Our first 30-goal scorer since 06-07 was a ninth-round pick who despite putting up huge numbers in the AHL was unable to get a long term chance in the NHL with his former team. The cornerstone of our Defense is a player whose former team wanted to convert him to a winger. Matt Moulson, Mark Streit, Rob Schremp, Andrew MacDonald and even Dylan Reese have shown that Garth Snow has a penchant for picking up players who can produce in the NHL. If the Islanders are to continue improving from season to season, this is one streak that must continue.
It's well known that one spot the Islanders could use immediate FA help would be on Defense. With the second most cap space in the league (behind the penny-pinching Atlanta Thrashers) it would be tempting to sign two big contract UFA defensemen. But this solution doesn't seem to fit Snow's plan. They will probably try to sign one big contract defenseman, but a few low-cost options will probably be brought in and given a chance to shine. Searching through capgeek.com looking for UFA defensemen who are 26 and under and have limited NHL experience, 10 players stood out.
Although Geoff is an RFA, his stats in the AHL jumped out enough that I believe the Islanders should take a chance on him. Geoff was signed by the Lightning after four years at Michigan Tech. He played ten games for the Norfolk Admirals before a one game call up with the Lightning. The Lightning let him go and the Senators picked him up and sent him to the Binghamton Senators after training camp. In 76 AHL games Geoff was a +27, good enough for 16th in the AHL. That doesn't sound impressive until you realize that no one else in Binghamton managed to break a positive in double digits and second on the team was a +5. Although small, his play last year shows he should have the intelligence and positioning to be a good defenseman. Unfortunately reports out of Ottawa are that the Senators plan to bring him back for next year.
A former first round pick in 2003, Belle has already been traded three times since then. For those who want the Islanders to add another big hitting stay at home dman, this could be your guy. Although he had a good 08-09 campaign with the Hamiliton Bulldogs, the addition of highly touted prospects P.K. Subban and Yannick Weber to the team meant less playing time and a mediocre season this year. He has 11 NHL games, but would probably need some more work in the AHL before making the big team. Just like Rob Schremp last year, there's a reason players get picked in the first round. The talent and potential is there, sometimes it's just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
After the success with Moulson, why not look to the King's again? Piskula has been an absolutely solid defenseman for the Manchester Monarchs. Yet he hasn't had a shot in the NHL since a five game stint in 06-07. As the Kings D-corp keeps getting deeper and Piskula gets older, it looks more and more likely that he won't get another shot in the NHL with them. The Hockeysfuture.com page on him says it best "For a man who is 6’3/212, he skates remarkably well with deceptive speed and can move the puck quite effectively. His smart, sound defensive zone play and great mobility are two of Piskula’s attributes that have gotten many in the scouting community taking notice."
Another Monarch/King, as noted previously the Kings have a deep young corp and players like Bagnall may be relegated to career AHL status if they can't make the Kings soon. You might look at Bagnall and see just another big defensive dman, but if the Islanders are looking for character players to work in the community Drew would be a good fit. This year he won the "Monarchs Community Service/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year Award" (Thanks to Jewels). He also uses his size as he managed 113 PIM in 58 games last season.
Some of you might remember our next entry from his 11 game stint with the Islanders in that lost year. A former 3rd rounder in 2002, his career has mostly been in the AHL. In the 11 games he played the normal 10-15 min that Gordon plays someone he's worried about. Last year playing for Lake Erie he had 28 points (25 Assists) in 73 games and a -3. I would think that there was a reason Snow allowed him to be traded, and if he comes back it'll be more as an AHL Depth player then someone with a shot at the NHL. But considering the Islanders played 12 defenseman last year, you never know how far down you might need to reach in the AHL.
In 06-07 Benoit was one of the best defenseman for the Hamiliton Bulldogs. He then proceeded to Europe for two years. His first stop with Tappara Tampere of SM-liiga was a rousing success. He lead the team with a +28 (more then ten better then his closest teammate) and was sixth on the team in scoring. He then played a season with Sodertalje SK of the Swedish Elite League and was near last in +/- on the team. He returned to the US and rebounded last year in Hamiliton. In the AHL playoffs he had a strong showing racking up 14 points in 19 games. Undersized, he's probably the exact opposite of his Hamiliton teammate Belle, but might be more NHL ready.
A former fourth rounder in 2003, Potter has twice lead the WolfPack in +/- while putting up three straight thirty or so point seasons. He's one of the only bigger defensive defenseman on this list who has also shown a scoring touch. He's someone who might be able to make the Isles immediately and have an impact. Especially when given the troubles of last years defense to move the puck out of the zone on the PP. Potter has also managed to work on one of the worst aspects of his game, his penalties. He went from 184 PIM in his first two full seasons in the AHL to just 54 this year.
Another undersized offensive defenseman (although some sites list him at 6'0), Sullivan is a former 9th rounder who spent four years at Boston before starting his career. In the last two years he has been the San Antonio Rampage leader in points on D. This year he was third on the team in points and eighth in the league among defenseman in points. If he's 5'10 or 6'0 it seems like size is always going to be an issue for him, but if the talents there you might as well give him a shot.
After being drafted in the Fourth Round in 2002, Rome bounced around between 3 NHL teams playing 26 games before this season. This season he managed to play in 49 games and put up a -2 before getting hurt, and was considered a serviceable surprise for the Canucks. The long term potential may not be there with Rome, but if he doesn't sign with the Canucks again he wouldn't be a bad pickup. Just realize your not bringing in a game changer, but someone who can eat minutes and play solid defense. All information out of Vancouver though points to him most likely returning.
A Former Seventh Round pick in 2003 the big defenseman has actually done better in his NHL stints then any of his long term AHL appearances. In 31 games for the BlueJackets this year he managed 10 assists and only a -2. Yet last year in 59 games with the Syracuse Crunch (his longest AHL stint to date) he was a -20 for third worst on the team. What is promising is that his NHL stint in Columbus wasn't just a few minutes here and there to goon things up. It was quite common for him to get 15-20 minutes of ice time a night. This also included an average of 2 minutes on ice during shorthanded situations. Florida did trade for him at the deadline, so he might be in their long term plans.