever since. The Finnish center recently had a strong showing at the World Junior Championship as he helped Finland win silver after a 3-2 overtime loss to Canada in the gold-medal game. He’ll join the American Hockey League (AHL) team in the Bridgeport Islanders to start the season with hopes of joining the NHL team soon.

Aatu Raty Team Finland
Aatu Raty of Team Finland (Finnish Ice Hockey Association)

It’s difficult to compare Raty to another player because he is a versatile center who is also elite in the offensive zone. However, what stands out is his ability to impact a game. He is not only a great skater and can gash opponents on the rush, but he also controls the center of the ice, handles the puck well, and can find the back of the net with a quick shot. When he’s ready for the NHL, the Islanders will have a reliable center with the potential to become a star, possibly one of the best in the game.

The NHL player that comes to mind, albeit at a different position, is Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak. While Raty still has a lot of work to do before reaching Pastrnak’s level, he is a skilled skater in all facets of the game and can create scoring chances and find the back of the net. Furthermore, Raty can provide a young scoring presence for the Islanders similar to what the talented right-winger has done for the Bruins: help keep a championship window open for an otherwise older roster.

Dufour Emerging as a Reliable Forward

While Raty is considered the high-ceiling prospect, William Dufour is more polarizing. Overall, he is expected to have a high floor in the NHL. His production in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) last season, where he scored 56 goals and 60 assists in 66 regular season games, should be taken with a grain of salt, considering the opposing defenses and overall talent level in the league. Similarly, Dufour benefitted from playing alongside elite centers on Team Canada at the World Juniors, where he found open ice and the back of the net to help the team win the gold medal.

Whether it was the poor defense in the QMJHL or the great players in the World Juniors, Dufour has been a scorer largely because of his surroundings, making the upcoming season in Bridgeport a crucial one. Despite the inflated numbers, he has stood out as a great shooter in the offensive zone, a trait that would help out the Islanders. His shot allows him to be a threat, specifically when playing alongside a center who opens up the ice, making him a reliable and consistent goal scorer. While he might be a middle-six forward at the NHL level, as one of the organization’s top prospects, he could become a top scorer for the club.

Islanders Defensive Reinforcements

The defense is already the best unit on the team and arguably one of the best in the NHL. Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock lead a great top pairing, while Noah Dobson has emerged as a great two-way player after a breakout season of 13 goals and 38 assists. Similarly, the organization’s prospects in the AHL are not just promising, but there are a plethora of defensemen thanks to general manager (GM) Lou Lamoriello, who has committed to defense in recent years.

Ryan Pulock New York Islanders
Ryan Pulock, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Robin Salo is a strong skater who plays the left side and can add speed and puck-handling skills to the defense to start the season if ready. Likewise, Samuel Bolduc can join the NHL roster by opening night if he has a strong training camp. Both young defensemen will likely start the season in Bridgeport, but it will be worth keeping an eye on them as the season progresses, as they could impact the lower pairings on the roster.

Samuel Bolduc of the Blainville-Broisbriand Armada
Samuel Bolduc of the Blainville-Broisbriand Armada (Antoine Meunier Photographie)

Along with Salo and Bolduc, the Islanders drafted two defensemen with their first three selections in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. Calle Odelius is the prospect to watch as a high-ceiling player who handles the puck particularly well. Isaiah George, meanwhile, proved last season with the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) that he can be a reliable defenseman in the neutral zone and could become a draft steal after dropping to the fourth round.

Granted, many teams have drafted better than the Islanders in recent years, with more selections and higher draft picks to acquire top prospects for a deeper farm system. That being said, the Islanders’ defense pipeline is getting stronger and will carry the team for years to come.

Other Prospects Boost Islanders’ System

While Raty and Dufour highlight the forward unit, Simon Holmstrom projects as a middle-six forward when he is ready for the NHL. While Holmstrom might not make an impact this season or become a star when he joins the team, he will add depth to the roster. In net, Jakub Skarek is still developing at 22 years old, but by the end of the AHL season, he might be ready to back up Ilya Sorokin. When Skarek joins the NHL team, the Islanders should comfortably be able to move on from Semyon Varlamov, who is a free agent at the end of next season, and give the team two young goaltenders.

Ultimately, the Islanders’ prospect pool is top-heavy, which places them further down the rankings than most teams. The pipeline has its weaknesses, but some of the players in their system, particularly the ones with high ceilings, could emerge as elite players and extend the championship window for an Islanders team that is in win-now mode.

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