Monday, April 21, 2008

With the 5th Pick, Okposo Net Selects…

Disclaimer: We had a really long draft preview already written. Honest. But after weeks of internal wrangling and second-guessing, not to mention the trouble of getting all three contributors to agree on something (anything?), it has been scrapped.

Obviously we would have loved for the Isles to have won the top prize in Steve Stamkos (anyone notice our 'Stamkos Watch' tidbits for the last, oh, four months?), but that just didn't happen. So we're down to the best of the rest, which, as we have determined, are still pretty darn good. There doesn't figure to be a lemon in at least the top eight picks.

Then there was the question of going for offense or defense in the first round. Admittedly, adding a d-man (and getting someone to run that woeful power play) is a team need but not the most pressing need. The '07-'08 defensive corps teetered somewhere between mediocre and fair. I guess “capable but unspectacular” would be a good description.

However, with 194 goals scored (2nd worst in the league) and the chance to draft franchise-changing scorer, we think offense takes precedence. Plugging holes in the blue line can be done in the free agent market or in later rounds of the draft. The Islanders' leading scorer had 49 points this past season, so that's code blue in our book. "Add Scoring" should be the theme of the first round for the Isles.

Lastly, please keep in mind that we are not draft experts, draft-ologists, player development executives, or anything other than fans. The following is just our opinion. Feel free to leave your own thoughts or rankings; that’s why we have a comments section. We came to the following decision via statistical analysis and second-hand reports only; we have not viewed the players in action or have knowledge of their personalities, mental makeup, work ethic, etc. When in question, we deferred to those who have seen and/or know the players’ off-ice strengths and deficiencies.

So without further ado, our pick is:

Cody Hodgson – Center (Brampton).

Our thinking:
Basically, he puts the puck in the net. An unselfish player, as his assist totals will also attest. At 6', 185 lbs he's no pushover, either. We’ve seen Hodgson as high as #3 on some mock draft boards. Granted, lots of Internet drafts have him ranked behind Kyle Beach. He’s currently ranked #10 by central scouting. We think that’s too low. The only knock on him we've seen is his ability to get back on defense quickly. However, in the wake of the Ryan Smyth deal we feel the Islanders desperately need to restock with high-ceiling centermen. There are other prospects who nearly made the grade (see below), but when factoring skill, stats, and signability along with who will realistically be available at the 5 slot, Hodgson's our guy.

Just wide of the net:

Kyle Beach – Center (Everett). We've read about Beach's incredible first step and 'explosive' scoring ability. At 6'3", he’s a mountain in front of the goal crease. Possible knocks on him are some attitude problems and his combined 418 penalty minutes over his last two regular seasons. Also, we’ve read he has already had an on-ice spearing incident and two concussions. For a team that's suspension and injury weary, the Isles might be wise to steer clear of him.

Nikita Filatov – Winger (CSKA). Ranked as the #1 European skater. Some say he’s the sleeper of draft. He’s currently learning the game at CSKA’s training school in Russia. Unfortunately, his stats there are proving hard to find. Also, one should consider possible transfer problems. However, if you watched the World Juniors this winter (7 GP, 4G, 5A, 9 PTS), you know he’s loaded with potential.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


A quick reminder, Kyle turns 20 years old today (4/16), just in case some of his lady-fans wanted to get him something...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

See You in Moncton

Kyle's roller coaster, 3 league (NCAA, AHL, NHL) season ended today in Bridgeport with a 3-2 loss to Hartford. He gets some well deserved rest for a few months before starting anew in September (please note his final stats on the right). Both the Sound Tigers and Islanders missed the playoffs, but the seasons of each team revealed plenty about the future. The 2007-2008 campaign(s) showed both management and Islanders fans exactly what they have to build on, and revealed some deficiencies that need to be addressed as well. A championship caliber team will not be built overnight, but Islanders fans are nothing if not loyal. They'll need to continue exhibiting some patience, but unlike in times past, we think it will soon be rewarded handsomely.

As an aside, special congratulations must go to Jeff Tambellini, who scored 38 goals this season at Bridgeport in 57 games and matched that total in assists, netting him 76 points. That works out to 1.33 points per game. Hopefully that scoring will begin to translate over to the NHL level.

For the Islanders and their fans, the season is never really over. In addition to rooting the Rangers out of the playoffs, we can look ahead to the entry draft beginning June 20th and the free agency period beginning July 1st. Miro Satan, Ruslan Fedotenko, Joe Vasicek, and Wade Dubielewicz are the most prominent names amongst those whom may or may not choose to continue wearing orange and blue in the future.

While the Isles may not be on the ice, this summer may prove to be a critical one in franchise history. Please check back here often for updates, player news, and draft previews and analysis.

Have a great summer, everyone, and thanks for reading!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Some Hockey Still To Be Played

Friday night (4/11) begins the final regular season weekend of hockey for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, and they're miraculously still alive for the AHL playoffs. They play Lowell at home on Friday, then conclude with a home-and-home series against Hartford (the Rangers' affiliate) on Saturday and Sunday.

Hopefully the Tigers will be able to slip into that final playoff spot. What would be even nicer is if Kyle erupted with a huge multi-point game this weekend and carried the team on his back. We know he's more than capable. No pressure, though, Kyle.

If the Tigers do make the AHL playoffs, we'll hold off on posting our highly-anticipated NHL draft preview for a little longer. As you may have heard, there was no movement in positioning for any team, so the Isles will select fifth overall. Regardless, the Isles should be right in the thick of the high-impact players come selection time (barring a draft-day trade). As long as Garth and company don't pick the Dave Chyzowski of the group, the team will be fine.

Friday, April 4, 2008

To The Bridge!

The Islanders' season ended on Friday night with a small bit of satisfaction, a 4-3 shootout win over the Rangers. Kyle had a big hand in the win, scoring the opening goal about halfway through the first period, then later beating Henrik Lundquist with a goal in the shootout.

There's no rest for the weary, though, as Kyle and several members of the Islanders will now head out to Hershey and join the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in their playoff quest. We urge you to head over to Tom Liodice's wonderful Tiger Track page if you're interested in following the rest of their season.

Back to the finale for a moment though, and we found it fitting that Kyle, Richard Park, Blake Comeau, and Wade Dubielewicz shined brightest on this night. One or more of the three forwards were involved in every goal scored by the Islanders, regulation and shootout, save one (Satan's 2nd period tally). The trio formed a top line in recent weeks that on some nights was the only source of energy. Wade did his part by doing what he has seemingly done all season long when asked, and that's stand on his head in goal. Dubie saved 48 shots in regulation and 2 in the SO for the win. He has earned every dollar that he'll assuredly make in his new contract next year; we just hope the Islanders will be the ones retaining his services.

We'll be back with draft lottery news on Monday night. The Isles finish the season fifth from bottom, meaning they can only select 1st overall, 5th overall, or 6th. Regardless of whether or not the draft fairy delivers a present on Monday, the Isles are building a young, scrappy team that New York fans will be able to get behind next season.

Boys 2 Men

After Thursday night's game, I (Ken) asked Bill Guerin which young player he thought had progressed the most this season. A dopey question, especially since it was never intended to be asked of him in the first place. It went out though, and like a good captain and team leader he politely declined comment. He refused to let himself get pinned down and play favorites. But the question has a definite answer, one that could have even been answered with the typical cliché-speak of the locker-room. They all have, as a whole.

It's been Matthew Spiller playing five games in five nights. The relentless yo-yoing of Jeff Tambellini between Long Island and Bridgeport. Kyle Okposo, who has played at three levels this season and been thrust into the New York spotlight. It's been Blake Comeau, who has shown skill while finding himself on a top line in the NHL. Or any of the other young guys who are learning on the fly.

The thing about doing post-game media is that people can't tell you how they really feel. How annoying it is to be uprooted from a situation you were finally getting comfortable in. Or how tiring it is to keep up with the speed of the pro game. Or constantly having to acclimate to new teammates in the span of a few days.

Sure, they'll give you the party line of how happy they are to be playing wherever the team sends them and in whatever role they're needed. They'll cite the great experience they're soaking up. It has been difficult for each, to be sure. But as the coach said, "sometimes you need to get flattened" to know you can play [in the NHL].

And what of that experience? Not only is it good for the players, but it's just as good for the franchise. While it accelerates the pace of each player reaching his maximum potential, it also shows the team (and other teams) the current value of each individual, regardless of whatever the ultimate fate of that player may be. If you think that teams aren't sneaking looks into the Islanders' bag you're fooling yourself. As we enter the off-season, show me a team that doesn't need young, smart, hungry guys and I'll show you a team that doesn't care about winning.

The best part of it all is that Islanders management finally realizes where it sits. Of course there's still roster flotsam to be jettisoned this summer. Parts to be added. Happily though, it appears the days of just patching holes temporarily and doling out contracts to infinity and beyond are finally through. Too bad it took a wasted season to accomplish it.

You want an end-of-season review? Congratulations to the kids men for everything they've been through this year. We've watched them progress all season long. Together.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Short Shift

Unless you care about the outcome of the HUMMER Metro Ice Challenge, it looks as if the season will wind down with a whimper instead of a bang. Looking at the schedule back in September, we couldn't help but salivate over the tasty morsels the league's schedule-makers were bringing us in April; 2 Rangers games and a Devils tilt.

Back then we looked ahead and wondered, 'Would the Isles need to beat the Rangers or Devils to make the playoffs?'...'Would they already be in a playoff spot, but have a chance to knock one of our rivals out?' Perhaps some season ending drama like last season, we thought and hoped. Now the schedule looks like a cruel joke as our two metro-area hockey brethren will be heading into the postseason while we stay home.

Tonight's (4/1) game versus Los Diablos is not entirely without meaning or milestones, though. Unfortunately, not all of them are so good:

* Joey MacDonald will start in goal for the Isles. He'll be looking for his first win as an Islander.

* Should the Isles lose the game in regulation, they are practically assured of finishing in the Bottom Five of the league. Get your lucky draft hats out of the closet.

* Should Mike Comrie not record another point this season (and what is going on with him?) it will be the lowest non-strike year offensive output by an Isles leading scorer ever. Comrie is at 49 points, with the lowest efforts in a season being Billy Harris' (1972-73) and Ziggy Palffy's (1998-99) 50 point seasons. Mind you, Palffy played in only 50 games that year. So yes, this season's team is sinking to depths not seen since expansion.

What it all means is: Garth, bring us offense!