With most of the attention these days focusing on which players will stick with the big club, several Islanders prospects have started off their seasons in various leagues on a tear. In the Quebec league sniper Juraj Kolnik opened up with a goal and 6 pts in his first two games then added a hatrick to raise his totals to 4 goals and 9 points in only 3 games. Meanwhile goaltender Frederik Brind’amour was named defensive player of the week posting a shutout along with a 1.33 GAA and a .944 save%. Skilled pivot Justin Mapletoft who won the praise of Butch Goring in camp opened his season with a two goal three point performance, carrying Red Deer to a 4-4 tie.
As reported by HF’s own Peter Westermark Mattias Weinhandl has been paired with the Sedin-twins in MoDo, and Weinhandl has 1 goals and 2 assists with a +4 after three games. That line, featuring perhaps the three most promising 1980-born Swedes, is one of the most interesting ones to watch for the Elitserien-crowds. As a rookie in the Eliteserien Weinhandl is sure to put up impressive numbers on that line, and may prove to be a huge steal in the third round.
In the minor ranks, newly assigned goaltender Syeve Valiquete looked sharp in an opening 2-1 win recording 16 saves. Joining Steve in Lowell are Jason Krog, Josh Green, and Dmitri Nabokov, who were all recently demoted. Krog had an impressive camp and was one of the Isles leading scorers during exhibition with a goal and three points in three games. He saw time on special teams and turned heads with his outstanding vision and strong skating. The Isles want Jason to become acclimated to the pro game and make quicker decisions in the neutral zone. Krog will not be in Lowell very long and will most likely spend most of his season on Long Island. This can also be said for Josh Green. Green looked solid throughout camp and also put up numbers in exhibition games. The Isles want him to become more consistent and continue to bang and go to the net every shift, which is when he is most effective. Nabokov remains an enigma. At times he looks great but continues to struggle with consistency and effort. Butch Goring wants Nabokov to be the layer he was when he was 16, which is a skilled scorer who draws attention, rather then the on ice disappearing act he has become.
Ray Giroux also had a strong camp and for a while looked like he would make the big club. He played on both special teams and impressed with his solid two way play, slick passing and offensive potential. Ray will need more time in Lowell and should develop nicely into a solid #5 defenseman. A spot that will be filled by Jamie Heward this season. Ray had a strong performance last year in Lowell and was about to be recalled when he suffered a wrist injury that sidelined him for sometime. If he continues to post good numbers Giroux will get a look this year.
And of course this report wouldn’t be complete without a look at the prospects that are still hanging around. Roberto Luongo has been the best player for the Islanders thusfar. He has posted a 2.03 GAA and a .937 SV% in two and a half exhibition games. He has continually stoned top notch NHL players including a number of point blank saves and several highlight reel glove saves against the likes of Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka, Kevin Hatcher, and Alexi Kovavlov. Butch Goring made a slip of the tongue which resulted in a ridiculous media barage in the New York papers. The Isles are extremely plaesed with Luongo’s performance but regardless he will start off in Lowell. Luongo has been as advertised, the best goaltending prospect possibly ever, but the Isles have learned their lesson with the likes of Eric Fichaud. With a young team and two veteran goaltenders the right move is for Roberto to play 60+ games and be an all-star in the AHL.
Rookie defenseman Branislav Mezei and Mathieu Biron are both still with the Islanders. Mezei is almost certain to make the team and has looked solid in all areas. While he is not flashy he plays intelligent, utilizes his size, and makes few mistakes. Biron has also logged major minutes in the Isles preseason games. Mathieu has made major strides in the last year and is even better than management had anticipated when they acquired him as part of the Palffy deal. Biron has also excelled in his all around game and is making for some pleasantly tough decisions for Milbury and Goring. High scoring center Tim Connolly is also still with the Islanders. Although he has shown flashes of his brilliant abilities it is apparent that Tim needs more seasoning. The Isles will keep Tim around as long as possible since once he is returned to the OHL he cannot be recalled. Swedish import Jorgen Jonsson has won a roster spot as well as some praise for his defensive abilities. He is an excellent penalty killer and a solid checker with the abilty to score consistently.