Isles Prospect Scrimmage Doesn't Disappoint
The New York Islanders hosted their second prospect scrimmage at the Nassau Coliseum, a game featuring their top young talent in game action in the middle of the summer. Two 25-minute periods were played between the Blue and White teams that were followed by a series of drills in the skills competition. Such drills included the breakaway challenge, hardest shot, rapid fire and a game in which players had to come in on the goalie to attempt to score, and if they failed, they had to retrieve the puck and race back to the blue line. Both sides went simultaneously for that one, and it was the last event of the scrimmage to cap a highlight reel type of night.
Fans got to see a few familiar faces. 2010 picks Nino Niederreiter, Brock Nelson, Kirill Kabanov and David Ullstrom participated for the second year in a row. AHL call-ups Rhett Rakhshani and Justin DiBenedetto (who actually formed a very powerful line with Ullstrom for the white team) were present as well. Other prospects included Corey Trivino, Aaron Ness, Matt Donovan and Casey Cizikas. Straight from the draft, Scott Mayfield, Johan Sundstrom, Andrei Pedan, Robbie Russio, Brednen Kichton, Mitchell Theoret, and John Persson played as well. Calvin de Haan, who was injured during last year's prospect scrimmage, made his first appearance in game action on Coliseum ice for the Blue team.
But the player that everyone was there to see was 2011 fifth overall pick, Ryan Strome.
Going into the game, the first line for the Blue team seemed like an unmatchable trio with Strome centering Kabanov and Niederreiter, a line that might resurface a few years down the road. But the White team was able to keep up and held a sizable lead for most of the evening due largely in part to the play of Nelson, Anders Lee and the Ullstrom line.
However the game ended in a 6-5 final for the White team after some highlight reel goals and saves were seen in the skills competition. But at the end of the day, it was just an excuse to get out to the old barn and watch some hockey in the summer time. The prospects seemed to have had just as much fun as the fans did, all 5,235 of them.
"It's been a while. It took a little bit of time to get back into it," said Brock Nelson in regards to getting back to game action. "But we got going and we kind of reversed their prediction. That breakaway competition, that was interesting. They tried to give them the win but everyone knows that we won."
Nelson was referring to Strome's shootout goal that was ranked number four in ESPN's top 10 plays of the night. It was certainly a move that won't be forgotten and has fans desperately waiting for this kid to crack the line-up down the road.
But Nelson didn't look out of place. This year he was much more noticeable on the ice and seemed more comfortable when he carried the puck.
"For sure, yeah it was a little bit different this year than it was last year. I'm a little bit more confident this year and it was a lot of fun."
One of the goalies that Islanders fans finally got to see was a 6'5 netminder out of Sweden that was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2009 class. Let's just say this kid can play net and is right up there with Poulin and Koskinen for this team's top goalie prospects. He was the only goalie out of the four that played to go six-for-six in the rapid fire contest, knocking away all of the shots that came his way with ease.
"I just tried to be square to the shots," he said. "I knew they were going to come fast. Just tried to keep my eye on the puck and this time it just went my way."
"We won the game, that's the only thing that matters. It was really fun."
The play that ended his shutout streak in the skills competition was Ryan Strome's highlight reel goal that can be seen here, courtesy of John Zadrozny of YES! Islanders:
"Yeah it was a sick move," said Nilsson. "I tried to poke check him but yeah, it was a sick move. He's a really good player. A really skilled player. Unbelievable goal."
This was also Nilsson's first taste of professional hockey on Long Island. So far his visit has been fun and something he is continuing to look forward to as the summer progresses.
"I think it's good. It seems to be a nice place. I haven't got the chance to see that much but I hope to get the chance to see more when I move here. It's been a great week. It's been really good for me to be here and get adjusted to the small rink and all the people around, so it's been a really good week for me."
Despite going six-for-six in the rapid fire drill and clearly standing out as the better goalie of the night, Nilsson still wasn't pleased with the way he played. But I don't think he or fans really have anything to worry about, besides maybe the fact that he's a little too modest.
"It was okay but I don't think it was my best game. Hopefully it's only early in the season, it's in the middle of July. The season doesn't start until October. It was a good experience. Every day on a small rink is a good experience for me and it's one step forward. So this was fun."
Nino Niederreiter looked like a man amongst boys out there, looking to be the most NHL ready player out of the young bunch. But he too was a little frustrated with his performance in the breakaway challenge.
"I don't know, I was just struggling on the breakaways," Niederreiter said. "At the end I was laughing, I couldn't make at least one."
But Niederreiter gets the big picture and knows that he has to continue to work hard if he expects to crack the Islanders line-up in September.
"Just work as hard as possible to make the team this year but I know it's going to be a hard way," he said in regards to his summer goals. "This year I kind of know what's going on, last year I didn't know what to expect so it was way different from this year to last year."
Niederreiter is coming off an impressive year with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL and feels that he has learned a lot from his second season in Junior.
"I had a great chance to learn about leadership, stuff like that. We had a great team out there and we went pretty far in the playoffs so I think I had a great experience there."
But the one thing that everyone kept talking about was Strome's goal.
"It was awesome. It was a great, great goal and he actually called it. He told me that's what he was going to do and that's what he did, it was awesome."
The very personable Kirill Kabanov was just to the right of Niederreiter, looking a little tired and calm as opposed to the very outgoing and talkative kid that we all met last summer.
"I need to skate more. I have all new gear on," said Kabanov. "I really get really tired in the game. I'd have to go there and come back. Get tired because of new skates, sorry I mean my feet tired. Bad English, sorry guys. Just need to get in the gear, just skate more and put on more weight. I'm like 195 now, so probably like five more pounds added on."
But being tired didn't stop Kabanov from having fun and trying to show off. Strome's goal set the tone for the breakaway challenge as players started to get a little more fancy with the puck. Kabanov tried a move that Ovechkin almost pulled off in one of his All-Star game appearances where he flips the puck up, taps it to himself, spins and then hits out of mid-air. He tried it last year too, but this time Kabanov got it on net. The only problem was that Nilsson's 6'5 frame got in the way.
"It was unbelievable. It was my second camp, I was on a line with really skilled players. Unbelievable guys, Nino and Ryan. It was a good experience for me to play with really skilled guys and practice with them, especially see in the locker room near by them, it was really fun."
Even a flashy player like Kabanov was incredibly impressed with the move that Strome pulled.
"Oh it was unbelievable," he said. "Honestly it was something crazy. I have no idea like how he did it. The funniest thing was like what he said in interview. Like someone said like, to put the puck between my legs and he put the whole stick. So it was like really funny. It was unbelievable, I didn't even understand like what he do. Honestly."
His appreciation of the play carried on some more, and let's just say when a Russian hockey player gets excited and has trouble speaking English at times...it can be a little difficult to transcribe into a blog. But here goes. Kabanov was asked if Strome ever practiced the move prior to tonight, and here's what he had to say:
"I don't think so. You should ask him. But he tell me going to do it, I'm like 'Are you sure you going to do it?' Like he showed me something and go, 'I'm going to do like this.' (Motions as if his stick was between his legs). I'm like, 'are you really going to do that?' and he like, 'yeah,' 'would you do that?' and he like 'yeah for sure' and I'm like, 'really?' And yeah he did it perfectly. It was unbelievable."
Ryan Strome, who looks like any other 18-year old kid who needs to put on a few pounds, was happy to answer a few questions as Kabanov left the locker room. You can tell he was pleased with his three goal performance and his breakaway move. But most importantly, he seems very happy to be on Long Island.
"It's just such a good situation, I'm so happy to be here," said Strome. "Obviously the fans support's huge. I mean I expected a pretty good turnout but nothing like that. That's awesome to see the support in a little development camp. I'm looking forward to helping out the future for this team and I think the fans are too."
"I'm excited to be here," he added. "I'm just trying to embrace everything about it. I want to do good things with this organization and help out as best I can. I'm in the place that I wanted to be so I'm going to support the team as much as I can."
Strome mentioned that he wasn't sure of how that move was going to work out when he stepped up at center ice but he was very happy that it went the way it did.
"I've seen a guy try it before, it didn't really work out," he said. "I've been working on it a bit but I've never really tried it in a real situation. Kind of just went out and hoped for the best and I hope the fans liked it and I'm just happy it went in."
One thing that the Islanders try to do is draft players that have the character, the leadership and the ability to fit the mold of the type of team they are building. Every player from both locker rooms were caught ribbing each other and having fun. That's also why Strome wasn't shy about patting himself on the back for breaking Nilsson's streak.
"Yeah I know he's a pretty good goalie that's for sure," said Strome. "He had our teams number pretty well. So I mean I'm happy I broke him but I'm just happy we had a good time, came out with the win and hopefully the fans enjoyed it."
Although their line didn't get the win, the line of Niederreiter-Strome-Kabanov did not disappoint and is something Islanders fans will be looking forward too.
"Yeah it's great," he said in regards to playing with them. "They're both such fantastic players and they're so skilled. To be out there with them it makes the game so much easier because they're so good. They both helped me out a lot, they're both good guys and they're fun to be around. So it was great. I think we built a lot of chemistry so quickly and that's awesome."
If all three are on a line together in a few years, that certainly will be awesome.
Follow me on Twitter!