Last weekend I had the opportunity to watch in person the Sound Tigers play the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in Wilkes-Barre Pa. For me this was a big important game, not because it was a local game for me, but because the AHL Penguins have been nothing short of dominant in the AHL. Ten straight years in the playoffs with a Conference Championship and Calder Cup Champions. This was going to be an excellent test for the young Sound Tigers as they were going up against a Penguins team that should have close to 5 or 6 players playing in the NHL this season, if it happens. My report will not include Travis Hamonic because, he’s been NHL ready. So, he we go!!! Let’s start with the offense.
When fans of the Penguins asked who to look for on offense, I said Nino Niederreiter, or #22. He did not disappoint. He did score a goal in the game, but I have to say he got a lucky bounce and because of his hustle he was able to capitalize and be rewarded for his hustle. The thing that worries me about Nino is this, he’s thinking offense too much. Yes, he did steal the puck twice, but he has to be a little more patient and let a play come together instead of going 1 on 2 or 1 on 3. Saw that a few times. Also with a minute to go, you don’t shoot the puck down for icing because you’re looking for another goal. That’s what happened. All you do is give a very good team a chance to comeback, which almost happened.
That “Swede line” of Persson, Ullstrom and Sunstrom is going to be a future third or possibly second line for the Islanders for years to come. One word: Chemistry. It’s already there. When that line scored the third goal, everyone, including the Penguins fans knew that puck was going in 7 seconds before it went in. The crowd went silent, then went “Whoa!!!” That’s how good they were playing. Watch for that line.
One other player who did stand out on offense but didn’t score: Kiril Kabanov. He’s a raw but talented player, but man can he skate and fly down the ice. He needs to let his abilities catch up with his speed and when that happens, the Islanders will have themselves a possible core player, I dare say franchise player. But not for a while.
On defense, I thought Aaron Ness was the best positional defensman on the ice. He never looked out of place and can definitely hold his own. Like I said before Hamonic looks good and ready, but I have to say the Islanders must give Ty Wishart a shot at the big club, even 20 games to see if he can contribute or has a future with the Islanders. Folks, I’m not going to lie, I saw him save the game twice when Kevin Poulin was out of position. His stick positioning was spot on, and he uses the body when he has to. When that final minute started with a six on five, open net at the other end and a poised Penguins team ready to score, it was Hamonic and Wishart who helped shut them down. That says something.
As for Kevin Poulin? He made a lot of saves, but really was not contested a lot in the first two periods. Yes the Penguins were shooting the puck, but there wasn’t a lot of traffic to block Poulin and he really did have an easy time. When the pressure was brought on however, Poulin looked liked a stone wall with some great, timely reflexes and made the big saves when he had too. Certainly will be an Islander soon enough.
I know it’s one game and I’m sure the other prospects will eventually blossom, but you know when some players are ready for the big jump to the pros. Niederreitter could use at least half a season with the Tigers. Ullstrom will be ready for full time duty with the Islanders next year as well. On defense, it’s Ness, Wishart and maybe Matt Donovan, who had a decent game, just didn’t stand out. Those three after this season, are ready for the big club. As for the others, time will tell. Remember to follow me @Netminder39.