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Better Know: Your Islanders AHL/4th-line depth contenders

Already sticking to his man like glue? Good Swede, Johan.
Already sticking to his man like glue? Good Swede, Johan.

My sleepers commentary checking Kevin Allen's reasons for selecting the Isles apparently came off as a little pessimistic. Rest assured, I'm excited about the coming season, the under-the-radar additions, and the prospects in the pipeline. I just keep in mind that it's hard to make the playoffs even with the best-laid plans.

One of those pipeline prospects is Johan Sundstrom, a surprise 2nd-round pick for some this summer but a player about whom I've heard several good things from prospect gazers in the time since the draft. The thing that sticks out to me is even lukewarm evaluations last winter said "obviously a player the coaches trusted." Add to that praise [mandatory official site PR caveat] two Islanders talent gurus coming back from Team USA camp (with Sweden and Finland) raving about Sundstrom. He'll be back in Sweden this season, a longer-term project, but add him to your pipeline.

As for this coming season, there are several contenders to fill out the 4th line on the roster or provide AHL depth and emergency call-up help. We'll take a look at the new forward additions below...

For starters, we'll establish a baseline. Assume default lines that look something like this (lines are subject to change; exact combos aren't important right now):

Moulson - Tavares - Parenteau
Grabner - Nielsen - Okposo
Comeau - Bailey - Rolston
Martin - Reasoner - Haley
Break glass in case of emergency: Gillies

Again, please don't focus on those exact combos, as there's a lot of wiggle room, particularly in the bottom six. But ah, the bottom six: That's where our depth additions get interesting. Do Martin and Haley have guaranteed spots? Surely no one assumes Nino's job is automatic?

In addition to returning NHL roster candidates Rhett Rakhshani, Jeremy Colliton, Nino Niederreiter and David Ullstrom (and okay, Tomas Marcinko too), there's a lot of new blood who could make a case in camp or at least fill a role as injuries emerge later on:

Casey Cizikas, 20

History: 4th-round, 2009 pick; signed this summer
Role: Tongue twister for Butch and Howie
No seriously, his role: Two-way pivot, penalty killer
October 2011: Probably getting his pro feet wet in Bridgeport

Ryan Strome, 18

History: 2011 pick, 5th overall; not yet signed
Role: Focus of fan hype during camp
No seriously, his role: Top-six scorer, at center or wing
October 2011: Teasing us in camp, but ultimately returning to juniors. For now.

Kirill Kabanov, 19

History: 2010 pick and arguably second-best prospect who's hard at work shaking reputation
*Technically, Kabanov is a "returning" roster candidate, but last year he didn't have a realistic chance to make the roster like Nino did.
Role: Entertain with moves, adding tattoos
No seriously, his role: Dynamic playmaker who could turn out to be a pivotal Snow pick
October 2011: Delighting in camp but ultimately returning to juniors. For now.

Tim Wallace, 26

History: Minor league veteran with some NHL experience with {gulp} Penguins
Role: Earn Braveheart-like chants from fans ("Wallace is seven feet tall!")
No seriously, his role: Physical pro with scoring punch for Bridgeport, callup for NHL
October 2011: Bridgeport, but he's signed for $700k NHL salary and quasi-max AHL salary of $105k, so he's likely to see some time on the Island.

Trevor Frischmon, 30

History: Four-year Colorado College guy who has been in the Blue Jackets organization for a while
Role: Lose the redundant "c" in his name
No seriously, his role: Veteran minor pro for Bridgeport
October 2011: Bridgeport, fighting to earn a call-up while playing the veteran minor pro role

Sean Backman, 25

History: Yale grad (and Cornell slayer), comes from the Stars organization
Role: Badger brother-in-law and NCAA alma rival Matt Moulson on Twitter
No seriously, his role: Shoot-first, undersized winger who will need the right circumstances for a callup
October 2011: Bridgeport, fighting for PP time

Tyler McNeely, 24

History: Four-year Northeastern alum who shined on a BPT tryout at the end of 2010-11
Role: Win one for the little guys (5'10", 175)
No seriously, his role: Dynamic all-around player who impresses despite his size
October 2011: Bridgeport, but he could be one to watch

These are the new guys on two-way deals, but of course even players on AHL-only deals can be signed mid-season, the way Trevor Gillies once was, if there is a sudden need to call someone up to destroy people.

And while my cop-out pr*j*ct*n for each of the above is that he'll start the season in Bridgeport (or juniors, where applicable), you have to like the candidates to fight for jobs in camp, as well as the veteran minor pros the Islanders have added to help Bridgeport.

I seem to get this illusion every season -- "Ooh, new players for Bridgeport, maybe they'll be playoff-worthy" -- so I'm prone to being wrong. But even if I'm wrong, the prospects coming up reflect a pipeline that's looking good, which along with the AHLers should provide some competition and pressure on the NHL forwards from below. That, frankly, is a good thing.