Checking Out The Fowards

Checking out the forwards…

Heading into the 2010-2011 season, the forwards of the New York Islanders looks very similar to last year’s group. Though there have been few changes, the core of the forwards are now a year older, and are looking to take a step forward in their development.

Gone are defensive staple and Assistant Captain Richard Park and sparkplug winger and former 1st round pick Sean Bergenheim. Replaced by tough guy and agitator Zenon Konopka and shootout wiz PA Parenteau. Those are currently the only 2 changes GM Garth Snow (who decided that his defense was what needed an overhaul), but before the Islanders take to the ice opening night against the Dallas Stars there could be a few more changes in store.

Spots Locked up…

W Josh Bailey 16g-19a-35pts, W Blake Comeau 17g-18a-35pts, W Trent Hunter 11g-17a-28pts, C Zenon Konopka 2g-3a-5pts, W Matt Moulson 30g-18a-48pts, C Frans Nielsen 12g-26a-38pts, W Kyle Okposo 19g-33a-52pts, C Rob Schremp 7g-18a-25pts, C John Tavares 24g-30a-54pts

The team figures to have 9 forward spots locked up heading into camp. Though if pushed by a dynamic rookie (which the Islanders have 3 of heading into camp), someone like Trent Hunter could be on the move if he is outshined. Bailey is almost assured to play the wing considering how well he played there last season with the development of Rob Schremp at Center, it will take some pressure off of Bailey and let him continue to develop.

Speaking of Schremp, who knows where the team or his numbers would have been if he hadn’t injured his knee with 6 weeks to go in the season. Schremp showed why he was selected in the first round with this impressive puck handling skills and amazing hand-eye coordination. He scored some very pretty goals and was lights out in the shootout. He was able to play at both ends of the ice and was well on his way to an impressive rookie campaign. Look for more of the same from Schremp as he continues to gain the coaching staff’s trust and more importantly ice time.

Blake Comeau had a breakout type second half last year. He caught on fire the last 3 weeks of the season securing multiple point games left and right. He hurt himself the final week of the season but he had a solid finish for him to build on this camp. He should be all but a lock for the second line.

Konopka took Tampa by storm last season (no pun intended). After floating around the minors the past few years he played a full season with the Lightning and showed an agitators style and a willingness to drop the gloves to sick up for his teammates. He will anchor the 4th line this upcoming season.

Matt Moulson had a breakout season with the Islanders. Moulson who could never stick with the Los Angeles Kings, parked his behind in front of opposing nets in route to his first 30 goal season. Moulson doesn’t have flashy skills and isn’t a great skater, but he was just what the Islanders needed last year and the team hopes they’ll get more of the same.

Coach Scott Gordon has repeatedly called Frans Nielsen the most underrated forward in the league. He’s probably right. Nielsen is the top penalty killer, 3rd line anchor, used on the 2nd Power Play and shootout extraordinaire. Frans is on the smallish side and has missed a portion of the past 2 season with injuries so he’ll probably be just a very solid 3rd line center, but players like Nielsen don’t grow on trees and every successful NHL needs a Frans Nielsen.

Next we have the most well rounded prospect we’ve seen on the Island in a long time, Kyle Okposo. Kyle improved upon his point total going from 39 to 52 in his sophomore season. He scored 19 goals and was the team’s best defensive forward period. The only part of Kyle’s game that I can see that hasn’t improved is his shot. My belief is playing him on the point on the Power Play has messed him up. If you notice he is constantly shanking his shots, or breaking his sticks while shooting. The acquisitions of James Wisniewski and Milan Jurcina, should allow for Scott Gordon to take him off the point and allow him to play below the dots where he would be more lethal.

Finally, it brings us to John Tavares. Tavares did just about everything the team could have asked for. He scored, played on the PP, grew as a player and a person and most importantly showed he is a budding star in the league. Tavares had his ups and downs but never let himself or his play get too down. He caught fire at the end of the season and had his most dominating performance in Vancouver on March 16th where he had his first 5 point night where he scored twice and had 3 first assists. Tavares should only get better and scoring 30 goals is not out of the question this year.

Battling for Minutes…

W Trevor Gillies 0g-1a-1pts, W Matt Martin 0g-2a-2pts, W PA Parenteau 3g-5a-8pts, W Jon Sim 13g-9a-22pts, W Doug Weight 1g-16a-17pts, Jesse Joensuu 1g-0a-1pts

I put Gillies on this list since I’m not sure how much Coach Gordon will play his enforcer. Against the East, Gillies will get plenty of action as most of the conference has bulked up and added fighters of their own. As we all know, Gordon likes to role 4 lines so we’ll see if Gillies will get 6-8 minutes a night, or will be on the bench in the 3rd period just as a deterrent.

Young winger Matt Martin was impressive in a his short stint on John Tavares’s wing, showing a willingness to stir it up, throw the body and drop the gloves. He probably won’t be more than a 30-35 point guy, but will be an important character player down the road. Trent Hunter should start looking over his shoulder at Martin.

PA Parenteau has taken number 15, will he follow in the former 15’s footsteps? As we all know Jeff Tambellini wore number 15 the past few seasons and was never able to stay on the ice for any length of time. After fans and even some reporters questioned Ted Nolan’s dislike for the kid, Tamby found himself firmly in Scott Gordon’s doghouse just a quickly. Parenteau is a Tambellini clone (minus the speed), he has outstanding hands and has scored the lights out of many AHL rinks. Can that translate into NHL success?…we’ll see but I see Parenteau sitting in the press box plenty as well.

Jon Sim is back for another go with the Islanders. Sim scored 13 goals but is mostly an agitator type who works his butt off. He’ll spend most of his season in Bridgeport tutoring the youngsters on the finer points of leaving it all on the ice. Though I suspect he’ll get into more than a few NHL games.

Doug Weight has not technically signed a contract for this upcoming season, though he most likely will in the coming weeks. He will provide more mentoring for Tavares, Bailey and Okposo (mostly Tavares) and occasionally some Power Play time as well. Weight is well past his prime and had season ending shoulder surgery last season so I don’t expect him to play too much in what should be his final season on the ice. I have little doubt that Weight will continue his career with the Islanders well after his playing career is over.

Jesse Joensuu is entering his 3rd season in North America and must prove he is an NHL player this season. His first season was a success as he made in to the NHL for a cup of coffee and even scored his first NHL goal, but was unable to crack the lineup last September and played in only 10 games on Long Island this past season. Joensuu is a big boy with some nice hands, hopefully this is the year he starts to put it all together.

Knocking on the door…

W Kirill Petrov 3rd round pick 2008, W Kirill Kabanov 3rd round pick 2010, Nino Niederreiter 1st round pick 2010, David Ullstrom 3rd round pick 2008.

The Islanders will be taking a hard look at the 4 youngsters you see above. Petrov has the best chance to stick being he seems the most NHL ready. The only sticking point is he isn’t under contract with the Islanders as of yet. Recently, his KHL team, Kazan, has expressed a growing interest in their young winger (funny how that happens now that he has seen Long Island and what is ahead of him). I look at this as posturing from Kazan and a reminder that they will need to be compensated for him. If Petrov comes to Long Island for training camp….the likelihood is he’ll stay.

The Islanders took a trio of extremely talents kids in this June’s draft. Nino Niederreiter and Kirill Kabanov have a realistic chance to stay with the team this season but most likely will return to their junior teams. Nino will only turn 18 on September 8th and it would do him good to go back to junior and dominate again with the Portland Winterhawks. Kabanov might have a better chance to stick, since the Islanders want to keep a close eye on him, though I believe they trust former Isles Assistant Coach Danny Flynn to watch over their talented winger in Moncton. Kabanov again could use a season dominating the QMJHL and could come to camp poised to take a spot on Tavares’ line in 2011.

Finally there is David Ullstrom. Ullstrom is a 3rd rounder out of Sweden, who possesses size, speed and a bit of a scorer’s touch. He’s not projected as a top 6 forward, but could add some much needed size and ability to the bottom 6 spots. Though a long shot it will be interesting to see how Ullstrom fairs considering he has spent the past few seasons playing in Sweden against some impressive talent.

Summing up….

I haven’t been this excited about a group of talent like this in a long time. Not only the players who will be on the ice Oct 9th, but the Nino’s, Kabanov’s and Petrov’s make me giggle with excitement. Kudos to Garth Snow, who has done an excellent job amassing the young talent he has in such a short amount time. The future is bright with these kids folks…

My next blog will size up the defense for 2010-2011, followed by the goaltending and coaching.

Twitter @tonystabile

Share this nice post:

Filed Under: New York IslandersNHLNHL Teams

About the Author: The New York Islanders have been a huge part of my life since I was 7 years old, and during the past 27 years I have experience many ups and downs with this team. The back end of 4 straight Stanley Cups, the Drive for 5, the Easter Epic, trading of my heroes John Tonelli, and Kelly Hrudey. Mike Bossy's early retirement, Pat LaFontaine for Pierre Turgeon, Dale Hunter, David Volek, Ron Hextall, Al Arbour's retirement, Bill Torrey to Florida, Mike Milbury, John Spano, The Milstein's, Hoistgate, the sale to Charles Wang, Draft Day 2000, Alexei Yashin and Michael Peca, Milbury's "reassignement", 40 days of Neil Smith, Ted Nolan, The Lighthouse Project, Kate Murray, Scott Gordon, going from 5 to 7 to 9, Josh Bailey, John Tavares, Calvin deHaan, El Nino, the 2 Kirill's and hopefully.....much, much more. I have been an Islanders blogger for the past 3 years, starting on Myspace, then for IslesNation.com and currently for HockeyIndependent.com, and I have been selected to the 2010-2011 New York Islanders Blog Box. I am an IT Manager for a quite large facility working for a government agency. I am married for 7 years to an incredibly patient woman and am the proud father of a beautiful 1 year old daughter. Email: ajstabile@gmail.com Twitter: Twitter.com/tonystabile

RSSComments (17)

Leave a Reply | Trackback URL

  1. HyeDray says:

    Snow has done a solid job through the draft. I too am feeling upbeat about the on-ice product. Sadly the rest of the issues facing the franchise have gone in reverse!

    Overall, I believe any of the young guns mentioned should likely remain with their junior teams, or perhaps in Petrov’s case he begins in Bridgeport. This is unless these kids come in and blow the doors off the place!

    • Tony Stabile says:

      HyeDray

      Agree with the issues facing the franchise…I hope to talk about that during the year as we’ve said many times recently…we’re entering a critical time for the New York Islanders franchise.

      Petrov will either be with the Islanders or with Kazan…I don’t see how his agent allows the Isles to start him in Bridgeport on a 2 way contract when he’ll make more money tax free in the KHL, and after hearing Coach Gordon’s comments, I think he’s planning on keeping him regardless.

      Nino and Kabanov should play another year in Juniors….with Nino being only 17 and Kabanov’s year being lost due to injury and stupidity it would only benefit him to spend the year in Moncton. Though I have to say, Kabanov’s personality is intoxicating…such a breath of fresh air. I think a lot of teams are going to be sorry they passed on this kid.

  2. Isles27 says:

    I have to take exception with a couple of things on Okposo. First you said he was the “team’s best defensive forward period”. He finished the season a MINUS 22 the worst +/- on the team so I would say for starters that Nielsen was a better defensive forward than Okposo. Another part of his game that needs improvement is him going into the dirty areas to score goals like Moulson and Tavares did. He seems to want to dance around on the perimeter too much. Lastly as I’ve mentioned before if a player like Crosby can drop the gloves then there is no reason why Okposo just stood there and did nothing when Bailey took a cheap shot from behind into the boards. He needs to develop a bit of a mean streak.

    • Tony Stabile says:

      Isles27…

      I agree with what you said about Nielsen and Okposo’s -22, but let’s be realistic here…the defense was not good at all last year (which i will go over in my next blog). That -22 was skewered a bit by the bad play around him. Nielsen is an outstanding defensive forward, but between his ability to take the puck away and his all out effort, Okposo was very good despite his numbers.

      Mean streaks are not developed…players are born with them. I’m not sure Okposo has one (though I saw him flip out on Cal Clutterbuck when he decked Blake Comeau 2 years ago). I thnk Snow has realized that this team needed a bit of a edge and hence why Konopka, Gillies, Yablonski and Wisniewski are Islanders today.

      Thanks for the comment….keep em coming!

      • Isles27 says:

        Nielsen and Okposo were on the same team and played with the same D so that argument doesn’t work here.

  3. Isles27 says:

    Okposo was a -22 while Nielsen was a +4 on the same exact team. Sorry but that is a huge difference that can’t be ignored.

    • Tony Stabile says:

      Since we are going strickly on numbers here are a few you aren’t looking at.

      Okposo in the final 4 losses of the season was a -7 in games which the Islanders were outscored 24-12. He also had 2 goals 4 assists for 6 points in those losses.

      Also, Okposo averaged 20:32 per game, where Nielsen averaged a tad over 17 minutes a game.

      Yes the numbers swing way towards Nielsen….but again let’s look at the whole picture.

      • Isles27 says:

        OK I still think Nielsen was better in the defensive zone than Okposo when I look at the whole picture, including watching them play, so your stats don’t change my opinion and my stats don’t change yours. I’ll leave it at that.

        • Tony Stabile says:

          Agree to disagree….I can live with that…

          • Isles27 says:

            BTW you like Goring as the new color commentator because I don’t, as a matter of fact I think he’s pretty bad. We went backwards as far as I’m concerned from someone who was getting better and better and getting national attention to Goring who seems to be getting worse.

  4. Tony Stabile says:

    I don’t agree with the Jaffe firing.

    I was not happy when Cablevision stole Joe Micheletti, so originally I wasn’t fond of Jaffe. Over the past few years I loved hearing his commentary and his excitment on the air (especially when the Islanders made the playoffs on easter Sunday against the Devils).

    That being said, I do not see Goring as Howie’s partner very long. There has been rumors that the move to Goring was to be a temporary one as he’ll hold the seat until Doug Weight is ready to retire and take over.

    Weight has a fantastic personality and would be a natural in the commentary chair.

    Goring should be very interesting, as he is a very good hockey mind, he sometimes has a hard time getting his point across (which was his downfall as coach).

  5. I’m looking forward, and still waiting, on Bailey and Comeau to break out. So much potential, but still just not getting there, despite their nearly 20 goal efforts.

  6. G says:

    Agree with the article! And the Islanders made great draft choices, I think Kabanov will really come through for them in another year or two. It was all politics and games why he fell to the third round anyway. I hate that hockey has become like that.

  7. Battfist says:

    I appreciate the article but I also disagree with you on KO.
    1. How can you not mention the hit he took in the preseason? If anything…that “messed” the young man up.
    2. Didnt he catch swine flu last season?
    3. I dnt think his shot was “messed” up by playing point on the PP. If anything he needs to give up on the toe-drag move he was trying a bunch last year.
    KO over came a ton of adversity last season. In a contract year…he is going to have 30/50 80 point season.

    Bailey-should go off this season…confidence will finally be there…contract season.

    Tavares-Dnt sell this young man short by saying 30 goals. The drive Tavares has shown throughout his junior career for scoring-let him shoot for 40 goals. I wouldnt be surprised if Tavares’s goal is 50.

    Matt Martin- 30-35 point guy?! Nah-Gordon has a vision with this young man playing like a Holmstrom on the Redwings. I believe he can be a 50 point player.

    Youre excited about the talent but youre selling these guys short.

    • Tony Stabile says:

      OK…let’s go over this step by step…

      First of all I didn’t mention the Swine Flu or the hit from Phaneuf because it wasn’t relevent to the discussion. Okposo played in 80 games last year. Health wasn’t the problem. The problem is that Kyle takes 6 shots a game and 3 of them miss the net. I agree he needs to shelve the toe drag stuff, but that is part of learning the NHL game and when to use that and when not to. I don’t think playing the point on the PP has done him any good and I hope going into this season he’s not back there.

      Bailey should have more confidence but I think your making this “contract season” more that it is. These guys are coming off entry level contracts and unless your Alexander Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby…your 2nd contract is just a tad better than your first.

      I am not selling Tavares short. I do believe he will become a 50 goal scorer during his career. He has the desire and talent to do so. What he is lacking now is a supporting cast. Stamkos scored 51 goals last season…and he played with Marin St. Louis, last time I checked the Islanders don’t have someone of his stature to play with Tavares. Hence why 30-39 goals is more likely this season than 50.

      The Martin comment is the one that stumps me. Martin played 76 games in the AHL last season and scored 31 points. He took only 126 shots (that’s less than 1.5 per game). Where have you seen in his game that he could or will be a 50 point guy? I never heard Scott Gordon compare Martin to a Tomas Holmstrom (which would be crazy since the kid played a total of 5 NHL games).

      You state that I am selling these guys short. Your talking about 4 kids who are 22, 21 and 20 years old. I have tempered expectations for them after watching them develop over the past 2 seasons and seeing what Snow has given them to work with. The defense has been upgraded, and I like what I am seeing from the young forwards but I can’t pencil Okposo in for 80 points when he didn’t get to 50 points until the final game of the season. I can’t expect Tavares to score 40 goals when he went 37 games scoring just 9 points last year.

      I believe Okposo can be an 80 point guy (go back and look at Jarome Iginla’s early stats as a young power forward), and Tavares could be a 50 goal guy but we need to give these kids time and I wont put that kind of pressure on them just yet.

      Thanks for the comment

      • Rob McGowan says:

        Hey Tony,

        Couldn’t agree more. The expectations for these guys have to be accounted for gradually over time. Young guys rarely turn into superstars over one season. Stamkos did, sure…but you highlighted the underlying factor there: a roster filled with already proven all-stars. The Islanders don’t have one…not one.

        In time, they may be the 80 point, 50 goal scoring players as some fans suggest (and thrive for), and I don’t blame them. But everything takes time.

        Nice post.

  8. Joe Feingold says:

    I was disappointed to find out about Park being let go, he was one of the best defensive forwards and played with heart. The future of the team looks very bright, but I worry that the forward unit may be getting too young and there is not enough of a veteran presence who can score as well as be a mentoring influence. I was wondering if with Bill Guerin not being signed by the Pens, there would be a chance to bring him back, all though that would mean NOT bringing back Doug Weight.