One of the cool things about seeing Brock Nelson have such a promising rookie pro season this past year in Bridgeport is that there is another promising pro right behind him.
Johan Sundstrom wasn't as prolific a shooter or a scorer as Nelson, and his injury interruptions were worse, but the two-way Swede's performance gives you license to think the Islanders just might have an embarrassment of riches at center in the pipeline.
If you looked at Sundström's season totals and weren't impressed, you're forgiven for checking out during the NHL lockout and becoming Isles-centric during the playoff run. But you should take another look. As Michael Fornabaio of the Connecticut Post asked, and fetched an answer, in his season wrap:
Johan Sundstrom through Jan. 19: 39 games, 11-14-25, plus-10. Johan Sundstrom after returning from that, ahem, upper-body injury: 20 games, 0-7-7, minus-3… interrupted things, did it?
"Yes, it did. Five weeks off like that, it’s always tough to come back. You learn from it, move on, grow as a person. You want to get stronger. Physically, it takes a lot of getting in shape. The coaching staff did a lot of things to get me where I was before the injury. … You just have to deal with it. Unfortunately, it happened to me this season. Hopefully I’ll be fresh next year."
Sundström was part of that all-Swede "UPS" line with John Persson and David Ullstrom, though the injuries (and movement to Long Island in Ullström's case) kept that line from being a season-long phenomenon.
Still, Sundström is just 20 (he turns 21 in the fall), has great zone awareness and appreciable size, and should be poised to build off his first year in North America.
There is a lot to like here, enough to have you dreaming about copious depth at center if and when he, Nelson and Ryan Strome are all playing with some guy named John Tavares (not to mention Frans Nielsen). All three of those prospects were part of the "black aces" recall for the NHL playoffs after Bridgeport's season was done.
But as the high vote from our Top 25 Islanders Under 25 panel, of course I'm going to say that. However, I had company:
A few other thoughts from our voters:
Chris, LHH Florida:
A big, two-way center, Sundstrom has shown that he can both put the puck in the net and stop opposing centers from scoring. With the Isles stable of good, young centers, eventually a couple will be moved to the wing. With Sundstrom's ability at both ends of the ice, I hope he is not one of the one's forced to make this move
David, Minnesota Chapter:
Will become what David Ullstrom was supposed to be: Frans Lite. Good defensive forward, could become the eventual replacement for St. Frans. I honestly would have preferred he stayed another year in Sweden but the new international agreements and lassing of his rights prevented that without burning a year of his ELC on loan to Frolunda. So might as well have that first year in Bridgeport.
MikeFIG, Brooklyn Advance Party:
You know what they say about lots of Swedish players? "Strong, solid, responsible"? Well, that's this guy.
25U25 Spring 2013 Countdown (vote breakdown in each)
15: d Calvin de Haan
16: F Anders Lee