You can talk all you want about many of the individual Islanders prospects that stood out during the team’s Blue-White scrimmage and there were plenty of them. But after watching the prospects go through camp for a week and then compete Saturday night before more than 5,000 enthusiastic fans, one thing is for certain: the Islanders organization is stocked with a lot of young talent.
Give General Manager Garth Snow credit for the turnaround the talent level of the franchise. In the summer of 2007 when Ryan Smyth decided to spurn the Islanders more lucrative offer to play in Denver, Snow made up his mind to rebuild primarily through the draft. Now, four years later, that strategy has started to pay off. In 2008, the first year after the Smyth trade, The Hockey News ranked the Isles prospects 24th in the NHL. By 2011, the Islanders had improved to 9th and that ranking does not include young players already in the NHL like John Tavares or any of the players drafted by the team this year.
Anyone watching the team’s prospects yesterday saw a lot of what Snow has accumulated over the last four-plus years. There were plenty of bright spots, from highly heralded players like Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Strome and Calvin de Haan, to lesser known players like Anders Lee who popped in two goals or Aaron Ness who made a pretty play to score what proved to be the game winning goal in the White Team’s 6-5 win in last night’s scrimmage.
Perhaps the most impressive moment of the night was supplied by Strome, this year’s first round pick who scored a highlight reel goal in the shootout during the skills competition. He went between his legs, did a spin-o-rama and then lifted a backhand past the beaten goalie to the amazement of the crowd.
“It was a highly skilled play,” Isles Coach Jack Capuano admitted. “That’s the skill level and the confidence he has and what he can do with the puck.”
Capuano had a hard time picking out individuals to praise after the scrimmage because there were so many fine performances. He started out with last year’s second first round selection, Brock Nelson who showed great improvement over last year’s camp.
“Brock had a strong game,” the coach said. “Comparing Brock from last year to this year, he’s stronger on the puck, great vision, great reach with his size and the weight and muscle he put on never really affected him at all with his acceleration and his speed so I was very impressed with his game today.”
Capuano also had praise for the play of defenseman Calvin de Haan who scored a goal on a play which saw him make a great decision to become the fourth man on the rush.
He also spoke of the increased dedication shown by Kirill Kabanov, last year’s third round pick who has dazzling skills but had his maturity questioned by many scouts. The Moscow native celebrated his 19th birthday by scoring a pretty goal on a penalty shot he was awarded in the final minute of play during the scrimmage.
After the evening was over, I had a brief minute to talk to Snow in the hallway outside the Isles locker room. Before he even said a word, you could see the pride he took in the young talent he had accumulated for the Islanders organization over the past few years. The franchise has taken a large step forward in that direction. Now, the next goal is to take that talent and become a consistent winner at the NHL level. That is the next challenge facing Garth Snow and the New York Islanders.