We continue our Spring 2013 pre-draft Top 25 Islanders Under 25 countdown with a defenseman who you could reasonably argue is moving closer to, or further away from, an NHL career.
Not a whole lot was said about Aaron Ness out of Bridgeport this year, though he led the Sound Tigers in games by appearing in all 76 -- a notable feat for a player whose biggest knock is his lack of size.
Ness entered the season with the most NHL games played among the prospect trio of him, Matt Donovan and Calvin de Haan. That's for a variety of reasons (de Haan has run into injury trouble), but it's worth remembering the nine-game long look Ness received from the Islanders in 2011-12.
The question is whether that told them enough to want more, or too much.
With the lockout and the preseason waiver binge, it was a weird season: The Islanders blueline never ran into injury trouble (until Andrew MacDonald's broken hand in Game 5). Eight defensemen in the NHL meant Lubomir Visnovsky's delayed reporting, occasional injuries to Radek Martinek and Matt Carkner, and Brian Strait's broken ankle never forced the team to dip into the AHL.
Next year is likely to be different.
Martinek and Mark Streit are unrestricted free agents. Joe Finley is ... quite waiveable. Thomas Hickey showed the potential of an undersized but mobile defenseman in a puck-moving system -- which could be to Ness' benefit, or could make less room for him.
For what it's worth, Ness put up points in the AHL (3-24-27) though nowhere near the level of Donovan. Sound Tigers coach Scott Pellerin said he and Donovan continued to make progress. Both were among the group of "black ace" recalls as reward and extra work during the Islanders' playoff run.
Ness still has a chance, and still has a year remaining on his ELC. Here is where our panel ranked him:
...which is universally lower than we had him a year ago. Are we right? Are we just misreading the lack of callups this year? Or are we missing the progress that could lead to callups in 2013-14?
As David put it much more succinctly:
Good puck moving defenseman. Size will always be an issue. Can he become more than AHL depth?
As always, feel free to share your own ranks in comments, or participate in the compilation JPinVA is arranging, or just follow along and quibble with our picks.
If you're new to this countdown or don't like words -- er, written words -- and prefer peaceful elaborations in the woods, then here's a verbal overview of why we do this thing, as well as a not-so-subtle plug for the new champions of Europe: