The Islanders’ Baby Big-Three Have Set The Ice On Fire

Although there may not be NHL hockey at the moment, the New York Islanders future is finally coming together. Over the past few years, Islanders fans have been told to wait, and that the team is in full rebuild mode. Obviously, we wanted to win, but with the roster the Islanders have been putting on the ice, winning would only be a bonus. The Islanders current phase has been with a goal of improvement, rather than winning the Stanley Cup.

Well, four years into the full rebuild, the New York Islanders had improved (slightly) in the standings. The silver-lining here? The Islanders did it without many of the guys that the organization is counting on to lead them to their first playoff-berth since the 2006-07 Season.

Sure, the Islanders have Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey and others that are not producing the way Islanders fans envisioned, but who said that these were the guys that the Islanders would be keeping around? They might be the current players on the ice, but the Islanders, who have finished as a bottom-five team for the past five seasons, have been preparing for the future, and not the now.

As many of the current Islanders players have been under-producing, or very streaky, the Islanders have been developing, and adding to what has become, a very deep prospect pool. Enough with the “we have to wait forever to see the guys we drafted” talk. Look at Bridgeport. The Islanders prospects have made it, finally. The next step is now, and it’s exciting, especially being that the Islanders’ top prospects seem to be developing towards stardom.

In 2010 and 2011, the New York Islanders had three first-round draft picks. In 2010, the Islanders selected Nino Niederreiter 5th-overall, and then traded up to select Brock Nelson 30th-overall. In 2011, the Islanders selected Ryan Strome with their 5th-overall pick. All three players needed time to develop, but patience would bring some real offensive, home-grown talent to the Island. Of course, Islanders fans wanted to win immediately, and have wondered why we haven’t been involved in deals for top-end talent, but the truth has always been that we expected to have that talent, but we just had to wait for it.

Good news, Isles fans. The wait is just about over. Nino, Brock, and Ryan are setting their respective leagues ablaze.

The Bridgeport Sound Tigers are contenders this year in the American Hockey League, and are currently being pushed ahead because of the stellar play of Nino Niederreiter and Brock Nelson. Yes, the 2010 Islanders first-round draft picks look like studs, and all it took was a little patience.

For starters, Nino Niederreiter picked up exactly where he didn’t leave off last season, and that’s OK with all of us. After a one goal campaign for the New York Islanders in 2011-12, Nino is making the most of his first year of AHL play. In fact, he’s making it look like he’s in Portland all over again, where he dominated with 41 goals and 29 assists during the 2010-11 Season.

Put in a scoring role for the first time since Juniors, Nino is producing. He has scored 8 goals and 8 assists in 14 games (good for 1st in the Eastern Conference), while using his frame to do what we saw a lot of at the NHL level: hit. Nino is tossing his body around the AHL, but this time, he seems like a man-on-a-mission (and he probably should be).

One year after being labeled as a 19-year-old bust on the Island, Nino is showing that he can play. He’s averaging over three shots per game. He’s been active on the powerplay, including three powerplay goals this season and setting up Travis Hamonic for the game-tying goal against Connecticut last Sunday. He’s throwing the body, and he’s always around the net.

He’s buzzing right now, which makes you wonder was it really him, or was it the role he was put in. You don’t draft a player to score goals, and place him on the fourth-line. I mean, Nino played 4 games in Bridgeport last season on a rehab stint, and scored 3 goals and 1 assist in the same role he has there now: a first-line winger. Look, there are no complaints now. Nino is producing, and it has helped fans forget is miserable (by design) season he had last year.

The compliment to Nino in Bridgeport this season has been Brock Nelson, who has centered a line with Nino Niederreiter all season. Nelson, who played 4 games for Bridgeport last year without tallying a point, has arguably helped Nino complete his game. Brock had matched Nino’s output through the first 11 games (7-7-14), and is currently playing at a point-per-game pace (14 points in 14 games).

What I’ve seen from Brock Nelson is a player that is extremely strong on the puck, and a smart player on both sides of the ice. There are two things that have really stood out to me with Nelson’s season so-far: One being Nelson’s penalty-kill prowess, which has helped Bridgeport to the 4th-best PK in the AHL thus far.  He added a shorthanded breakaway goal on Saturday for the Sound Tigers, and that hasn’t been his only shorthanded opportunity this year.

The other thing that has stood out is Nelson’s work along the boards. I saw it the entire game last Sunday. As I was sitting along the glass, I often was face-to-face with Brock as he was dominating battles for the puck in the corner. His hockey sense is incredible, and it seemed like every battle that was won, a scoring opportunity was created form it. Centering passes, sneaky shots, Nelson was creating havoc for the Connecticut Whale.

Brock can play, and be productive, in all on-ice situations, which will be a huge boost for the New York Islanders in the near future. He could be a future second-line centre for a team that is craving one.

And you know what a good problem to have is? Ryan Strome, who is still playing in the OHL for the Niagara IceDogs, probably has something to say about my second-line centre statement. Strome might be the most-talented Islanders prospect, and he is doing everything he can to open the eyes of Garth Snow sooner rather than later.

After this past Islanders Summer Camp, it was believed that Strome could use one more season developing in Niagara. Strome has responded during the NHL Lockout, and he has responded in a huge way.

Strome has played 24 games this season. He has scored 15 goals and 28 assists for 43 points. In 8 November games, Strome has scored in each one, registering 6 goals and 16 assists in that stretch. There are just no words for what he’s doing in the OHL right now. He’s a man among boys right now, and he’s creating a problem that the Islanders would love to have: all of their top-prospects are developing to stardom, and there are only a few roster spots to take.

This is why I say that the guys we have now may not be here in the future. The future has been built around the Islanders’ recent draft classes, which seem to be on their way to success. Islanders fans: your patience will be rewarded. The Islanders are a rebuilding team, and the prospects from the rebuild are all becoming pros.

The waiting period is just about over, and Niederreiter, Nelson, and Strome all seem to be in a class of their own.

Follow @ChrisTriants

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About the Author: Writes at Islanders Op-Timism. Islanders Season Ticket Holder who tends to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Hofstra Graduate currently working at Portnoy, Messinger, Pearl & Associates. I definitely want to end up working within the world of hockey. Blog: E-Mail: Twitter: @ChrisTriants

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  1. KO21 says:

    Dude, these guys haven’t made it until they made can do it at a high level in the NHL. Unless being a stud in the AHL is considered making it?

    • ChrisTriants says:

      Assuming you arr reacting to “The Islanders prospects have made it, finally,” I mean after years of waiting for them to play in the Islanders system, they made it. They have arrived in Bridgeport, and now we can see them up close, rather than saying, “in a few years, these guys will play for us.” Obviously, some of these guys need more time to develop, but to dismiss the notion that, after years of Islanders complaining about the waiting period, these guys are finally in the Islanders farm system isn’t fair.

      They have not “made it” in the sense that they are proven scorers or whatever, but yes, they have found their footing in Bridgeport. It’s nice to see them playing at a top-level, regardless of where they play. Obviously, it doesn’t count until they play on the Islanders, but with no NHL hockey, it’s OK to be a little excited, especially after hearing fans complain about these guys being years away. They’re playing hockey, and I would love to see some of these guys on the NHL roster over some of the hacks we have seen over the past few years.

      The point it, the future is now. The guys we have been waiting for are finally arriving in the sense that they are ready to play. I’m not saying they are superstars now, but why can’t we speculate, and hope that their positive numbers indicate a bright future.

      • RobJ74 says:

        I hear you. When you said they are future superstars I was thinking thats a bit too far, lol.

        • ChrisTriants says:

          Yeah, I mean I understand. Obviously, there’s a ways to go, but the early signs are pretty nice. Enjoy it and support them for now. It’s not so out there, though. They are all first round picks, and two of them came in the top-5. If they weren’t performing, we would all be crying bust and calling for a trade. My honest opinion? I see Strome as a stud, Nino a second-line 30-goal winger and Nelson in the same role as Jordan Staal was in Pittsburgh. I would take that any day. Can’t walk before they crawl. It should be a positive, and something to be excited about, that they are playing good hockey at their respective levels.