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New York Islanders Top 25 Under 25: Jesse Graham enters pivotal year at #25

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I wish that I had Jesse's Graham. How can I find a defenseman like that?

#62 in your preseason program, #25 on our Spring 2016 25U25.
#62 in your preseason program, #25 on our Spring 2016 25U25.
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

There were a few prospects right on the cusp of our spring 2016 New York Islanders Top 25 Under 25 ranking, and with eight of us filling out ballots, a few players made the cut even if they were left off multiple ballots.

One of them is Jesse Graham, who edged out Kyle Burroughs (he's in the remainder pile) by virtue of one particularly high vote:

King (CIL) Keith Mike B. McNally Garik Dominik Leboff Les
24 - 23 - - 24 - 16

Graham just finished his second full pro season, again split between AHL Bridgeport and ECHL stints. That's not necessarily an awful sign -- they weren't disappointed with his play, but wanted him to get more minutes -- but it is a sign that his status continues to be a longshot for an NHL career.

But there are Andrew MacDonalds out there -- a very rich MacDonald, you know -- and that has to give players like Graham something to aspire to. Despite his offensive abilities, he'll need to address any defense he gives up due to smaller size or by simply still needing to learn the pro game. Yet his skating and agility are of a caliber that will give him a chance to progress.#62 in

So 2016-17 will the final season of his ELC. It's obviously a big year for him. It will probably define who he is as a player, whichever league he ends up in from here.

Whatever happens, it's not bad for a sixth-round pick (2012, #155).

Rationales

Here's what a few of our panelists said...

David King (CanadianIslesLifer):

Played all but the 2nd half of his last year in juniors (2013-14) with the Niagara Ice Dogs, along with fellow Islanders' prospects Ryan Strome and Carter Verhaeghe.

Graham was overshadowed most of his career in Niagara, playing behind Dougie Hamilton on the right D. After Hamilton graduated to the NHL, Graham excelled. He responded to being traded mid-season to the Saginaw Spirit by producing at near a point per game pace (5 goals, 32 assists for 37 pts. in 42 games, with 22 PIMs and a +8).

In the AHL, Graham has demonstrated the ability to skate at the pro-level, and that he can somewhat contribute offensively; however, Graham is small by NHL standards (5'11, 175 pounds). His game tends to be all offense.

If Graham is ever to pan out at the NHL level, he'll need to bulk up and improve his defense considerably. At this stage, he is a long shot.

MikB:

The Isles have as lot of highly-talented offensive defenders, all of whom seem to be my size. This isn't so encouraging. Still, gotta be in it to win it. The Isles have had success with players of this profile.

Les (HockeyGoalieEh):

Jesse Graham seems quite similar to Adam Pelech in terms of style of play, though with better puck moving ability and the benefit of being right handed. Unfortunately for him, he's undersized so while he outperformed Pelech, Graham got demoted to the ECHL. This spot could have gone Pelech or Graham, but Pelech gets the nod due to N.H.L. competition and being a year younger.

Previously

The Outsiders: Those who missed the Top 25U25 cut