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Islanders sign Matt Martin; Sarnia circle is complete

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Well this is a fine dose of unexpected news on a Friday going into the holiday weekend:

The New York Islanders announced today that they have agreed to terms with [20-year-old] forward Matt Martin to a three-year entry level contract.

Martin was originally selected by the Islanders at the 2008 National Hockey League Entry Draft in the fifth round (148th overall).  Having spent the last three seasons with the Ontario Hockey League's Sarnia Sting, Martin had a career year in scoring last season ranking third on the team with 65 points (35 goals, 30 assists) and amassed a team leading 142 penalty minutes.

As chronicled by Greg Logan in Newsday and Chris Botta this summer, Martin was in an interesting tweener position: Big, physical, career year in junior, he really had nothing left to prove as captain for OHL Sarnia, where his two fellow Islanders draftee teammates (Justin DiBenedetto and Mark Katic) had already graduated and where he had 12 fights last season. Yet he needed a contract to move on to AHL Bridgeport. The long-running contract negotiations boiled down to this question: How do you evaluate a player who was drafted low but has increased his stock since then?

There is risk on both sides: The player doesn't want to undersell himself on his first three years of NHL salary; the team doesn't want to overpay for what may have been a blip -- when he'll be in the AHL this season anyway.

Fortunately, Matt Martin does not appear to be just a blip; after impressing at prospect mini-camp, he may just become a real power forward. If we're lucky, he'll soon provide the physical element some Islanders fans have craved -- in the package of a player who can actually play this game. Happy Labor Day indeed.