By: Tony Stabile
As the Islanders get ready to play their 21st game of the season tonight in Boston, it marks the close of the first quarter of the season. The team is over .500 at 7-6-7 and seems that someone forgot to tell these boys that they don’t have to play 65 minutes a night. If they would just hold on to the 3 goal leads they seem to have on a nightly basis, they would need less days off!
Here are my marks for the team after 20 games.
John Tavares – Grade B+
The most anticipated Islanders draft pick since Pat LaFontaine has not disappointed. Tavares is really starting to hit his stride now scoring 7 points in his last 3 games including a highlight reel goal which he batted a puck out of mid air as it ricocheted off the glass. Tavares is not the most graceful skater, though as he puts on muscle, he will be much harder to knock off the puck. His hands are world class and could very well have 15 goals if he would have converted some easy chances he missed earlier in the season. Tavares seems to me to be exactly as advertised, a franchise scorer.
Frans Nielsen – Grade B
Nielsen missed the first few weeks of the season with a “lower body injury”, the only problem with Fransie seems to be the ability to stay healthy. Nielsen has very good speed, nice hand and very good vision on the ice. He is small, and seems to get rocked by a hit at least once a week, but the Isles could do much worse as a 2nd line center. He has had some very nice shootout goals, and even plays the penalty kill. Solid play so far and more is expected.
Josh Bailey – Grade C-
Bailey has not had a strong first 20 games this season. He started the season not having a shot his first 5 games, and that prompted coach Scott Gordon to encourage the young center to shoot more. Funny thing about Bailey, he has a very good shot, as he has shown on a couple of occasions so far. He just needs to find his way a little more. I have faith that Bailey will become a solid 2nd line center in the future and a strong locker room presence. One does have to wonder, if keeping Bailey instead of sending him back to Juniors last year, was the right decision.
Nate Thompson – Grade C+
Thompson is a gritty 4 line center, he has had some success and chemistry playing with Tim Jackman and Richard Park. Thompson in my mind is a necessary evil on this team. He probably wouldn’t be in the NHL if he didn’t play Gordon’s system, but has been part of a line that has been a good energy line. Gordon seems to play him as weird times of the game, (like in the final 2 minutes of a game your trailing by a goal) but Thompson has not embarrassed Gordon to this point. Expect more solid and unspectacular play from Thompson.
Kyle Okposo – Grade B
Okposo is maturing into a beast right in front of our very eyes. He is so strong on the puck, plays with maturity beyond his years, and can play in any situation. He has only 5 goals and that’s the only reason he gets a B grade as I know for sure he will light the lamp more and more as the season wears on. Kyle missed the first few games after having his head handed to him by Dion Phaneuf during the preseason, and made a miraculous recovery from H1N1 which he seemed to have for about 5 minutes. The last thing that is so impressive about Okposo is his leadership qualities. In years past the Islanders have been famous for forcing young players into leadership roles they were not ready for (see Kenny Jonsson and Bryan McCabe). Okposo was voted by his teammates to wear an A on his chest and he deserves that honor by how he carries himself.
Matt Moulson – Grade B+
Who the hell is Matt Moulson? That was the question I uttered when I found out opening night who was playing with John Tavares. I now can answer it, Matt Moulson has the ability to be a modern day Jason Blake. Blake was acquired from the Los Angeles Kings (Moulson was a former King as well) for a song and an old pair of socks by Mike Milbury (probably his best trade). Moulson, who has known John Tavares since birth it seems, has had instant chemistry and has provided the Islanders with a presence in front of the net. At this pace Moulson is looking like a 20 goal scorer and a steal.
Trent Hunter – Grade Incomplete
Hunter, has only played 5 games to this point, though he already has 5 points. Trent missed nearly a month with a torn upper body something or other. Hunter got off to a fast start last year also before fading down the stretch and succumbing to injury late in the year. My 2 cents, Hunter is the perfect compliment for John Tavares’ right side. He plays the corners extremely well, something Tavares is not good at as of yet, and is a good passer. He also has a decent shot as we saw the other night when he scored the tying goal late against Washington. If Hunter continues to play with Tavares, we could see similar production to his rookie season where he was a 20 goal scorer and had 50 points.
Sean Bergenheim – Grade C
The only reason Bergenheim gets a C here is his effort. Bergy has had a real rough go of it so far in 09. He has just 2 goals and at one point was a -7. He has taken some bad penalties trying to be over aggressive and compensate for his lack of scoring. He finally got off the schnide against Atlanta and I at least was hoping that would spark some additional offense from a player who most hoped would jump into the 20 goal range. He currently sits at 2 goals and 6 points for the season, and you know Gordon and Snow are looking for much more from him than what he has shown this year.
Jon Sim – Grade D
It’s no secret that I have very little use for Jon Sim. He is a 32 year old antagonist that really has no place on this team. The Islanders don’t have a player who can back him up (like a George Parros or a Georges Larque) so that aspect of the game is kind of useless for this team. With that, he gets 2nd line minutes and time on the power play. All in all he doesn’t do anything for me. Sim has 1 goal and 3 points on the season, and they wonder why Josh Bailey doesn’t have more points?? His spot on this team is already occupied by the Nate Thompson’s and Tim Jackman’s, and that roster spot should go to a younger player like Trevor Smith. It kills me to see players like Tambellini and Comeau sitting in the press box and Smith playing in Bridgeport, and Sim getting quality minutes. Quality minutes that could be going to a player who has a future with this team.
Jeff Tambellini – Grade B-
Tambellini to me has finally gotten it. After the benchings, and demotions, and watching more games from the press box than Larry Brooks, he gets it. Tambellini has shown that he can be a regular player in this league, showing he has some physicality to his game, and a willingness to go to the net. He netted his first hat trick this season and already has 6 goals, which he didn’t score all of last year. His reward, 10 to 12 minutes a night, and the past few games, the press box. Gordon seems to have 2 whipping boys, Tambellini and Blake Comeau (who we’ll touch on in a second). Other players never see the press box, and these 2 guys have chairs with their name on it. Now that Tamby has seemed to turn a corner, why not give the guy 10 games or so and see if he can get on a streak?…
Blake Comeau – Grade C-
Comeau has had a rough go of it early as well. He sat in the press box for 6 straight games earlier this month, how does he respond, he goes out gets 2 points and the number 1 star of the game. Comeau has so many talents, he is a ferocious hitter, he posses soft hands, a good hard shot and is good along the boards. The problem is, he can’t seem to do all of these things in the same game. He may display 1 or 2 of these qualities a night but never the complete package. For his strength, Comeau should live in front of the net and in the corners, but he continues to play the perimeter and dipsey doodles around players instead of going through them. If Comeau ever puts him game together having him and Okposo on the same team would be dangerous.
Tim Jackman – Grade C+
Jackman is a very good role player. He plays the part of 4th line energy line/part time enforcer. He is more than willing to drop the gloves, but he is not a very good fighter. His hands are actually pretty good and can even score and occasional goal. He is a good stop gap until Joel Rechlicz is ready to assume his role on the Islanders 4th line.
Richard Park – Grade C+
Park is one of the most underrated utility players in the NHL. What I mean by utility player, someone who you can play on your first line or your 4th line, PP or PK, 1st minute of the game or the last minute. Park can do it all. His offense has definitely been less than in years past and his +/- is down as well. This isn’t totally indicative of how Park is playing since he does so many other things, but the numbers aren’t pretty.
Doug Weight and Robbie Schremp – Grade Incomplete
These 2 have been a source of frustration for me. Weight was named Captain by his teammates and has played a grand total of 8 games. He has looked slow in those games though his hands are still as soft as ever. The Schremp situation is something that really pisses me off. Snow has the smart idea to bring this guy in, he looks a little out of sync (considering he had no training camp with the team and is learning a totally new system that players admit tingly took a year to master could be a reason for that) but all in all not bad. After 6 games, Scott Gordon has surmised that he is unable to play the wing in the NHL and is only cut out to be a Center. 6 games!….wow that was amazing….all that in 6 games. Schremp is a player who has offensive potential, on a team that puts 2 lines of 4th liners on the ice…they could be giving Schremp a longer look in my opinion.
Mark Streit – Grade B
Streit is the leader on the ice for this team, and with Weight out of the lineup so frequently off it as well. He plays 22 minutes a night, and is the catalyst on the power play. The future of the Islanders PP is in the hands of Okposo, Streit and Tavares, that will be a very formidable line for years to come. Teams have been more keyed in to him on the power play, hence limiting his effectiveness on the point, though he has been shooting the puck much more and is on a 4 game point scoring streak now. Expect more of the same from Streit.
Bruno Gervais – Grade C-
Gervais took a step forward after being paired with Mark Streit last year, he has taken a step back last year. Gervais tries to keep his game very simple, though he has not look nearly as strong as last year. This is a player who once scored 20 goals in the AHL, Bruno has no offensive game at all. He takes too long to shoot the puck and the last important goal he scored Ryan Smyth and Alexei Yashin were on the team.
Brendan Witt – Grade D
I love Brendan Witt, I really do, but he is not cut out for this system. He is way too slow to play this kind of game and has recently begun to play better that his minutes have been cut. He was vocal about making some adjustments to the system last season, to which Scott Gordon listened and eventually did. In my opinion, Witt would be much more valuable to another team, and it’s a shame since he has been such a good representative of this franchise.
Andy Sutton – Grade B
Sutton has been the biggest surprise to me. He has been the Islanders most steady defenseman the first 20 games. He has added a little offense, thought I don’t think he uses his big shot enough, and adds some bone crushing hits. He is in the walk year of his contract, but I think Sutton is a player who the Islanders may be able to utilize at the deadline or maybe to re-sign after the season.
Freddy Meyer – Grade C
Meyer is what you call a 7th defenseman. Too good for the AHL but not good enough to nail down a permanent NHL job. Meyer will give you some minutes but for my money I would rather take a look at an Andrew McDonald (which we will see tonight for that matter).
Radek Martinek – Grade F
The only F I am giving. Why?…because when you start the year there are 2 guarantees, you’ll have to pay your taxes in April and Radek Martinek will miss a majority of the season. He is constantly putting himself in position to be crushed by an oncoming player, and at 32 years of age, he should have figured out that by now. You can tell me whatever you want about this injury not being his fault, I don’t want to hear it, he is constantly hurt and I am honestly tired of it.
Jack Hillen – Grade B
Hillen has come to play this season. He is a +7 and has been flying around the ice. Where last year you could sneeze and knock him off the puck, he has added some strength this year and his play has been been noticeably better. I couldn’t tell you for sure whether Hillen would have been able to make it in the NHL, he has shown me that he definitely can.
Dwayne Roloson – Grade B+
Roloson has been a breath of fresh air. He has lost only 1 game in regulation this season and though he has had his problems in the shootout, he has kept the team in the games most nights and has even stolen them a point or 2 along the way. With Rick DiPietro’s return on the horizon, he is likely to take Martin Biron’s position as the 1A goalie for the time being,
Martin Biron – Grade C+
Biron is one of the most likeable players in the NHL. He is funny, personable and is a very good player. Problem is, he is not exactly been at his absolute best. He will definitely become trade bait sometime after Christmas and some playoff bound team needing goalie help will come calling. Biron was a great acquisition by Snow and will fetch a decent prospect or draft pick in return.
I am not going to pretend to know more than Scott Gordon or the Islander coaching staff, I will say that I never in my wildest dreams expected to be over .5oo at any point this season let alone in November, and for that I give them a lot of credit. I may not agree with everything, but the results have been there in the end. Do I think the Islanders can sustain this over the long haul?…..well that will depend on the health of Rick DiPIetro but I seriously doubt this is a playoff team in its current form. Next year is going to be awfully exciting though.
Enjoy the game tonight!
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