TSP: New York Islanders Prospects

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Welcome to the 2015 edition of Top Shelf Prospects.  As the summer progresses, I will be featuring each NHL team’s top prospects, following the order of the first round of the 2015 NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks) —you can find all the articles here.

Because we already published an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in 2015, as my reports on them will not have changed — I will, however, link you to those articles. Instead I will focus on prospects that were acquired in past drafts, examining their progress and their chances of making the 2015-16 roster of their respective NHL team. I will also choose one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the fourth round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as a darkhorse to make the NHL.

For those wondering, the determining factors for defining who is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not set in stone, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.

The New York Islanders makeover continued last season, their final season of games in the Nassau Coliseum.  Off-season additions of Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, Jaroslav Halak, Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy joined an exciting young core featuring John Tavares, Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome, Anders Lee, Kyle Okposo, Travis Hamonic and others.  The moves helped the Islanders to third place in the Metropolitan division and their second playoff appearance in the last three years.  While the Islanders fell to the Washington Capitals, this should still be seen as a successful year for the club, and they continue to build towards a bright future at the Barclay’s Centre in Brooklyn.

This off-season has been relatively quiet for the Islanders.  The major move being a trade of former 4th overall pick Griffin Reinhart to Edmonton to add a pair of draft picks.  This just emphasizes the team’s commitment to keep building a prospect pool that is quickly becoming one of the best in the NHL.

Players Drafted: Mathew Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier, Mitchell Vande Sompel, Parker Wotherspoon, Ryan Pilon, Andong Song, Petter Hanson
Graduations: Ryan Strome, Anders Lee

Top New York Islanders Prospects

Top Prospect: Michael Dal Colle, Left Wing
Born Jun 20 1996 — Woodbridge, ONT
Height 6.02 — Weight 190 [188 cm/86 kg]
Drafted by New York Islanders in round 1, #5 overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft

For the first time in his career, Michael Dal Colle faced the adversity of being cut from a hockey team. It wasn’t a huge surprise that the fifth overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft needed to go back to junior and add some muscle before he was ready to play for the Islanders. However, come December, Dal Colle must have been disappointed to miss out on a chance to represent Team Canada at the World Juniors. He rebounded strong though, leading the Oshawa Generals to the OHL Title and the Memorial Cup. Dal Colle had 93 points in the regular season setting a career high in goals, and while his total points was down that was due to playing less games, as he had a career high in points per game as well. He added 25 points in 16 OHL playoff games, and 5 points in 4 Memorial Cup games.

The first thing you notice about Michael Dal Colle is his stick handling ability. His soft hands are absolutely elite and he can do things with the puck that others only dream of doing. I would grade this as an A+ skill for him. Dal Colle has shown an excellent ability to play the cycle game protecting the puck down low, and making quick, smart passes. When given openings he cane drive the net and show off those soft hands in close, and they give him the ability to beat defenders and goaltenders one-on-one. He’s also a power winger who is strong on his skates and also isn’t afraid to bulldoze through a defender if necessary. Willing to take a hit to make a play, he’s also unfraid to dish them out. Dal Colle can only improve as he adds more strength. He also has a strong and accurate wrist shot with a very good release.

Dal Colle is a very good skater. He has a good stride which provides him with very good top end speed and excellent acceleration. He has good core strength which gives him excellent balance and makes him hard to knock off the puck. He also has excellent agility which combined with those soft hands and vast array of moves makes him a nightmare for defenders one-on-one.

Defensively Dal Colle has really improved in the past year. He has gotten rid of his bad habit of puck watching and is much more reliable than he was in his draft year. He backchecks hard and gets into good positions cutting down passing and shooting lanes. He also helps with good back pressure.

Dal Colle will go to camp looking to make the Islanders this year and its an interesting situation.  There is a question if he could benefit from another year of experience and putting weight on his frame. That said, he really dominates in junior and I’m not sure how much more he can learn at that level. He is not old enough to start the season in the AHL due to the NHL/CHL transfer agreement rules. As a result you can expect the Isles to at least give him a few NHL games to start the year, see how he performs and go from there.

 

#2 Prospect: Ryan Pulock, Defence
Born Oct 6 1994 — Dauphin, MAN
Height 6.02 — Weight 212 [188 cm/96 kg] — Shoots right
Drafted by New York Islanders in round 1, 15th overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft

Ih his first pro season, Ryan Pulock showed his offensive ability putting up 17 goals for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in the AHL.

Pulock’s biggest asset is an absolute rocket of a slapshot and fantastic one timer which make him an extremely feared shooter on the power play. His shot has been measured at over 100 MPH. Other teams are certainly shading their PK to try to minimize Pulock’s shot at this point, but despite that, he still managed to put a bunch in the back of the net. A natural power play quarterback, Pulock makes smart crisp passes and sees the ice extremely well. He also understands the importance of getting the puck on net, and is able to utilize a good wrist shot and quick release when teams try to take away his big bomb. On the rush, he has decent stickhandling and can be the lead man with the puck or can join the attack as the trailer, ready to unleash his rocket slapper or that very good wrist shot.

Pulock is an above average skater with good mobility on the blue line. He has a good stride and gets good acceleration both forwards and backwards. His top end speed is a bit above average, but could still be improved. His edgework, pivots and agility are excellent, allowing him to cover a lot of ice, and quickly change directions to react and keep the play in front of him. He has solid balance and is difficult to knock off the puck. The agility also gives him the ability to walk the line and open up shooting and passing lanes.

Defensively, Pulock uses his good hockey sense and strong positioning and has really improved his defensive game over the last few years. He keeps his opponent to the outside off the rush and is rarely beaten one on one. In the defensive zone he cuts down passing and shooting lanes. Pulock does play physically willing to throw hits in open ice or if an opponent tries to get by him along the boards. He could stand to work on his upper body strength which would help him to win more board battles and be more of a force in front of the net, and clearing the crease. Pulock’s first pass is excellent, and he helps his team start their transition game by moving the puck quickly out of the zone.

It would appear that there is a spot to be had on the Isles blueline, and Pulock will go into training camp competing with Scott Mayfield for that spot. Given the Isles struggles in the playoffs on the powerplay, and the fact that Lubomir Visnovsky will not be back, Pulock may have the inside track on the spot.

 

#3 Prospect: Josh Ho-Sang, Centre/Right Wing
Born Jan 22 1996 — Thornhill, ONT
Height 6.00 — Weight 170 [183 cm/77 kg] – Shoots right
Drafted by New York Islanders in round 1, 28th overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft

Josh Ho-Sang was one of the most controversial prospects in the 2014 draft. He has incredible talent, but his attitude and defensive game were questioned. As a result he fell to the almost the end of the first round, where Garth Snow traded up to get him. Over the past year, he seems to have had a better attitude and gone without any major incidents. He even earned his way back into a try-out with Hockey Canada. If those concerns are a thing of the past, and just a teenager acting like a teenager in his draft year, the Islanders got an incredible steal.

Josh Ho-Sang is immensely skilled. He is a lightning fast skater with incredible agility and edgework. Ho-Sang has a great first step and outstanding acceleration as well. This helps him to get to loose pucks and dart through openings in the offensive zone. He could stand to use this great speed more, taking defenders wide and cutting to the net more often would add another aspect to his game off the rush. Improved strength would help him to have better balance and be stronger on the puck.

Ho-Sang also has quick, soft hands, and incredible puck control. When he’s on his game, he is a joy to watch as he can do things with the puck that other players only dream of. He quite literally can stickhandle in a phone-booth. Ho-Sang can play the role of playmaker with good vision and excellent passing skills. He has the ability to make a saucer pass over sticks, or to thread the needle through very small areas. Ho-Sang can score goals with his excellent moves and soft hands. He also has a good release on his wrist shot but could use more power. His one-timer could also be stronger. That may come as he bulks up, which is something that Ho-Sang will definitely need to do before going pro. He can make dynamic offensive plays when he has time and space, but in fighting traffic he still gets knocked off the puck a little bit too often, and this is another area where bulking up would help.

Ho-Sang’s defensive game is a work in progress. He’s certainly worked to improve it this season, and its gotten better as the year has gone on. Still there are too many times he’s in the wrong position, or outmuscled by an opponent. He’s getting better though and has a lot less instances of when his effort is the question mark. In this way there are some signs that he is starting to mature.

Ho-Sang likely is at least a year a way. Unless he has put on major weight during the summer, he’s probably just not strong enough for the NHL yet. That’s a problem for a lot of 19 year olds though, and he will get time to add some bulk before being a real threat in 2016 training camp.

 

Sleeper Prospect: Viktor Crus-Rydberg, Centre
Born Mar 21 1995 — Tingsryd, Sweden
Height 6.00 — Weight 190 [183 cm/86 kg]
Drafted by New York Islanders in round 5, 136th overall 2013 NHL Entry Draft

Make no mistake, Crus-Rydberg is not the Islanders fourth best prospect.  In fact he’s probably not even the best of those who could qualify under our fourth round or later criteria (I’d say that is Linus Soderstrom). However, in this series, the sleeper is not necessarily the best prospect who fits the criteria, but one that I personally find intriguing. Consider that Crus-Rydberg put up 45 points in 55 games for the Plymouth Whalers last year. Those numbers are ok, but he’s the type of player who has skills that suggest he should be able to do more, especially in his 19/20 year-old season of junior hockey. His skill-set gives me some hope that he could break out at any time, and that is why he’s the super sleeper.

Crus-Rydberg is a good skater. He has good top end speed, and very good acceleration. He uses his changes of speed to confuse and beat defenders. He also has good agility. Crus-Rydberg could stand to add more lower body strength which would give him more balance and allow him to be better along the boards. He has a hard, accurate wrist shot and snap shot with a quick release. He also has good vision and strong passing skills. Crus-Rydberg shows flashes of this offensive ability, but has not become a big time scorer in the OHL. Bringing some more consistency to his offensive game will be his challenge.

Crus-Rydberg also has a well rounded defensive game. He is strong positionally and good on faceoffs. He can kill penalties, understanding how to cut down passing lanes, and cause turnovers. He backchecks hard and supports the defence down low. He could be better defending against the cycle game if he adds that lower body strength we talked about before.

Crus-Rydberg should transition into the pro game this season. It will be important for him to work to translate his skills into offensive production. Crus-Rydberg will face plenty of competition for forward spots with the Islanders, not just now but throughout his career. One advantage he does have is that strong defensive game that could see him make the NHL on a bottom line. Still it will be an uphill battle.

 

The Islanders already had a very good prospect pool.  However they went out and made it great in the 2015 NHL Draft.  Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beaulivier are two really strong offensive prospects (in fact Barzal was given a top 10 ranking in our draft preview).  They also beefed up the defence with Mitchell Vande Sompel, Ryan Pilon, and Parker Wotherspoon.  Looking at what was already in the system before this draft, we see two strong goalie propsects in Linus Soderstrom and Ilya Sorokin.  We also see Scott Mayfield, Adam Pelech, and Kevin Czuczman in the system on defence.  Upfront, Dal Colle, Ho-Sang, Barzal, and Beaulivier are by far the team’s four biggest hopes.  Further down the line, there is still some hope that Sebastian Collberg, Kirill Petrov, and Johan Sundstrom can develop.  Overall the system is amongst the NHL’s best.