As we get closer to the draft in a few weeks, Isles Talk will be going over prospects already in the system, analyze several prospective players the New York Islanders could choose with the 15th overall pick, and then create a mock draft to guess which player the Isles will indeed pick. I have already stated in a previous blog that this month might be one of the biggest in franchise history, so it’s important to look at what the Islanders have in their system before deciding who to select in Chicago. Starting off our draft month are the junior prospects, players who were drafted either in 2015 or 2016 and who will be ranked according to my opinion of their development and not their potential as I feel potential can only go so far when it comes to actually becoming an Islander. I have the top 5 players in the junior prospects category, but I must add, this could have been a longer list.
5. Kieffer Bellows; LW 19th overall pick in 2016: After having success in the USHL, Bellows made the choice to take the college route and play for Boston University. Despite putting up great numbers in the USHL, and USPD, Bellows had a bit of a set back in his freshman year at Boston and there were thoughts that he and his now former BU coach had philosophical issues. Bellows has since left BU for the WHL and the Portland Winterhawks. What keeps Bellows on this list was his performance at the World Junior Championships, especially in the gold medal game against Mathew Barzal and Team Canada where he notched two goals. In addition, Islanders general manager Gath Snow loves drafting players who have played or will play in the WJC as winning at an international tournament like this is as close to the NHL as most juniors may get. Bellows has all the skill, a winning pedigree to succeed in the WHL next year and will most likely become the number one ranked junior prospect in next years preview. However, a setback like this does hinder his development, even a bit.
4. Parker Wotherspoon; D 112nd overall in 2015: Wotherspoon is one of the two defenseman on this list that will need what I’m calling the “Dal Colle Treatment.” Wotherspoon finished another season with the Tri-City Americans of the WHL and is now headed to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers for the 2017-18 season. In short he’s got Calvin de Haan written all over him, especially his hockey IQ, but he must play in the AHL as much as possible if he ever wants to make it to the NHL. He needs to bulk up and learn to play a more physical game and allow himself the time to mature both physically and professionally. He’s got all the tools, but the size suitable for defenseman in the ECHL. With the plethora of defenceman the Islanders now have in their system, allowing Wotherspoon to marinate in the minors will work for all involved.
3. Mitchell Vande Sompel; D 82nd overall in 2015: Here is the second defenseman who will need time in the AHL to hone his skills if he wants to make it to the NHL. Vande Sompel put up great numbers while he was with the Oshawa Generals as he was nearly a point per game player. After a mid-season trade this season to the London Knights, Vande Sompel’s numbers went down because he was on a better team and some have said that there may have been more pressure put on himself playing for his home-town team. What he needs to work on in the minors is his overall strength and defensive play, which did improve during this past season. He will also benefit playing more minutes in the AHL to rough out the edges as I see Vande Sompel taking a similar path like Thomas Hickey. Vande Sompel and may also put up more points than Hickey in the NHL as Vande Sompel is more of an offensive defenceman.
2. Mathew Barzal; C/LW 16th overall in 2015: There’s really nothing more to write about Barzal than what has already been written by others. Simply put he dominated the WHL during the regular season and won the WHL championship before his Seattle Thunderbirds stalled in the Memorial Cup. Barzal also racked up 8 points in 7 games for Team Canada before losing to Bellows and Team USA in the gold medal game. Other than losing those close championship games, it was phenomenal year for Barzal and the question now is this: Where does his future lie with the Islanders? Doug Weight has stated he’s going to give Barzal enough minutes in preseason games to prove he belongs in the NHL. If not, he’ll start his season with the Sound Tigers. Could he be part of a bigger package in order for the Islanders to get another top 3 or 4 forward? It’s possible. I can’t rule that out. One thing is for sure, Barzal will be in the NHL soon, whether it’s with the Islanders or another team remains to be seen.
1. Anthony Beauvillier; F 28th overall in 2015: When the 2016-17 season began there was a battle between Barzal and Beauvillier for a roster spot on the Islanders. Many, including myself, thought that eventually Anthony Beauvillier would be the one sent down to juniors. Turns out Beauvillier ended up playing 71 games for the Islanders this year and as a 19-year-old junior there’s no better development than playing for an NHL team that had just recorded back-to-back 100 point seasons and poised to make another 100 point run. Not only is Beauvillier a natural center, but he learned to play both wings, improved on his two-way game and when Doug Weight became the coach in January, the “leash” was removed and Beauvillier made the most of his offensive opportunities, especially when he was paired with Josh Ho-Sang and Jason Chimera. That is why I have changed his position from center to forward, as he is certainly a more diverse player than the others. Should Beauvillier be guaranteed a roster spot next season? Or like Barzal, earn his way on the team again or be sent down to Bridgeport instead of juniors? I believe that even the threat of minors is a good thing as the younger players will have to show what they are capable of and there’s nothing wrong with healthy competition. In my opinion, despite the potential offensive numbers by Barzal, I feel that at this moment Beauvillier is a more complete player out of the five listed. He showed he could hold his own in the NHL, develop as the season progressed and that is something he has over the rest of his junior peers.
What I like about these five players is that all of them may be in the NHL at some point. From the prospect pool, the Islanders are losing one center, one forward and 2 defenceman. This is usually the first step in deciding who the Islanders should take from a position standpoint and it’s why I believe the Islanders can afford to go the best-player-available route should Garth Snow decide to pick at number 15. With the new crop of defenseman needing more time in the minors and both Barzal and Beauvillier playing in the NHL sooner, it would seem for now that picking a forward with the 15th pick is the way to go. Next up will be the professional prospects. Stay tuned.