The Rebuild is Over
Seeing Nassau Coliseum erupt as the Islanders drafted John Tavares first overall in 2009 was breathtaking. The 90s and 00s were mostly dark and offered little excitement or optimism, but Tavares was billed as the savior who would take this team to the promised land. The rebuild officially broke ground on that day, and while the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season gave the fans a taste of playoff hockey for the first time in six years, it wasn’t until last season that Long Island’s team looked like legitimate contenders.
With a star center in his prime, a supporting cast almost entirely in their 20s, and a re-energized veteran goaltender, the squad full of homegrown talent moved out to their new home in Kings County. Even with some top talent in their prospect pool, the Islanders are now a contender and a team that will see anything less than the playoffs as a disappointment. For the under-25 crew—Strome, Nelson, Cizikas, de Haan—they’ve earned their place on this roster and become important pieces to a playoff team. The rebuild is over, the time is now.
Islanders NHL Prospect Pool Power Ranking: 4th
New York Islanders Next Ones: Top 10 Prospects Summer of 2015
1. Michael Dal Colle (Drafted 2014, First Round)
Forward – Shoots Left – 6’3, 194 lbs
2014-15 Team: Oshawa Generals (OHL)
2014 was a weird draft year in that there were essentially no surprises in the top five. Go check out a mock draft from that year, there wasn’t a reputable source that had a single player that didn’t eventually go top five in their top five. And in nearly every one of those mock drafts, Michael Dal Colle was fifth to the Islanders.
The Captain of the Oshawa Generals, who has now led that club in scoring for two straight years, was embraced by Islanders fans almost instantly as their next star player. Seemingly even moreso than when Ryan Strome was drafted. Dal Colle’s game is very different from Strome’s, and his more blue collar style of play resonates with the Long Island faithful. While Dal Colle might not have the same offensive upside as Strome or the other elite forward prospects picked above him, there’s almost no doubt that he turns into a successful NHL player. He has the size, the speed, the strength, and the work ethic to make it happen. When he’s not scoring, you can count on him to chip in physically or defensively. He’s responsible in all three zones and he will battle for you night in and night out. In short, he might be the perfect left winger for Strome and Tavares in another year or two.
2. Ryan Pulock (Drafted 2013, First Round)
Defense – Shoots Right – 6’2, 214 lbs
2014-15 Team: Bridgeport Sound Tigers
Of all the high-end prospects in the Islanders system, Pulock is the one most likely to make an impact on the team this season. With Griffin Reinhart being dealt to Edmonton, Pulock’s value to Snow and the Islanders staff was confirmed, and his starting the season in Bridgeport is not to be seen as a negative. Pulock is very close to an NHL-ready defenseman.
After seeing a decent number of Sound Tigers games in person, Pulock was clearly ahead of the pack. His offensive game translated well, but his defensive game really took a jump from where it was in Brandon. Pulock was strong, physical, and used his stick well against grown men as one of the younger defensemen in the league. Paired often with Aaron Ness, a purely offensive guy, Pulock was the anchor and was relied upon to be a steady presence on the back end at just 20 years old. He excelled in that role, and also put up 29 points in 54 games.
Last year I wrote on THW that “Pulock seems like the only player on Bridgeport who could step onto an NHL roster today and succeed. He thinks the game at an extremely high level for a 20-year-old in his first season of professional hockey, and is positively influential every time he steps on the ice.” That’s still true. Right now the Islanders have a lot of depth on the right side, but I’d almost guarantee that Pulock gets the call-up and plays very well if one of them gets injured.
3. Mathew Barzal (Drafted 2015, First Round)
Forward – Shoots Right – 6’0, 183 lbs
2014-15 Team: Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
When Mathew Barzal somehow slipped past the rebuilding “New Look” Boston Bruins, the Islanders were smart to jump up and grab him at 16th overall. Barzal, who was projected by some to be a top 10 pick in the 2015 Draft, was coming off an incredibly impressive season in which he notched 57 points for the Seattle Thunderbirds (second on the team by one) despite playing in only 44 games due to an injury. The shifty, explosive two-way center had torn apart WHL defenses all season and seemed like he would be a no-brainer for a number of teams picking higher than 16.
Barzal’s hockey sense is through the roof, specifically when it comes to creating scoring chances. He’s great on the rush but just as poised handling the puck in the offensive zone and dishing out perfect passes for his linemates. He led all under-18 WHL skaters in both points per game (1.3) and assists per game (1.02), and he still finished 6th in the league among U18s in total points despite playing in far fewer games than everyone ahead of him. For Barzal, the sky is really the limit. He could easily turn into a top-six forward at the NHL level but has the kind of skillset that would let him slot into a third line role as well. Putting on a little more muscle and refining his game will be key for him this year.
4. Joshua Ho-Sang (Drafted 2014, First Round)
Forward – Shoots Right – 6’0, 172 lbs
2014-15 Team: Windsor Spitfires, Niagara Ice Dogs (OHL)
Joshua Ho-Sang is one of the most polarizing figures in the entire hockey world despite never playing in an NHL game. There are some that absolutely love his upside and potential, and critics who have buried him since he was a rookie in the OHL. At 28th overall in the 2014 draft, the Islanders were able to grab one of, if not actually the single most talented player available in the entire class. Unfortunately, they’ve already seen a bit of the “character issues” that knocked him so far down so many draft boards.
Ho-Sang is an electrifying player. There are few experiences more exciting in junior hockey than watching him take the puck in his own end, dance through defenders, score a goal, and celebrate as if he’s toppled an Earth-threatening monster. This year, after notching 19 points in 11 games for a truly bad Windsor Spitfires club, he was traded to Niagara where he turned a slightly less bad Ice Dogs team into a 2nd round of the OHL playoffs team. Ho-Sang scored 81 points in 60 OHL games this season, with 62 of those coming in Niagara where he led the team in points and assists per game. Despite playing only 11 games in Windsor, he still finished 14th on that team in scoring.
Can Ho-Sang shake the “problem child” moniker? Oversleeping for the Islanders’ first day of training camp wasn’t a great start, but the team thinks so highly of Josh that it’s hard to see them giving up on him soon. Ho-Sang would probably be ranked #1 on this list if it were based purely on hockey skill.
5. Anthony Beauvillier (Drafted 2015, First Round)
Forward – Shoots Left – 5’10, 179 lbs
2014-15 Team: Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)
Anthony Beauvillier was seen as a bit of a stretch for the Islanders at 28th overall this summer, and when you see his size it’s easy to understand why. Even though it’s become much easier for smaller players to excel in the NHL, for whatever reason teams are hesitant to pull the trigger on a guy whose height starts with a 5. What Beauvillier lacks in size, he makes up for in intelligence and raw athleticism.
Though he likely makes more sense as a winger in the NHL, Beauvillier was one of the most explosive centers in the entire Quebec league this past season. Finishing 8th in the league in total points, and 1st among all U18 skaters, Beauvillier’s offensive instincts helped him carry Shawinigan to third place in the East. He outscored Dennis Yan, who finished second on the Cataractes in total points, by 30. He’s been nearly impossible to contain at the QMJHL level, as his 42 goals and 52 assists show how dynamic he can be.
It’s easy to root for Beauvillier too, as he’s just three years removed from playing AA hockey. If he can keep lighting up Quebec’s finest defenses and finds his way to Brooklyn, I have a feeling Beauvillier becomes an easy fan favorite.
6. Kirill Petrov (Drafted 2008, Third Round)
Forward – Shoots Left – 6’3, 198 lbs
2014-15 Team: Ak Bars Kazan (KHL)
The oldest player on our list, Petrov was drafted by the Islanders seven years ago but never played a game on North American soil until this year. After a bizarre sequence of events surrounding a transfer to SKA St. Petersburg that never happened, Petrov was able to walk away from Ak Bars and become a free agent. He was happy to leave Ak Bars as his role had been reduced under new coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, and decided it was finally the right time to come to America.
2014-15 was a great season for Ak Bars, but not for Petrov’s individual game. While his team finished the season atop the Kharlamov Division and eventually lost in the Gagarin Cup final, Petrov went from the first line to the fourth line. His points production for the season was cut almost in half, and it was clear that the coach and player just did not see eye to eye on what his ceiling was.
Petrov could compare, to an extent, to Nikolay Kulemin. A skilled winger who actually excels in the North American style because of his size and physicality. I actually believe that Petrov is the type of winger whose skillset translates better to the NHL than the KHL, and while he will definitely need at least a year to let the adjustment happen it would not surprise me to see him make a run at this Islanders roster next year.
7. Scott Mayfield (Drafted 2011, Second Round)
Defense – Shoots Right – 6’5, 218 lbs
2014-15 Team: Bridgeport Sound Tigers
With five games of NHL experience under his belt, Mayfield is another of the older prospects the Islanders have in Bridgeport. Mayfield has been a more than serviceable AHL defenseman to this point, and while it seems unlikely he ever becomes the high-end guy they were hoping he would when he was drafted 34th overall, he’s a great candidate for a 6th or 7th defenseman in the next few years.
When you talk about Scott Mayfield the first word that comes to mind is tough. His 173 penalty minutes were second among all AHL defenseman last year, which to me is a positive with his style of play. You want to see Mayfield intimidate, play tough, and protect his teammates. Only 70 of those penalty minutes were related to fighting, but with 8 fighting majors this past year he’s shown he’s more than willing to drop the gloves.
Toughness isn’t all Mayfield has to offer though, thankfully. He also possesses an impressive shot and some underrated offensive instincts. He should be the Islanders’ 8th defenseman this year and offer a solid presence if called up for injury relief.
8. Ilya Sorokin (Drafted 2014, Third Round)
Goaltender – Catches Left – 6’2, 172 lbs
2014-15 Team: CSKA Moscow, Metallurg Novokuznetsk (KHL)
The Islanders are relatively thin at the goaltender position, and while Sorokin is a good player, it’s always tough to have your top goaltending prospect in the KHL. That said, he has a high ceiling and has been gaining KHL experience since he was 17.
Sorokin struggled last season, but then again so did every goaltender in Metallurg. His .906 save percentage was well below expectations, but starter Rafael Khakimov was only slightly better in what was really a lost season for the squad. Sorokin was traded to CSKA Moscow, and was able to play behind extremely talented teams at both the KHL and MHL level. Plus he outplayed Maxim Tretiak in the MHL playoffs. Unfortunately, the goaltending prospect he’s competing with in CSKA (Tretiak) will get every chance to succeed, putting Sorokin in a tougher spot.
So far this season, Sorokin has performed extremely well at the KHL level. Two shutouts (against Avangard and Ugra) and big wins over top clubs like Jokerit highlight a season in which, at least statistically, he’s been the best goaltender on the team. With Viktor Fasth in front of him and Maxim Tretiak all but guaranteed a spot on CSKA in the next two years, it may open a door for Sorokin to head to North America sooner than later.
9. Mitchell Vande Sompel (Drafted 2015, Third Round)
Defense – Shoots Left – 5’10, 183 lbs
2014-15 Team: Oshawa Generals (OHL)
Michael Dal Colle’s teammate, and fellow three-name-haver, Vande Sompel is a puck-moving defenseman who sees the ice at an elite level. A former first-rounder in the OHL Priority Selection, MVS was another polarizing figure at the draft and the type of player who very few had similar feelings on. The big concern: his size. It’s tough to be a defenseman in the NHL under six feet, but Vande Sompel will definitely be a candidate in a few years.
This past season, MVS finished 4th in scoring on the Oshawa Generals, and 5th among all defensemen in the OHL with 12 goals and 63 points. He was one of just four defensemen in the league to record over a point per game, and the only one that was draft eligible. His release is shockingly quick for a defenseman, and it’s actually surprising that he only managed 12 goals this year. I’d expect that number to be raised, and I think he’d be disappointed in not leading OHL defensemen in scoring.
In the third round, Vande Sompel wasn’t much of a risk. The potential reward is a prime Dan Boyle-type defenseman who puts up a ton of points despite being on the smaller side. The defensive side of his game needs a lot of work, and it would help him to bulk up a bit, but the potential is pretty incredible.
10. Adam Pelech (Drafted 2012, Third Round)
Defense – Shoots Left – 6’3, 214 lbs
2014-15 Team: Bridgeport Sound Tigers
Pelech is a two-way defenseman that posted some gaudy numbers on the Erie Otters’ blue line as a junior player, but hasn’t found the same offensive success at the pro level. His size and defensive upside is what originally got him drafted in 2012, and what he’ll likely be known for if he ever makes the jump to the next level.
Following a sheltered rookie OHL campaign in 2010-11, Pelech’s Otters were abysmal in his draft year en route to securing the first overall pick (McDavid). His -20 and 20 points over 44 games weren’t the most impressive stats to look at, but the raw talent and size were enough to place him as a mid-round draft pick. In 2013-14, when McDavid, Connor Brown, and Dane Fox emerged as one of the league’s most dynamic lines, Pelech posted 54 points and a +52 while getting top minutes behind them. He also played a solid role in all seven games for Canada’s disappointing 2014 World Junior run. Last season in Bridgeport, Pelech had no goals and 11 assist over 65 games, and in just five games this year he’s already buried two and improved his defensive play significantly.
While Pelech isn’t a top prospect, there’s definitely room for growth in his game and players of his size don’t exactly grow on trees. His development over the last twelve or so months has been extremely impressive, and he’s a player with a legitimate shot at cracking the Islanders roster in another couple of years.
Stephon Williams (2013)
Sebastian Collberg (2012)
Mikko Koskinen (2009)
Alan Quine (2011)
Parker Wotherspoon (2015)
Unmentioned 2015 Draft Selections