Not only has this been a wild free agency for the fans of the New York Islanders, the same could be said for the fans of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. If there’s one thing I do know about the fans in Bridgeport, it’s that they want to see the players that were drafted stay beyond their first year in Bridgeport before they get called up. It’s nice to see them grow not only as players, but as people as well. After this past weeks of signings, they may have been granted such a wish.
The New York Islanders announced today that goaltender David Leggio and forwards Jack Skille and Harry Zolniercyk have agreed to terms on a one-year, two-way (NHL/AHL) contracts.
Leggio, 29, posted a 23-18-5-3 record with a 2.63 goals against average and 0.913 save percentage in 45 games last season with the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League. He has played in the AHL in each of the last four seasons with Hershey, the Rochester Americans and Portland Pirates. A native of Buffalo, NY, Leggio represented the United States at the 2010 and 2014 World Championships. The Clarkson University product was named the 2006-07 ECAC Goaltender of the Year.
My Take: This is serious. Is Leggio to replace Kevin Poulin? I don’t think so. If there is an injury to Halak or Johnson in the NHL, then either one of Bridgeport’s goalies could fit right in. However, this is another clear message to Poulin that nothing is a guarantee. With two experienced goalies and a young but big, talented defense ahead of them, the goals are going to get that much tougher for the opposition.
Skille, 27, scored four goals in 16 regular-season games with the Columbus Blue Jackets last season and also appeared in six Stanley Cup Playoff games. The Madison, WI, native added 24 points (13 goals, 11 assists) in 22 AHL games with the Springfield Falcons. In 194 career NHL games with Columbus, the Florida Panthers and Chicago Blackhawks, Skille has 53 points (24 goals, 29 assists). He also played for Team USA at the 2011 World Championships, the 2006 and 2007 World Junior Championships and the 2004 and 2005 World Under-18 Championships.
My Take: Veteran presence with an AHL scoring touch. He’s a top 9 call up for the Islanders this year, but while he’s down with Bridgeport, he’s going to make everyone better and he’ll show the younger wingers like Collberg and Rydberg how to be professionals.
Zolniercyk, 26, scored two goals in 13 games last season with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Toronto, ON, native added 36 points (18 goals, 18 assists) in 57 regular-season games and 10 points (there goals, seven assists) in 17 playoff games with the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. In 57 career NHL games with Pittsburgh and the Philadelphia Flyers, Zolniercyk has nine points (five goals, four assists).
My Take: Also, with the signing of Kael Mouillierat, who used to play under coach Thompson when they went to the playoffs, the Sound Tigers have officially done two things: First, they’ve bridged the gap between prospects that are still a few years away from Bridgeport. Second, the prospects that are now here must excel at their game and prove they belong in the NHL and that means spending a few years at best with the Sound Tigers.
So now what does the lineup look like for the Sound Tigers? I’ve come up with a rough sketch of the possible players, but this is July, so it’s more to just give an idea of the team: (If I’m off on a player’s position, let me know)
Now for any Islanders fans reading this, you’ll notice I have Strome and Reinhart down in Bridgeport. Islanders General Manager Garth Snow has gone on record that nothing is a guarantee. Reinhart could just need a small sample size of AHL seasoning before getting the call. I put Pelech next to him because they were line mates at the World Junior Championships. As for Strome, unless he puts on 15 Lbs. of muscle over the summer, I think Strome will start for the Sound Tigers. However, even if those two do get a call up, if you’re a Bridgeport fan who is familiar with some of the players and some who were just acquired, you’re probably like me in thinking playoffs!!!! Don’t forget, former Sound Tiger Colin McDonald and sniper Corey Conacher could also be in this mix.
To go a step further again for Islanders fans, look at some of those familiar names like Sundstrom, Halmo, Persson and include the names that were just signed. What does this mean? Depth and lots of it. Will they score 5 goals in 5 games if called up? Probably not. But will they look out of place for 5-10 games? I don’t think so and that gives the Islanders a better chance at winning this year.
The most important part for all of this for Sound Tigers fans are the names they don’t know yet, players like Collberg, Pelech, Pokka and the rest. After the signings, these fans won’t just get to know them as players, but be able to know them as people and watch them mature as adults for more than just once year and other than consistent playoff berths (hint, hint) that is what matters most. For both fans, there’s no more rushing of talent, no more drafting and getting them on the Island quickly. The players will marinate in the minors and slowly develop properly until the Islanders feel that they’ve earned their spot and when they do, and they see the amount of winning that’s going on for both teams because of their development, they’ll realize what a privilege it is to play for both the Islanders and Sound Tigers. Nothing is taken for granted anymore and the players will come to realize that quickly. How they handle that challenge is step one in changing a culture.