Winning organizations have one thing in common, they are built with major help from their prospects. Teams benefit from prospects who develop into productive players and prospects who are traded to acquire key players.
The Islanders have something that has been lacking in the organization for quite some time, both quality and quantity in their prospects. Unfortunately, how they have been handled has is the issue.
General manager Lou Lamoriello built this team over the summer with veterans and good locker-room guys. Thanks to a mediocre Metropolitan division, the Islanders are still in contention for a playoff berth.
When the Islanders opened up this season there was not one rookie on the roster. The average age on the roster is 28.5, the league average is 27.6. The case could have easily been made for defenseman Devon Toews. The 24-year-old would have been called up last season had it not been for a season-ending shoulder injury. Toews is having another standout season in Bridgeport, five goals, 14 assists in 24 games. The likelihood for a call up will have to wait for an injury. The Islanders defensemen have all been healthy.
With Toews unavailable last season, Sebastian Aho got the nod. the 2017 5th-round pick looked comfortable during his 22-game stint last season. This season, he had little chance to break camp with the big club. Like Toews, Aho is having a strong season with the Sound Tigers, tied for 5th in the AHL for defensemen with 20 points.
The defensive prospect pool goes deeper as Mitch Vande Sompel, Parker Wotherspoon and Kyle Burroughs all look to make names for themselves within the organization. They could be waiting a while as six of the seven defensemen on the Isles roster are on multi-year deals. All seven would have to clear waivers to be sent to the AHL. The waiting game continues.
The best Islanders defensive prospect is not even playing in the organization. 2018 first-round pick Noah Dobson is getting set to represent Canada in the World Juniors. They are going to run out of room in Bridgeport. Oh, did I forget to mention Bode Wilde?
The prospects are not limited to defensemen. Michael Dal Colle is having a breakout season. His weekend was memorable, scoring five goals in two games, including his first professional career hat trick. He now has 14 goals in 23 games. His play warranted a call up last month. His time was brief and mismanaged, playing just two games on the bottom six.
Let’s not forget about Josh Ho-Sang, who made headlines in a New York Post interview earlier this season. His play vastly improved following the article, 18 points in 17 games. His 20 assists still rank in the AHL top five. Ho-Sang earned his promotion to the big club last week and made his season debut Saturday. How long he stays is up for debate. Both 2014 first round picks need to both be playing NHL minutes. They have played a combined 50 career NHL games. To be fair, Dal Colle has just earned the right this season and Ho-Sang looks like he is on the straight and arrow.
Two new additions to Bridgeport this season are 2016 first-round pick Kieffer Bellows and 2017 fourth-round Otto Koivula. Bellows, who has seven goals in 29 games, has been experiencing some growing pains, having two ten-plus game goal droughts. Koivula is intriguing. The Isles severely lack center depth within their organization. Koivula, a winger his entire career, shifted to the middle. The switch immediately showed, seven goals and seven assists in last 18 games. A full season in Bridgeport is beneficial for his development.
The point of all this? The Islanders have pieces for both their present/future and to acquire a big-name talent. It is reported that the St. Louis Blues will entertain offers for all of their players, including winger Vladimir Tarasenko. The four-time 30-goal scorer is exactly what the Isles need. He is in his prime, having just turned 27 and is signed for four-more years at a very reasonable $7.5 million cap hit. The Russian is a sniper. Imagine a Mat Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier, Vladimir Tarasenko line. Well, I’d imagine the Blues would want Beauvillier in any deal.
I am not going to propose a trade for Tarasenko only for social media to criticize the fact that they are giving up too much or Tarsasenko is already 27 and prospect A’s ceiling is high, and surrendering a first-round pick. That mentality has been engrained in this fanbase for far too long. Who cares about a prospect’s ceiling if he is not allowed to leave the floor. In all seriousness, It’s a losing mentality. How long did it finally take Ryan Pulock to have full-time role on this team?
What is the point of having prospects if you are not going either play them or move them. I had a former general manager once tell me that it is always easier trading prospects that you didn’t draft. There is no emotional attachment. Even Garth Snow went all in on his first trade deadline, sending Robert Nilsson and Ryan O’Marra (two of Mike Milbury’s draft picks) and a number for Ryan Smyth. Now Lamoriello doesn’t seem like an emotional-kind-of-guy. He will make the best decision for this team. The draft class that Lamoriello selected? Probably one of the best in decades for the Islanders.
MLB Network radio host and Islanders fan Casey Stern once said “Prospects are Cool, Parades are Cooler.”