Welcome to the 2017 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. During the summer, I will feature a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will follow the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no trades). You can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted this year. There have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed.
I will link 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 2017-18 roster. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later; or an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as a dark horse to make the NHL. 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old is the cut-off for prospects. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
TSP: New York Islanders Prospects
When the New York Islanders fired Jack Capuano on January 17th, it seemed that they were an afterthought in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. A furious run under new coach Doug Weight nearly brought them all the way back. Ultimately, the team came up just short, eliminated on the final weekend of the regular season. Still the excellent second half gives fans hope that 2017-18 will see the Islanders back in the playoffs.
The team has already started to make changes to see that happen. They acquired Jordan Eberle from the Edmonton Oilers. The Islanders also traded Travis Hamonic to the Calgary Flames. They also acquired goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis from the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Top Prospect: Mathew Barzal
Center — shoots Right
Born May 26th, 1997 — Coquitlam, British Columbia
Height 6’0″ — Weight 175 lbs [183 cm / 79 kg]
Drafted by the New York Islanders in the 1st round, #16 overall at the 2015 NHL Draft
The Islanders had Barzal up for a couple of games at the start of the season before sending him back to junior. He had three goals and eight points playing for Canada at the World Juniors. Barzal really tore up the WHL though with 10 goals and 79 points in just 41 games. He was strong in the playoffs, leading Seattle to the WHL Championship. Barzal put up seven goals and 25 points in 16 games.
Barzal is an outstanding skater, with top notch speed and great acceleration. His stride is smooth and extremely effective. He also has great agility, outstanding pivots and strong edge work which he uses to be incredibly elusive off the rush, or in the offensive zone. Barzal shows good lower-body strength for his age, giving him the good balance and powerful stride to fight through checks and win board battles. Like most junior aged players, he will still need to add a little more strength going forward though.
Barzal also has incredibly soft hands and great stick handling. He protects the puck extremely well, and works well in the cycle game. He has very good hockey sense, and almost always makes the smart play. These skills alone would make him a dynamic offensive threat, but when you add in his great shot, quick release and excellent vision and play-making ability he is the total package as an offensive player. He does need to use that shot more, and would score more goals if he was a little more selfish.
Barzal has shown the willingness to play in the dirty areas of the ice, and shows flashes of adding a power game to his offensive finesse and skill after adding some weight this off-season. If he continues to grow and add that game, the sky is the limit for him.
Barzal can be a good two way player. He shows the hockey sense and anticipation to break up plays, create turnovers, and start the transition game. He also knows how to work down low to support his defence, and has shown a willingness to block shots. The issue here is that his effort level in his own zone is not always consistent. He has the skills to be good defensively, but must work to do so night in and night out going forward.
Barzal again heads to Islanders camp looking to make the team full-time. With another year of experience under his belt, he just might do so. If he does end up in the AHL, don’t expect him to be there long.
#2 Prospect: Josh 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 was having a solid rookie season with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, scoring 10 goals and 36 points in 50 games, when the Islanders felt he was ready to play on the big club. He caused quite the stir by wearing #66, and putting up offense right away. Ho-Sang finished the year with four goals and 10 points in 21 games.
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 play maker 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 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 this season, and has gotten better as the year has gone on. 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 less 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. He showed that he belonged in the NHL last season, and should be there again this year. Expect to see his point totals rise.
#3 Prospect: Ryan Pulock
Defense — shoots Right
Born October 6th, 1994 — Dauphin, Manitoba
Height 6’2″ — Weight 215 lbs [188 cm / 98 kg]
Drafted by the New York Islanders in the 1st round, #15 overall at the 2013 NHL Draft
After a strong showing in the 2016 playoffs, many thought that Pulock was ready to make the jump to the NHL. He got in only one game for the Islanders last year. He was dominant in the AHL though, with 15 goals and 46 points in 55 games.
Pulock is a decent skater, but could continue to improve. He has a good stride and gets decent acceleration both forwards and backwards. His top end speed is just slightly above average, but could still be improved. His edge work, pivots and agility are good, allowing him to cover a lot of ice. He quickly changes directions to react and keep the play in front of him. He has solid balance and is difficult to knock off the puck. The agility also gives him the ability to walk the line and open up shooting and passing lanes.
Pulock’s slap shot is an absolute rocket. He also has fantastic one-timer which make him an extremely feared shooter on the power play. His shot has been measured over 100 miles per hour. Other AHL teams are certainly shading their penalty kill to try to minimize Pulock’s shot at this point, but despite that, he still managed to put a bunch in the back of the net.
A natural power play quarterback, Pulock makes smart crisp passes and sees the ice extremely well. He also understands the importance of getting the puck on net, and is able to utilize a good wrist shot and quick release when teams try to take away his big bomb. On the rush, he has decent stick handling and can be the lead man with the puck or can join the attack as the trailer, ready to unleash his rocket slapper or that very good wrist shot.
Defensively, Pulock uses his good hockey sense and strong positioning and has really improved his defensive game over the last few years. He keeps his opponent to the outside off the rush. Pulock is rarely beaten one on one. In the defensive zone he cuts down passing and shooting lanes very well. Pulock does play physically, willing to throw hits in open ice or if an opponent tries to get by him along the boards. He could work on his upper body strength, which would help him to win more board battles and be more of a force in front of the net, and clearing the crease. Pulock’s first pass is excellent, and he helps his team start the transition game by moving the puck quickly out of the zone.
There is no more for Pulock to do at the AHL level, he is ready. He will go to camp looking for a full-time spot. His time is now.
#4 Prospect: Ilya Sorokin
Goalie – Shoots Left — Catches Left
Born August 4th, 1995 — Mezhdurechensk, Russia
Height 6’2″ Weight 172 lbs [188 cm / 78 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 1.61 goals against average and .929 save percentage in 39 games. He also played for Russia at the World Championships, backing up Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Sorokin has good height at 6’2″ but is extremely slight as he weighed just 172 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.
There are some issues though, as he isn’t the most fundamentally sound goalie out there. 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 has worked to improve his rebound control and has taken big steps here, though there is still a bit more work to do.
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. He could be Russia’s goalie at the 2018 Olympics.
#5 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 had an outstanding season with HV71, putting up a 1.34 goals against average and .943 save percentage in 22 games. He was so good he was the team’s starter in the playoffs, putting up a 2.11 GAA and .922 SV% in 16 games. He led the club to the SHL Championship.
At 6’4″, Soderstrom fits the mold of taller goaltenders that have become favored 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 this summer. There are some reports that even after signing the deal, Soderstrom could be loaned back to HV71 to spend one more year in Sweden, but this is not confirmed. He is only 20 years old (21 at the start of the year) and this is still very young for a goaltender. Expect him to be given plenty of ice time to develop, whether that is in Sweden or the AHL.
#6 Prospect: Michael Dal Colle
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born June 20th, 1996 — Woodbridge, Ontario
Height 6’2″ — Weight 198 lbs [188 cm / 90 kg]
Drafted by the New York Islanders in the 1st round, #5 overall at the 2014 NHL Draft
Much was expected when Dal Colle was selected with the fifth overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft. While its true that progress has been slow, it is still progress. He had a solid rookie season in the AHL, with 15 goals and 41 points in 75 games.
Dal Colle is a very good skater. He has a good stride which provides him with very good top end speed and excellent acceleration. Dal Colle has good core strength which gives him excellent balance and makes him hard to knock off the puck. He also has excellent agility which combined with this soft hands and vast array of moves makes him a nightmare for defenders one-on-one.
The first thing you notice about Michael Dal Colle is his stick handling ability. His soft hands are absolutely elite and he can do things with the puck that others only dream of doing. Dal Colle has shown the ability to play the cycle game protecting the puck down low, and making quick, smart passes. When given openings he cane drive the net and show off those soft hands in close, and they give him the ability to beat defenders and goaltenders one-on-one. He’s also a power winger who is strong on his skates and also isn’t afraid to bulldoze through a defender if necessary. Willing to take a hit to make a play, he’s also unfraid to dish them out. Dal Colle can only improve as he adds more strength. He also has a strong and accurate wrist shot with a very good release.
Dal Colle’s biggest issue right now is that he does not make decisions quickly enough. He needs to be more decisive with the puck. He does not have the time and space that he had in junior hockey, and he must adjust.
Defensively Dal Colle has really improved in the past couple of years. He fixed his bad habit of puck watching and is much more reliable than he was in his draft year. He back checks hard and gets into good positions cutting down passing and shooting lanes. Additional positional improvement is still needed. He also helps with good back pressure.
It is understandable that many are down on Dal Colle. However he is merely 21 years old. Dal Colle may never hit the heights that were expected of him when he was drafted, but he can still develop into a top six forward. Expect him to spend another season in the AHL first.
#7 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 struggled as a freshman at Boston University. He put up just seven goals and 14 points in 34 games. He also played for Team USA at the World Juniors picking up two goals and an assist in seven games.
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 snap-shot, and good back hand. 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 that forecheck. He also shows excellent stick handling ability, and the good 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, its 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 defense down low, and applies effective back pressure. He understands good positioning, and has the hockey IQ to anticipate plays and create turnovers.
Bellows left Boston University and signed with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL this summer. Expect to see him in junior, where he hopes to have a much bigger season. Bellows has talent but is a couple of years away from the NHL.
Sleeper Prospect: Devon Toews
Defense — shoots Left
Born February 21st, 1994 — Abbotsford, British Columbia
Height 6’1″ — Weight 180 lbs [185 cm / 82 kg]
Drafted by the New York Islanders in the 4th round, #108 overall at the 2014 NHL Draft
In his first pro season, Devon Toews made an immediate impact for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. He led all AHL rookies in assists and was named to the AHL all-rookie team. Toews put up 45 points in 76 games.
An excellent skater, Toews was the fastest skater at the 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 edge work 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 play making 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 slap shot, which he keeps low and on 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 will likely start next season in the AHL. He has real potential, but there are still some areas of his game that need work. Toews is 23-years-old, and that improvement could come quickly. He could see time this year if injuries hit.
Robin Salo, Benjamin Mirageas, and Sebastian Aho were the Islanders first three picks in the NHL draft as they loaded up on defence. The team also has Mitchell van de Sompel, Scott Mayfield, David Quenneville, and Parker Wotherspoon in the system. As seen above there are high quality forwards in the Islanders system. They also have Anatoly Golyshev, and Otto Koivula developing in Europe. Overall forward depth in the system can certainly be improved though. With Sorokin and Soderstrom, the Islanders have outstanding depth in goal.
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