We've reached the point on our Top 25 Islanders Under 25 countdown where all the remaining names -- save for two junior gems -- are already playing pro hockey, most of them in the NHL.
One of those two juniors has just seen his junior career in impressive fashion, and if we were to redo our poll today (these latest ballots were submitted in early May) you wonder if Kirill Kabanov might finish even higher than 15th.
Kabanov still has his doubters and detractors -- and Russian media will do what it do to stoke them -- but his performance the past two seasons has eased fears related to his maturity, agent(s) and gregarious nature. Whether his growth continues through the next step, as with every prospect, is unknown. The good news for Islanders fans is we're about to find out.
Kabanov is eligible for the AHL next season, and his all-around performance in the Memorial Cup indicated he truly doesn't have more to learn there. Bring on the bigger bodies, the older players -- and hopefully some talented linemates -- and we'll see what he does next.
He is of a skillset, however, where it wouldn't be shocking at all to see him get NHL games next year. And if he wows Isles brass at camp? Who knows.
Getting to watch him more closely and repeatedly in the Memorial Cup, I was impressed by his possession game. He may not ever be a top-line producer (though put him next to John Tavares one day and enjoy), and he's likely to have fans and coaches yelling "Shoot!" for years to come, but his patience and vision with the puck creates space for his teammates.
For the first time I got the suspicion that Kabanov could be one of those players upon whom advanced stats smile -- as opposed to a flashy player with scoring skills who requires sheltering. We'll see how the defensive side turns out, but he was diligent in that respect during Shawinigan's run to the Memorial Cup title.
How We Voted
I tend to weigh my 25U25 rankings (as opposed to pure potential prospect rankings) with a bias toward those who I think can contribute in the NHL right now, so I have the low vote on this panel. I think Kabanov needs to be a top six player, and in that sense I suspect he needs some fine-tuning yet as he turns 20 this summer. But the most recent looks indicate he's getting there.
If he does get there, what a huge conversion of a 3rd-round pick that will be -- and equally huge for the Isles getting his name on a contract last year.
Interestingly, Kabanov was actually higher (12) in our September 2011 poll -- the difference probably an indication of the continued pro-level progress of defensive prospects like Matt Donovan and Aaron Ness and forwards Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin. Ideally one day none those will rate higher than Kabanov, but for now ... one step at a time.
Panelists: CanadianIslesLifer making a return appearance, as well as most of the authors at LHH.
Note: For those LHH readers who sent their own selections in, JPinVA has them summarized in this FanPost. That one will be fun to measure against our panelists' results.
You can see which other prospects just missed our top 25 in this preview post.
- At #25 was 2011 pick John Persson
- #24 saw another Swede from 2011, Johan Sundstrom
- At #23, the irritant known as Justin DiBenedetto
- #22: Kirill Petrov, with an asterisk
- #21: Brenden Kichton, Western late bloomer
- #20: Anders Lee, loophole guy?
- #19: Big Scott Mayfield
- #18: Rhett Rakshani, Queen of Funk
- #17: Aaron Ness, Mini-Me Rising
- #16: Anders Nilsson, Towering Thor
- Our September 2011 25U25 Poll Results
Disclaimer You'll See with Each 25U25 Post
To reflect the variety of ways you can place value on prospects with uncertain futures, we brought a range of philosophies to this: Some voters valued present talent/maturity more, some valued future potential more. All are averaged with the intent of capturing a moment in time in the evolution of the Islanders prospect pipeline.