In 2013, the New York Islanders ended two six-year streaks. Not only did they finally get back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but they went to the NHL Draft without a top-five selection.
Five straight seasons of finishing in the bottom five in the NHL standings allowed Islanders general manager Garth Snow to rebuild his roster basically from scratch. Alexei Yashin, Jason Blake and Brendan Witt have been replaced by John Tavares, Josh Bailey and Travis Hamonic.
The latter three, each signed to a long-term contract, played key roles in helping New York end its playoff drought last season. More help is on the way, perhaps as early as this season.
Here's a look at New York's top 10 prospects, according to NHL.com:
1. Ryan Strome, C/RW: New York's first-round selection (No. 5) in 2011, Strome got his first taste of professional hockey late last season with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in the American Hockey League (playing mostly right wing), where he had seven points (two goals) in 10 games. This was after Strome (6-foot-1, 188 pounds) completed his fourth season of junior hockey, when he had 94 points (34 goals) in 53 games with the Niagara IceDogs of the Ontario Hockey League.
Strome, 20, could spend the 2013-14 season honing his skills in Bridgeport, but could stick in the NHL with a strong training camp. If the Islanders move him on a full-time basis from center to right wing (something they are considering), he could be the long-term solution on the top line alongside center John Tavares.
"I think it's different because this year I know I can't go back to juniors; it's either pro in the NHL or the AHL," Strome said during development camp in July. "It'll be a different scenario. I think it's a great opportunity that I know I'm going to be down here, one way or another. I'm looking forward to getting my pro career full-time started."
2. Griffin Reinhart, D: Like Strome, Reinhart is a high first-round selection (No. 4 in 2012) who will arrive at training camp in September with the goal of playing in the NHL this season. The 19-year-old is a big (6-4, 202), mobile defenseman. He's the son of Paul Reinhart, who played more than 600 games in the NHL with the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks.
In 59 games last season, Griffin had eight goals, 21 assists and a plus-30 rating for the Edmonton Oil Kings in the Western Hockey League, his third season with the team. He will return to Edmonton should he not make the Islanders roster, which has an opening after defenseman Mark Streit was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers in June.
"I'm going to do everything I can to make it and show the coaches that I deserve to be here, and try to prove that I can play here," Reinhart told the Islanders website. "I'm looking forward to that opportunity. Last year was a little bit different with the shortened season, so I never got to come into a full camp. I'm looking at it two ways: I have to make an impression, but at the same time, I look to enjoy the process."
3. Brock Nelson, C: The 21-year-old is coming off a solid first pro season at Bridgeport, where he had 25 goals and 27 assists in 66 games. A first-round pick (No. 30) in 2010, Nelson appeared in one game for the Islanders during their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Nelson (6-3, 196) will compete for a spot on the roster in training camp and could be the Islanders' No. 3 center behind Tavares and Frans Nielsen.
"[Nelson is] a guy who has really developed," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "He came out of North Dakota and spent time in the American Hockey League, put up really good numbers. More importantly, just his body and the way he's matured, his strength; he played a lot of hockey down there. He's a guy who's really come along for us."
4. Ryan Pulock, D: For the second straight year, the Islanders used their first-round selection (No. 15) on a defenseman. Pulock, 18, brings a heavy shot from the point; his slap shot has been clocked at more than 100 mph. Pulock missed some time last season due to an arm injury, but the 6-1, 213-pound defenseman managed 45 points (14 goals) in 61 games for the Brandon Wheat Kings in the WHL, his third season with the club. He'll likely return to juniors as Brandon's captain this season.
"I think my shot is a key part of my game," Pulock said. "I can move the puck well, read the ice well, help out on the power play. I think the biggest thing I need to work on is being tougher in the D-zone and being harder in front of the net."
5. Matt Donovan, D: New York's fourth-round selection (No. 96) in 2008, Donovan could be ready to make the jump to the NHL after scoring 93 points during the past two seasons in Bridgeport. The 23-year-old is a terrific skater who helped the United States win the gold medal at the 2010 World Junior Championship.
Donovan (6-0, 195) is primed to push Brian Strait, Thomas Hickey and Matt Carkner for playing time and could fill the offensive void on the blue line left by Streit's departure. Donovan's 48 points last season tied him with Justin Schultz for the most in the AHL by a defenseman. Donovan plays with an edge, evidenced by his 112 penalty minutes.
"His positional play has really improved," Bridgeport coach Scott Pellerin told the Connecticut Post. "I think his defensive habits -- whether it's body position, stick position -- and his compete level, those are areas within his game that he's improved."
6. Anders Lee, C: One of the top players in college hockey the past three seasons, the 23-year-old turned pro last spring and scored in his first NHL game, April 2 against the Winnipeg Jets at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The 6-2, 225-pound center had 61 goals and 55 assists during his time at Notre Dame and could prove to be a steal after being selected in the sixth round (No. 152) of the 2009 draft. Lee likely will begin the season at Bridgeport to work on becoming more of a two-way forward.
"Being up here for a month and being able to understand how things work was beneficial," Lee told the Islanders website. "I got experience with the day-to-day life, getting my body ready every day and the mental side of things at the same time. I didn't know if I was in the lineup or not each day, and just had to be ready to go no matter what. It was just a good experience and I definitely learned a lot from it. That should help me in the future."
7. Ville Pokka, D: New York's second-round pick (No. 34) in 2012, Pokka, who turned 19 June 3, is coming off his second season with Karpat of SM-liiga in Finland, where he was again the youngest player on his team. In 47 games, Pokka (6-0, 205) had six goals, six assists and a plus-2 rating. The right-handed shot plays well in both ends of the ice and makes a solid first pass out of the defensive zone. He has represented Finland at the World Junior Championship the past two years and likely will be on its top defensive pairing at the 2014 tournament.
Pokka missed development camp in July fulfilling his commitment to the Finnish military, which runs through November. He will play for Karpat again this season.
8. Anders Nilsson, G: The 6-5, 227-pound goaltender missed most of last season due to an illness sparked by a recently discovered allergy to gluten and dairy products. It limited the 23-year-old to 21 appearances for Bridgeport, where he went 8-11-0 with a 2.98 goals-against average and a save percentage of .899. Now healthy, the third-round pick (No. 62) in 2009 is eager to get going. Nilsson will compete with Kevin Poulin for the backup job in New York, but after everything he dealt with last season, he'll likely start the season as the No. 1 goaltender in Bridgeport.
"Obviously last season didn't go the way I wanted it," said Nilsson, who in 2011-12 had a 2.42 GAA and .921 save percentage in 25 AHL games. "I'm healthy now, but the thing was it came up that I'm allergic to gluten and dairy products. When you're eating gluten and your body can't handle it, it's kind of like it's a poison for the body. If you're eating it a long time, your body stops absorbing the nutrients. So it was kind of like small things adding up to a big pile. I didn't have energy. I was feeling tired all the time. I'm not going to lie … last year was a really tough year for me, but at least we found a solution. I'm back to 100 percent now."
9. Scott Mayfield, D: Another big defenseman (6-4, 209), Mayfield turned pro in April after playing two seasons at the University of Denver. In 81 collegiate games, the St. Louis native had seven goals, 22 assists and 188 penalty minutes. The 20-year-old is a stay-at-home defenseman who does not shy away from the physical game. He appeared in six games for Bridgeport at the end of last season and will be in the Sound Tigers' lineup when the team opens its season in October.
"I definitely feel like I'm getting closer, especially with signing after my college season and turning pro," Mayfield said. "But at the same time, there's always work to be done. I'm still not there yet. Playing in Bridgeport was definitely another step up. There were a few challenges, but I think I handled them well. The guys are older and they've been around a little bit longer. They're more skilled and faster. So there's definitely that change. But I feel like I was ready and I handled the jump."
10. Johan Sundstrom, C: The Islanders have to be pleased with what they've seen from this second-round pick (No. 50) in 2011. Sundstrom is a big (6-3, 201) center who plays well at both ends of the ice, evidenced by his 32 points (11 goals) and plus-7 rating in 59 games (25 of those points came in 39 games before sustaining an upper-body injury) for Bridgeport last season, his first in North America. Sundstrom, who will return to Bridgeport, turns 21 Sept. 21.
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL
Author: Brian Compton | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor
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