The Islanders Have A Good Defensive Dilemma
Much could have been said about the state of the Islanders' defense during the 2011-2012 NHL season, but Islanders fans could see a team that has some other defensive dilemmas in the coming seasons. (Bridgetds/Flickr)
Most Isles fans might know that the New York Islanders have a farm system that is stocked with some very interesting talent. Ryan Strome, Casey Cizikas, and Calvin de Haan are some of the names that might come to mind when mentioning the rebuild on Long Island, but the Isles also have a number of defensive prospects that will be of interest once the 2012-2013 regular season gets closer. Since Garth Snow committed himself and the New York Islanders to a rebuild, the General Manager has selected some promising defensemen that have raised some eyebrows over the last couple of seasons.
While recent defensive draftees such as Scott Mayfield, Andrey Pedan, and Robbie Russo may need a little bit more time to develop, there are more than a few defensive prospects that the Islanders will be keeping their eyes on. Defensemen might take a longer amount of time to develop, but the growth of players such as Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald are just a couple of examples that are proving why patience can pay off when it comes to rebuilding a franchise. MacDonald and Hamonic performed very admirably during the 2011-2012 season for the Islanders and the team has high hopes for some of its prospects that have been maturing within their system.
Here's a breakdown of the defensive “clutter”:
Matt Donovan (Bridgeport Sound Tigers – AHL) – Matt Donovan spent some time (3 games) with the Isles during the 2011-2012 NHL season and did not record a point, but the defenseman definitely made his mark with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the AHL. Donovan registered 45 points (10 Goals, 35 Assists) and had a +11 rating in 72 games played for the Sound Tigers in 2011-2012. The defenseman managed to rack up 63 penalty minutes throughout the AHL season, but the prospect might be very close to suiting up for professional play.
Donovan was recalled for the last 3 games of the Isles' regular season and was given a fair amount of ice time that he seemed to handle pretty well. While Donovan may have some learning and adjusting to do once he gets to the NHL, the prospect's play in the AHL has shown that he is ready to take the next step and deserving of an opportunity to compete for one of the spots on the Isles' blue-line. Even though Calvin de Haan's name might register first with Islanders fans, Donovan possesses a very hard shot that will make him very noticeable to fans when he is on the ice. When training camp for the 2012-2013 NHL season rolls around, Islanders fans should expect and look forward to seeing Matt Donovan don an Isles sweater as the defenseman has shown that he is worthy of consideration at the very least. Matt Donovan might not be running the Isles' power-play next season, but the prospect has a skill set that could make him a valuable asset to the team in the very near future.
Calvin de Haan (Bridgeport Sound Tigers – AHL) – Over the last couple of seasons, Calvin de Haan's injuries have been of concern for the New York Islanders and their fans. De Haan missed time during the 2011-2012 season because of a shoulder injury and only registered 16 points (2 Goals, 14 Assists) in 56 games played in Bridgeport. The defenseman managed to log two assists in three playoff games for the Sound Tigers, but some may be wondering if the 21 year old might need some more seasoning with the Isles' AHL affiliate for the 2012-2013 hockey season.
It could be easy to write off de Haan because of injury and streaky performances, but one should also note that the prospect was drafted a year later than Matt Donovan and Aaron Ness and might need some more time to develop. Fans should expect to see de Haan within the next couple of years and should not be disappointed if the d-man takes a bit more time to make it to the NHL than originally anticipated.
Aaron Ness (Bridgeport Sound Tigers – AHL) – Much like Matt Donovan, Aaron Ness had a standout season for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in 2011-2012. Ness recorded 27 points (5 Goals, 22 Assists) in 69 games for the Sound Tigers and had a +8 rating for the team. Ness did not have much luck collecting a point in his nine game 2011-2012 stint with the Islanders, but the small sample size of games cannot accurately determine what the defenseman's long-term contributions to the team may look like.
While some may look at Aaron Ness and dismiss him because of his 5'10” stature, the defenseman is a good skater that can move the puck very well. Ness' nine game stay with the Islanders might be a sign of things to come for the prospect, but it is still yet to be seen how the undersized defenseman (170 lbs.) will hold up in the NHL over the course of a full season. Even if Aaron Ness might be smaller than the average NHL defenseman, he has shown that he has the drive and determination to play himself onto the roster of the New York Islanders.
Mark Katic (Bridgeport Sound Tigers – AHL) – Mark Katic found himself in much the same class as Calvin de Haan for the 2011-2012 AHL season as the prospect suffered a shoulder injury that caused him to miss much of Bridgeport's hockey season. In 14 games for the Sound Tigers, Katic only had 4 assists and a -3 rating, but that shouldn't dissuade fans from believing in the talented d-man.
Katic also is a bit undersized by NHL standards as he stands 5'11” tall, but the defenseman made significant strides during the 2010-2011 AHL season that put him on the map for the Isles. Even though Katic registered a -14 rating during that season, the defenseman registered 30 points (4 Goals, 26 Assists) in 63 games for the Sound Tigers. Katic will be a restricted free agent this offseason, but all signs point to him remaining with the Isles and possibly having an impact with the big club in the near future.
On the Horizon
Brenden Kichton (Spokane Chiefs – WHL) – Kichton is a product of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and has done a lot to garner some attention from the Islanders and their fans after a spectacular 2011-2012 WHL campaign. The defensive prospect put up 74 points (17 Goals, 57 Assists) in 71 games played for the Spokane Chiefs and might be moving up the ranks for the Isles in quick fashion. Kichton also enjoyed a sterling 2010-2011 season in the WHL after he registered 81 points in 64 games. However, the defenseman's ability to register high +/- ratings (+55 in '10-'11, +24 in '11-'12) might be an indicator of his ability to play a sound two-way game rather than just concentrating on the offensive side of the game. Kichton is yet another defensive prospect that is looking up for the Islanders and might just be another piece that presses for a job on the team's blue-line in the next few years.
Making Way for the Youth?
Over the last couple of seasons, the New York Islanders have received their fair share of criticisms for their problems on defense. However, if the organization's ability to stockpile talent has shown Islanders fans anything, then it is that the team has invested wisely into their drafted players. Defensive lapses and holes played a great role in the Isles' 2011-2012 NHL season, but the team might be facing a situation where loads of their defensive talent might be ready to take over duties in the NHL in the next couple of seasons. Players such as Aaron Ness, Matt Donovan, Mark Katic, Calvin de Haan, and Brenden Kichton are some of the brightest defensive prospects that the Islanders have in their system and the development of these aforementioned players might leave the Islanders with a plethora of decisions to make in the upcoming years.
Defenseman such as Matt Donovan and Aaron Ness might be the most ready for NHL duties by the start of the 2012-2013 hockey season, but the New York Islanders could have several defenseman ready to contribute at the NHL level in the next few seasons. While the Isles will still have to get better defensively in order to have a successful 2012-2013 regular season, some of the teams issues on defense might be solved sooner rather than later as the team will probably consider some of their top defensive prospects for promotion in the next few months.