Welcome to the 2018 Top Shelf Prospects series. As we go through the Summer of 2018 LWOH will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. We will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks) and you can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, we will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2018 draft, as there have been no games since then, and our reports on them will not have changed.
What we will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2018-19 roster of the NHL team in question. We will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who we pick as our dark horse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played (including playoff games) or is 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and we may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
New York Islanders Prospects
The New York Islanders had a very good offence last season. There 264 goals for were better than nine playoff teams. However, they had issues keeping the puck out of their net. The 296 goals against were the worst in the league. It was clear that the goaltending and defence were just not good enough. Missing the playoffs was not good enough for Islanders ownership. General manager Garth Snow and head coach Doug Weight lost their jobs. In their place are Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz.
The off-season has been a bit of a disaster on Long Island. Superstar centre John Tavares left the club, heading to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The team also lost Calvin de Haan to the Carolina Hurricanes. They brought in Valtteri Filppula, Leo Komarov, Matt Martin, Tom Kuhnhackl, and KHLer Jan Kovar to provide depth up front, but its doubtful that any of those players becomes a game changer. The team also added Robin Lehner as their new starting goaltender. However, they didn’t do a lot to address the defence. The Islanders growth must come from within. At least they have Calder Trophy winner Mathew Barzal ready to take over as the team’s top centre.
Top Prospect: Noah Dobson
The Islanders drafted Dobson with the 12th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Dobson. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#2 Prospect: Oliver Wahlstrom
The Islanders drafted Wahlstrom with the 11th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Wahlstrom. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#3 Prospect: Ilya Sorokin
Goalie – Shoots Left — Catches Left
Born August 4th, 1995 — Mezhdurechensk, Russia
Height 6’2″ Weight 176 lbs [188 cm / 80 kg]
Drafted by the New York Islanders in the 3rd round, 78th overall at the 2014 NHL Draft
Sorokin had another strong season with CSKA Moscow, putting up a 1.59 goals against average and .931 save percentage in 37 games. He also played for Russia at the Olympics, backing up Vasili Koshechkin and bringing home a gold medal.
Skating and Talent Assessment
Sorokin has good height at 6’2″ but is extremely slight as he weighed just 176 pounds last year. He is an extremely athletic, butterfly style goaltender. He gets side-to-side quickly and makes a number of saves that will leave your jaw dropping. Sorokin never fully gives up on a play and can show very quick recoveries. He has outstanding reflexes and his quick legs take away the bottom of the net. Shooters can try to go high but his blocker and glove are very quick too.
He doesn’t fully take advantage of his height as Sorokin could come out further to cut down angles and give shooters less to look at. He likes to play deep in his crease. He has worked to improve his rebound control over the years and it is now very good. Sorokin also stays square to the puck and even when a rebound is given up, he is in position to make the next stop.
Sorokin is one of the best goalie prospects in the world. The Islanders would love to bring him over and allow him to compete for the number one job. According to EliteProspects his KHL contract runs through the 2019-20 season. It is not clear if he has any out clauses that could bring him to the NHL sooner.
#4 Prospect: Kieffer Bellows
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born June 10th, 1998 — Edina, Minnesota
Height 6’1″ — Weight 200 lbs [185 cm/91 kg]
Drafted by the New York Islanders in the 1st round, #19 overall, at the 2016 NHL Draft
Bellows left Boston University for the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL indicating that he wanted to play a longer season, and be ready for the NHL sooner. In 56 games he scored 41 goals and 33 assists for 74 points. He also added three goals and 13 points in 12 playoff games. Bellows was also brilliant at the World Juniors, with nine goals in seven games and came home with a bronze medal.
Bellows is a good skater, with the speed to get in quickly on the forecheck. He has a quick first step and good acceleration, allowing him to win races to loose pucks. Bellows changes speeds effectively and can use this to fool defenders on the rush. He can beat them to the outside and accelerate to the front of the net or can slow up to open up a shooting lane and use the defender as a screen. Bellows also has the power and balance to win board battles and to fight through checks and play a power forward style of game.
Like his father, Kieffer Bellows is a pure sniper. He has a tremendous wrist shot and release, as well as an excellent one-timer. His arsenal also features a heavy snapshot and good backhand. Bellows also has the soft hands and quick reflexes to get deflections and to pounce on rebounds and score in tight. He is not afraid to get his nose dirty, battling for space in front of the net.
Bellows is more of a physically punishing forward than his father was, as he is more than willing to throw big hits when he gets in on the forecheck. He also shows excellent stickhandling ability, and the agility to beat defenders one-on-one, either off the rush or in the cycle game. Bellows uses his body to protect the puck in the cycle game and extend plays. Bellows sometimes gets a bit of tunnel vision, trying to shoot everything, but when he’s scoring as much as he is, it is hard to blame him too much for that. He can be a good passer, and shows good vision, but must be more consistent in using these skills. Bellows plays the game on the edge and this can sometimes lead to him crossing the line and taking bad penalties. He must dial that back going forward.
Bellows plays a strong defensive game. He is relentless in his pursuit of the puck in all three zones. Bellows supports the defence down low and applies effective back pressure. He understands positioning and has the hockey IQ to anticipate plays and create turnovers.
Bellows heads to Islanders training camp looking to make the roster. With the number of depth forwards the team added this year, spots will be hard to come by. Unless he really has a monster camp, Bellows is likely to start the season in Bridgeport and continue to work on his game. He could see call-ups if injuries hit.
#5 Prospect: Bode Wilde
The Islanders drafted Wilde with the 41st overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Wilde. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#6 Prospect: Joshua Ho-Sang
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born January 22nd, 1996 — Toronto, Ontario
Height 6’0″ — Weight 173 lbs [183 cm / 78 kg]
Drafted by the New York Islanders in the 1st round, #28 overall at the 2014 NHL Draft
Ho-Sang bounced between the AHL and NHL for a second straight season. He scored two goals and 12 points in 22 games with the Islanders as well as eight goals and 31 points in 50 games with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
Ho-Sang is immensely skilled. He is a lightning fast skater with incredible agility and edgework. Ho-Sang has a great first step and outstanding acceleration as well. This helps him to get to loose pucks and dart through openings in the offensive zone. He has started to use this speed more, taking defenders wide and cutting to the net more often. This adds another aspect to his game off the rush, but could still be done even more often. Improved strength would help him to have better balance and be stronger on the puck.
Ho-Sang also has quick, soft hands, and incredible puck control. When he’s on his game, he is a joy to watch as he can do things with the puck that other players only dream of. He can stick handle in a phone-booth. Ho-Sang plays the role of playmaker with good vision and excellent passing skills. He has the ability to make a saucer pass over sticks, or to thread the needle through very small areas. Ho-Sang can score goals with his excellent moves and soft hands.
He also has a good release on his wrist shot and improved its power. His one-timer has also gotten harder. Ho-Sang has worked to add muscle to his frame, but there is still room for more improvement. He makes dynamic offensive plays when given time and space. Ho-Sang still gets knocked off the puck a little bit too often in traffic. This is another area where bulking up would help.
Ho-Sang’s defensive game is a work in progress. He’s worked to improve and there are some gains that are evident. Still, there are too many times he’s in the wrong position or outmuscled by an opponent. He’s getting better though and has a lot fewer instances of when his effort is the question mark. In this way, there are some signs that he is starting to mature.
Ho-Sang is highly talented but seems to have off-ice issues and effort level issued that have slowed his progression. He puts up points when given the chance. The Isles seem to be looking to use a scoring by committee approach to replace the offence lost from Tavares departure. It would not be a surprise if Ho-Sang becoming a full-time NHLer is part of that scoring by committee.
#7 Prospect: Devon Toews
Defence — shoots Left
Born February 21st, 1994 — Abbotsford, British Columbia
Height 6’1″ — Weight 191 lbs [185 cm / 87 kg]
Drafted by the New York Islanders in the 4th round, #108 overall, at the 2014 NHL Draft
Toews was one of the Islanders final cuts at training camp one year ago. He was sent to Bridgeport where he was well on his way to a successful season. Toews had eight goals and 22 points in 30 games when injury struck. Toews needed surgery to fix an issue with his shoulder and was lost for the rest of the season. It was unfortunate timing, as the injuries and other issues on the Isles blueline along with Toews play in Bridgeport likely would have seen the youngster make his NHL debut at some point last year.
An excellent skater, Toews was the fastest skater at the 2017 AHL Skills Competition. He shows that speed in both directions, as well as very good acceleration. This allows him to join the rush, or pinch at the blue line and still get back defensively. Toews also has good edgework and pivots. He could be stronger on his skates. Adding lower body strength would help Toews improve his balance and win more battles on the boards or in front of the net.
Toews has excellent vision and playmaking ability. He quarterbacks the play from the blue line, with smart passes to teammates. Toews can open up passing and shooting lanes with his good agility. He starts the transition game by skating the puck out of danger and making a good quick pass. He can also lead the rush. Toews is a good stick handler, who has the poise to make plays at the line, or in transition.
Toews has a decent slapshot, which he keeps low and on the net, giving teammates opportunities for rebounds and tip-ins. He also has a good wrist shot and a quick release which he can use when pressured by opponents. Toews also makes good use of his wrist shot when joining the rush.
Toews is not a big hitter or a physical defender. Instead, he uses excellent positioning and an active stick to play an effective defensive game. Toews has excellent gap control and forces opponents to the outside when they attack. He reads the play well and cuts down passing and shooting lanes. More strength would help him clear the front of the net.
Toews was close last year, but his time has now arrived. Expect him to crack the Islanders line-up in this year’s training camp. The questions now turn to how high up the depth chart he can rise.
#8 Prospect: Sebastian Aho
Defence — shoots Left
Born February 17th, 1996 — Umea, Sweden
Height 5’10” — Weight 170 lbs [178 cm / 77 kg]
Drafted by the New York Islanders in the 5th round, #139 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
Aho went straight from 5th round draft pick to NHL contributor in his first post-draft season. Of course, he was drafted at age 21 and on his third year of eligibility. Aho had a goal and four assists in 22 NHL games. He also put up 29 points in 40 AHL games.
Aho is a bit undersized but makes up for it with his fantastic skating ability. He has very good speed in both directions. Aho can rush the puck up the ice, or make a pinch at the blueline knowing that he can often recover defensively. He also has very good edgework and agility, allowing him to escape forecheckers and move the puck out of danger. Smooth pivots allow Aho to transition quickly from defence to offence and vice-versa. He could stand to be stronger, both in fighting for pucks in the corners and in clearing the front of the net.
Aho has strong offensive skills. He is a good stick-handler and is calm and composed with the puck. He sees the ice well and can make good passes both to start the transition game and to create plays in the offensive zone. This is especially true on the power play, as he uses his skating ability to create passing lanes and offensive chances. Aho can also skate the puck out of danger in his own end of the ice, starting the transition game that way.
Aho has a very good shot. He gets his wrist shot off quickly, and his slap shot is powerful and accurate. He understands to keep the puck low and allow his forwards to go for rebounds and tip-ins. Aho uses his lateral agility to create shooting lanes and make sure his shots get through to the net. He also likes to sneak down from the point to fire a wrist shot from the circles.
Aho’s skating makes him tough to beat on the rush. He is also quick with his stick and poke checks the puck away from opponents. His best asset is retrieving pucks quickly and transitioning them out of the zone. However, lack of size can be an issue. He can be overpowered by bigger forwards in the cycle, leading to long periods of possession and zone time. This limits his ultimate upside.
Aho’s puck-moving ability is NHL ready. While there are things to clean up in his defensive game, it is also his time for a full-time NHL roster spot. Expect him to show his worth at Islanders training camp.
#9 Prospect: Linus Soderstrom
Goalie — shoots Left — Catches Left
Born August 23rd, 1996 — Stockholm, Sweden
Height 6’4″ — Weight 198 lbs [193 cm / 90 kg]
Drafted by the New York Islanders in the 4th round, #95 overall, at the 2014 NHL Draft
Soderstrom missed a large chunk of last season due to a shoulder injury and as such was not able to repeat his outstanding 2016-17 season. Soderstrom played in 14 games with a 2.79 goals against average and 0.894 save percentage in the SHL
At 6-foot-4, Soderstrom fits the mould of taller goaltenders that have become favoured by NHL Scouts in recent years. He takes full advantage of his size, getting out far from his net, and cutting down angles. He is an excellent skater, and his quick backwards push makes him hard to deke. Soderstrom gives shooters very little net to look at. A butterfly goalie, Soderstrom takes away the bottom of the net with his quick legs. He also has a good blocker and glove. He can sometimes get beat up high when he goes down to early.
Soderstrom tracks the puck well. He moves side-to-side quickly. Sometimes he even moves a bit too quickly, and oversliding can get him out of position. This is an area he will need to clean up. Soderstrom is particularly good with his rebound control, especially for his age.
Soderstrom signed his entry-level contract with the Islanders last summer but was loaned back to HV71 to spend one more year in Sweden. This season he makes his way to North America and should start out in the AHL. If he plays well and the Islanders again have NHL goaltending issues, he could be called up at some point. However, it is more likely he spends the full year developing in the AHL.
#10 Prospect: Mitchell Vande Sompel
Defence — shoots Left
Born February 11th, 1997 — London, Ontario
Height 5’10” — Weight 190 lbs [178 cm / 86 kg]
Drafted by the New York Islanders in the 3rd round, #82 overall, at the 2015 NHL Draft
Vande Sompel had a strong first pro season, putting up seven goals and 29 points in 58 games with Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
A classic puck-moving defenceman, Vande Sompel is an excellent skater. He has outstanding speed in both directions and excellent acceleration. He adds strong edgework and agility which allows him to slip by defenders when he rushes the puck up the ice, get back quickly when he is deep in the offensive zone, as well as keep forwards in front of him and force them to the outside when defending. Vande Sompel also has good balance and is strong on his skates and tough to knock off the puck. While he is undersized, his balance helps him in board battles and in front of the net. He could add even more muscle and get better at this. Though his size is always going to be a problem against bigger forwards, his balance helps him to still do a decent job in this area.
Vande Sompel is a good passer, with excellent vision. He has good hockey IQ and makes smart plays with his breakout pass, and on the powerplay. He is also a very good stick-handler who can lead the rush, skate the puck out of danger in the defensive zone, or can play with poise on the blue line and be a real quarterback on the power play. His agility allows him to walk the line and open up passing and shooting lanes. Vande Sompel also has a good slapshot and wrist shot with an excellent release. He understands the importance of keeping his shot low, making sure he gets it through to the net, and generating tip-in and rebound opportunities.
At 5-foot-10, Mitchell Vande Sompel is a little undersized and has issues with bigger forwards in his own zone. He can be overpowered when defending against the cycle game and trying to defend bigger players down low. While his base is strong and powerful, he needs to add upper body strength. However, his hockey sense and anticipation are very good which allows him to cut down passing lanes. A quick stick allows Vande Sompel to steal the puck from opponents and to cut down on passing lanes. He also has very good positioning.
Vande Sompel just completed his first year of pro hockey. He has a bit more development to do and is likely behind players like Toews and Aho as a result. Expect to see him in Bridgeport again. Vande Sompel is likely a year or two away from fighting for an NHL job.
Sleeper Prospect: David Quenneville
Defence — shoots Right
Born March 13th, 1998 — Edmonton, Alberta
Height 5’8″ — Weight 187 lbs [173 cm / 85 kg]
Drafted by the New York Islanders in the 7th round, #200 overall, at the 2016 NHL Draft
Quenneville had a monster season with the Medicine Hat Tigers in the WHL. He scored 26 goals and 54 assists for 80 points in 70 games. He also added eight points in six playoffs. Quenneville led all WHL defencemen in goals and points and was named to the league’s first all-star team.
Quenneville is another undersized defenceman who gets by on his strong skating skills. He covers a lot of ice, with very good speed and acceleration in both directions. He also has the edgework necessary to make quick cuts and changes of direction. Smooth pivots allow Quenneville to transition quickly from offence to defence. His agility and lateral movement allow him to open up passing and shooting lanes. He has a low centre of gravity that gives him very good balance. However, Quenneville is undersized which gives him some issues in battles for position.
Quenneville is undersized but shows dynamic offensive ability. He has an absolute bomb from the point and is not afraid to use it on the power play. Quenneville also has a strong wrist shot and quick release. He utilizes this when defenders pressure him and take away the time and space needed to get his slap shot off. He also has very good vision and passing skills. He is a very good stick-handler, who shows a lot of poise and controls the puck ant the blue line. Quenneville can control the play at the back end and create offensive chances.
He is also strong in transition. Quenneville can skate the puck out of danger and start the rush himself. He also has the ability to make a strong first pass and move the puck up the ice quickly. Quenneville’s skating ability allows him to take offensive chances and recover in his own end.
Quenneville is a smart player who shows good positioning. His ability to transition the puck also helps him to minimize the time spent in his own end of the ice. However, his size can be an issue. While Quenneville works hard and does not back down, his lack of size can be an issue when he tries to contain big forwards.
With his junior career now behind him, Quenneville will head to Bridgeport and look to add some offence at the AHL level. With Toews and Aho looking like they will be in the AHL, there will be minutes available and an offensive role waiting to be filled.
The Islanders had one of the best drafts in our annual NHL Draft Grades. They received an A+ ranking, as multiple picks had huge value. In Sorokin, Soderstrom, and Skarek the Islanders have three high-end goalie prospects. They also have some depth on the back end. In addition to the prospects already mentioned, they have Ben Mirageas, Parker Wotherspoon, Robin Salo, and Yannick Rathgeb in the system.
Up front, Blade Jenkins, Rushlan Iskhakov and Jake Pivonka look like solid picks. They join Otto Koivula, and Anatoly Golyshev, to give the Islanders depth behind the prospects already profiled. The Islanders are concerned that former 5th overall pick Michael Dal Colle is looking more and more like a bust. He struggled in the AHL last season.
Embed from Getty Images