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.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: Twitter.com/tonystabile