The Strange Case of Dylan Reese

Milan Jurcina is hurt again, but it's no longer fair to play Dylan Reese as his replacement. It's no longer fair to his teammates, it's no longer fair to fans, it's no longer fair to anyone accidentally flipping through the channels and somehow landing on MSG+2 (The Deuce Plus!) and not fair for those Bruno haters. Last year Reese was a bit of a feel good story, having a decent showing for someone widely considered to be a career minor league talent.

Unfortunately the bell has struck midnight for this Cinderella. That bell was Reese's defensive partner (nearly 75% of all his shifts last year) Freddy Meyer IV moving on to Atlanta. The second bell is one of the most confusing decisions of the season: Reese has continually been paired with Bruno Gervais (nearly 60% of all of Reese's shifts) who is widely considered the worst Islander defender on the regular roster. It's not all Reese's fault, but he's not part of the solution. When he plays the Islanders are 5-11 with 3 of those wins coming in 5 games in which he was under 11 minutes of total ice time.

If it was an emergency situation like earlier this season, then everyone could swallow the pill for the time being. But that is no longer the case as both Mark Katic and Dustin Kohn are healthy, signed to NHL contracts and have minimal chances of being claimed off waivers. If the Islanders were truly fighting for a playoff spot and were worried about losing games due to learning on the job mistakes, well we wouldn't have traded Dwayne Roloson or James Wisniewski and Travis Hamonic wouldn't have won a long term spot.

Dylan Reese started his hockey career playing in the NAHL for two seasons with the Pittsburgh Forge. In 111 games he had 73 points, was 7th in points on the team his first season and 4th his second. You can hardly blame the Rangers for taking him in the 7th round of the 2003 draft. It should be noted that Reese currently has the second most points and NHL games played of the 2003 Rangers draft class. Despite racking up some good accolades at Harvard, such as three times leading all Crimson defenseman and being named captain and Team MVP during his senior season, the Rangers gave him all of a 10 game tryout with the Wolfpack before letting him go.

Reese went on to be signed by the San Antonio Rampage (the Coyotes affiliate) for the next two seasons. In 134 games for the Rampage he had 35 points (all but 2 were assists) and in neither season was he in the negative. During his second season he was one of three Rampage defenseman to put up a 20 assist season. Despite a good showing on a bad Rampage team he was allowed to become a free agent after his second year with the team.

Reese was then invited to the Blue Jackets camp as an unsigned invitee. Although he didn't make the team, he survived until final cuts and earned a two-way NHL contract. He was sent down to play for their AHL affiliate the Syracuse Crunch. For the Crunch he was the only player on the team with a double digit positive rating and was on track for another 20 assist season before being traded to the Islanders. Injuries and the trading of Andy Sutton led to Reese's baptism by fire in the NHL for the Isles after all of one game in Bridgeport.

This all raises the question though of what is wrong with Mark Katic? In 2009-10 Katic was considered to be the first guy to get the call before a timely injury led to Andrew MacDonald getting the call instead. Katic is in the interesting position of being the Islanders highest draft pick from 2007 (due to the Ryan Smyth trade) despite being taken in the 3rd round.

In Katic's final season in the OHL for Sarnia he was fourth on the team in points, behind Sound Tiger teammates Justin DiBenedetto and Matt Martin. Last season in Bridgeport he had 14 points in 48 games to finish in the middle of the pack pointswise. His minus seven was one of the worst +/- on the team, equal with Brendan Witt and Anton Klementyev although they both played fewer games.

This season though Katic seems to have turned the corner. He has 15 points in 38 games already to lead all BP defenseman and is a respectable -3 given the general struggles the team has been facing. You're never going to know how a guy will respond until you put him in the NHL. If Hamonic could come up and play well enough to earn a long term spot over Reese, then there's the possibility that Katic might respond well enough that he can take over the top depth spot in BP. If he is good enough then it only makes the team better and deeper.

Even if the Isles aren't keen on bringing up Katic early, there is still Dustin Kohn. The former 2nd round selection is the last remaining player from the 2005 draft. The Islanders selected him after a 40+ point season in the WHL for the Calgary Hitmen. The following year he was traded halfway through the season to the Wheat Kings and his production dropped slightly. In his final WHL season he had 50 points in 61 games helping to lead the Wheat Kings to the Division title and the 2nd round of the playoffs.

Although he hasn't reached the same heights offensively with Bridgeport, he has been a stable presence. A 12 point rookie season (+9 on the year) was followed by two 17 point seasons (+6 followed by a -5). With 9 points in 22 games this year Kohn is on pace to hit 17 points at around 40 games for the second season in a row. His -10 +/- is a bit worrying, but there is no one in BP with a positive rating currently and the offensive struggles aren't helping things.

Reese and Kohn had near identical runs last season filling in on the NHL level. Kohn played 22 games had 4 assists and a -2, Reese played 19 games had 2 goals and 2 assists for 4 points and a +3. Although Reese averaged more icetime a game by 3 and a half minutes, they had a near identical number of shifts with Reese at 351 and Kohn at 333. The one place they are radically different is in Corsi, Reese had a 1.86 Corsi rating compared to Kohn's -0.21. It is most likely due to Reese spending time almost exclusively with Freddy Meyer (whose Corsi rating was almost equal with Mark Streit's) while Kohn split time between Jack Hillen (41%) Meyer (39%) and Bruno Gervais (11%).

With Kohn's contract being up at the end of this season, there is no reason for him not to be given a chance to show what he can do before the Islanders have to make a decision on him. Even without Reese and his struggles, it seemed sensible to believe Kohn would get another shot before the year was done. Some of it is out of his control, as poorly timed injuries have kept him from being called up at times. But he was also surprisingly passed over early last year when MacDonald was given his short tryout that became a long stay.

The point is that there's no reason to be relying on Dylan Reese this season. It's gotten to the point where he's beginning to make flat out fatal mistakes for a team that needs to play almost perfect hockey to win. It's time to give up on a 26 year old former 7th round pick. Katic and Kohn are not just younger (21 and 23 respectively) but of a better draft pedigree (2nd and 3rd Round) and home grown Islanders. Reese is already making huge mistakes, I doubt it's possible for mistakes due to youth to be any worse. To put it in perspective, Reese's Corsi rating is the worst on the Islanders, more then .50 worse then Mike Mottau who at least was trying to play through injury.

(All defensive pairing ice time percentages from Dobber Hockey)

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