The New York Islanders have the minor-league depth necessary to survive the trials of the postseason, as evidenced by the Bridgeport Sound Tigers’ recent success.It’s impossible to overstate the importance of a team’s prospect pipeline, especially in the thick of a playoff hunt.
Pardon the baseball reference, but a depleted Mets gang received significant contributions from guys like T.J. Rivera, Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo en route to the postseason. It’s something that has grabbed headlines in all the major sports: injury-ravaged team on the cusp of contention is bolstered by the addition of some highly-touted prospects.
The rest is often history.
While it would be foolish to start contemplating blue and orange streamers flowing from the buildings of the ‘Canyon of Heroes,’ it’s crucial to understand that if requisite, the Isles have the minor-league depth necessary to survive the trials of the postseason. As evidenced by the Bridgeport Sound Tigers’ recent success (they’ve won seven in a row and continue to obliterate the competition), the organization has a bevy of professional skaters capable of helping the NHL club.
While Joshua Ho-Sang, the often perplexing former first-round pick, draws the lion’s share of attention, other prospects have been ‘hustling and bustling,’ to steal a phrase from legendary Knicks announcer Walt Clyde Frazier. In fact, eight skaters have surpassed twenty-two points this season, and many, including recent call-up Bracken Kearns, have +/- ratings in double digits.
Let’s focus on Ho-Sang for a second, though. The first-year pro is one of minor league hockey’s most prolific playmakers; at a recent Sound Tigers game I attended, the crowd held its breath every time Ho-Sang touched the puck, expecting something miraculous to occur. Although he didn’t score any goals, he did showcase his remarkable vision and incredible dangling skills. Note: this isn’t typical scouting report talk. Ho-Sang is seriously other-worldly with the puck on his blade.
After struggling to post big numbers following his torrid start to the season, Ho-Sang has found his groove again: he’s recorded eight points (three goals, five assists) in his past three games. If he manages to continue to “do the right thing,” as he recently put it in an interview with Michael Fornabaio of the CT Post, the Isles could have a future star waiting in the wings.
While the team has some other forwards tearing up the competition — fellow first-round pick Michael Dal Colle and former trade chip Carter Verhaeghe come to mind — the real surprise has been the defensemen. Even after graduating a pair — Scott Mayfield and Adam Pelech — to the big leagues, Bridgeport still possesses three blueliners capable of logging big minutes and throwing the puck at the net. Let’s look at the big three:
- Ryan Pulock, the AHL’s reigning Player of the Week, has a booming slap shot and admirable offensive instincts. He’s been scoring at a point-per-game pace since returning from injury, and Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson believes that he’s only going to get better. “He’s continued to work,” Thompson said. “I think he’s improving every day on his pace, improving every day on his foot speed. He’s a lot more assertive with the puck. He’s controlling play, and being assertive, he can get his shot off. It’s a big asset.”
- Devon Toews, the AHL’s fastest skater this season, has rapidly ascended from the college ranks (he was with Quinnipiac University just last season) to the pros. He’s tied for third on the team in points and has been assuming a larger role as the season has progressed. He’s understandably not rushing to the NHL, though. He still needs to fill out his frame so that he can compete with bigger and stronger players at the next level.
- Kyle Burroughs isn’t a household name, but he’s been quietly moving up the ranks for the Sound Tigers. As the club’s top-pair defenseman, he’s been entrusted to log big minutes and even skate on the penalty kill. He’s impressed me more than any other skater, mostly because of his combination of strength and puck distribution skills. He’s somebody to definitely keep a tab on.
There’s one non-prospect who’s been putting on a clinic against lesser competition. Jaroslav Halak, who started off the season as New York’s top netminder, is 13-1-1 with a 1.96 goals-against average during his brief stint in Connecticut. For a multitude of reasons, chieftain being Garth Snow‘s infatuation with Jean-Francois Berube, he’s not in the NHL. That could change with the snap of a finger, though. It’ll be interesting to see how things play out.