Last week I posted the Prospect Detph Chart for Islanders defensemen. As the fanpost was well received, I decided to post the Prospect Depth Charts for Forwards. I’ve provided definitions for each of the four forward lines, plus two prospect depth charts for your analysis, followed by my analysis.
The first list is based on projected potential per line pairings, while the second list is based on each prospect meeting their ceiling. In plain language, the former list is both the projected ceiling and basement per prospect, meaning a prospect’s name can appear in more than one projected line pairing, while the latter lists each prospect in one pairing only, where they are most likely to be as Islander forward if they pan out.
Due to the fact that most of the top forward prospects are centers prior to being drafted, and countless prospects inevitably are moved to the wing at the NHL level, only prospects who have experience playing center against men are listed as such, while those who are unproven centers at the NHL level have been listed as wingers, although they are identified as center/left or right winger.
If a prospect is listed at more than one position in the same chart, an asterisk appears in front of the prospects name [Note: Johan Sundstrom is the only such prospect].
Line Pairing Definitions:
1st Line: The top offensive line. A typical offensive line will consist of a checker, a playmaker, and a goal scorer, but not always. Depending on depth (the construction of the team), the first line is generally the line that receives the top PP minutes, the most offensive zone starts, and the least defensive zone starts; thus, a coach maximizes the offensive chances of his top offensive (and most expensive) assets. If a team has depth or a particularly effective second offensive line, the coach may play his top line against the opposition’s top line, as a means of neutralizing the opponent’s offense.
However, if a team lacks offensive depth and/or their 2nd line is more of a 1A checking unit and their 3rd line a 1B checking unit, the coach may opt to give as many offensive zone starts as possible to his first line plus top PP time, while keeping the top line off the PK and limiting defensive zone starts strictly to the checking line(s). Depth is always key. If a coach has depth, he doesn’t have to worry about spreading out top talent too thin. If a coach can match lines on the fly and send out his preferred lines and D pairings for zone starts after stoppages in play, it can neutralize or remove the home-team’s right to the last line change.
In simple terms, having the depth to match lines and defensive pairings based on zone starts can increase the chances of winning on the road.
2nd Line: The second offensive unit.
The manner in which the second line is built and deployed pretty much tells all one needs to know about said team’s depth. The second line generally is second choice for offensive zone starts and is the second PP unit. If the 1st line is more capable defensively (a coach feels secure using his 1st line in the defense zone against the opponent’s 1st line), a second scoring line can be given strictly offensive and neutral zone starts and PP time. In the latter scenario, the 2nd line can be a place to hide a veteran who is lacking defensively but still can produce on the PP and adequately enough at even strength.
Likewise, the 2nd line can be a place to hide young guns that have the offense but are lacking defensively. By contrast, the second line can sometimes be checking line 1A while the third line is checking line 1B, a system that is sometimes deployed by teams who play the infamous neutral zone trap, or a modified version of the trap, such as the left-wing lock. Incidentally, the Czech’s invented the left wing lock to combat the dominant Soviet Union teams during the 1970s.
The Detroit Red Wings, who made it famous in the 1990s under head coach Scotty Bowman, introduced the left-wing lock to the NHL but it was Bowman’s assistant Barry Smith who first saw the system while in Europe and introduced it to Detroit. [Click the link below for a description of the left-wing lock].
Bottom Six Forwards:
3rd Line: The checking line.
This line is the first choice in the defensive zone, unless the coach is comfortable deploying his first line head to head in the defensive zone against an opponent. The latter, of course, would mean the second line was being deployed frequently in the offensive zone. The 3rd line is required to be defensively sound. At least two of the three 3rd line forwards would generally constitute the first PK unit. Bottom six centers are required to be competent in the face-off circle. While the 3rd line’s main responsibilities are defense orientated, some goal production is expected, to ease pressure off the top six forwards. 12/15 to 20 goals, 30 to 40 points per season are not unreasonable expectations from a 3rd liner.
A number of 3rd liner’s are players who were projected as top six forwards and drafted in the first round, but did not meet their ceiling. It is also common for 3rd liners to have been drafted in later rounds. Typically, 3rd liners on average are a bit larger in size than top six forwards. In simple terms, larger players who don’t pan-out as top six forwards have a better chance at panning-out as bottom six forwards than smaller players who did not pan-out as a top six forward.
4th Line: The energy line. A coach primarily expects his 4th line to provide a spark, a lift or some energy for the team. 4th liners are required to be at minimum adequate defensively, and while 4th liners are not expected to produce offensively, 7-10 goals and 18-22 points per-year is a reasonable expectation.
The better a 4th liner is in the defensive zone and the more competent at body checking, the more valuable the 4th liner is to their team. If a 4th liner can kill penalties and play occasionally on the top 3 lines, they provide their team with depth. Depending on how said team is built, the 4th line can be expected to provide a physical presence.
Prospect Depth Chart: Ranking Forwards Based on Projected Potential Per Line Pairings:
6’3 205 (2010/1-30) ……...6’0 202 (2009/1-1)……6’0 183 (2011/1-5)
>2. Kirill Kabanov…….……?????…..……...……….Nino Niederrieter
6’2 186 (2010/3-65) ………….……..……………...6’2 205 (2010/1-5)
…………………………………..……..……….…...6’1 201 (2008/1-9)
6’2 199 (2011/5-125) …..5’10 193 (2009/4-92)…….6’3 205 (2008/3-73)
David Ullstrom……..….*Johan Sundstrom….…….*Johan Sundstrom C/RW
6’2 194 (2008/4-102)……6’3 200 (2011/2-50)
4. Matt Martin …….…….?????…………… …….…?????
6’3 210 (2008/5-148)
5’11 192 (2012/FA)
Anders Lee C/LW
6’2 216 (2009/6-152)
6’0 188 (2008/6-175)
Mitchett Theoret C/LW
6’1 210 (2011/7-185)
Projections Based On Each Prospect Meeting Their Ceiling:
1. Brock Nelson……… John Tavares.……..?????
2. Kirill Kabanov……...?????………...…....Ryan Strome
3. John Persson……….Casey Cizikas…… ..Nino Niederrieter
David Ullstrom……….*Johan Sundstrom…Kirill Petrov
Anders Lee………………………………….*Johan Sundstrom
4. Matt Martin …….….?????…………. …..?????
For a detailed discussion on most of the prospects listed above, see LHH’s Top 25 under 25.
By conservative estimations, the Islanders system is deep at all three forward positions (particularly left wing) per each line, per various roles, both in quantity and quality. The Islanders forward prospects provide a mix of speed, skill, size and physicality.
As with their depth among D prospects, the Islanders’ forward prospect depth should provide the needed insurance to absorb inevitable busts; however, unlike their prospect depth for defensemen, the Islanders forward depth chart is not without holes. In general, the system lacks two blue chip prospects (a 1st line scoring winger and 2nd line center) plus a physical 3rd line right winger who can also skate and play among the top six occasionally.
Right shooting forwards are scarce in the Islander’s system, a concern for the power-play among the top six and defensively on the bottom six, depending of course on whether or not said forward can play adequate defense on the off-wing.
While it is possible a prospect from within the system may emerge as a bona fide 2nd line center or a 1st line left or right-winger, there does not appear to be an elite scoring wing prospect in the system. Depending on how the prospects develop and the Islanders choose to build the team, at least one of these two blue-chips will most likely have to be acquired via free-agency, or via trade.
I would suspect the latter over the former at this stage of the rebuild. Unless Nino or Strome develop rapidly into a top-pairing winger, a trade for a second star forward to play with JT might be in the near future, provided the acquired winger was around the same age as JT and under Islanders control for a number of years. If said player can be acquired for two-1st round and one 2nd round picks as per the Kessel trade, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Isles jump.
Nor would I be surprised to see Nino and two of DeHaan, Donovan or Ness packaged for such a player. The physical 3rd line right-winger can be had via the draft, anywhere from mid first to late rounds. I would caution however, that such players (think Zach Kassian and Tom Wilson) do tend to be over-drafted. GM’s know a high number of 1st round picks pan-out as bottom 6 forwards regardless of projections on draft day, which is why drafting a prospect like Kassian or Wilson mid-first round is considered a safe pick.
If I were reading the tea-leaves, I would be very comfortable saying the Islanders are three key players away from contention, provided they have the patience to wait on the development of the right prospects. That said the Islanders are entering the most difficult stage of the rebuild. Snow and the scouts must now assess which prospects to sell high on now, and which prospects they like but can/must part with to acquire key pieces.