So, we’re just a bit past the halfway mark in the Islanders’ 2009-2010 season and it’s time to hand out the mid-way reports cards. While some players have been pleasant surprises, there are others who simply haven’t gotten going just yet.
While overall progress is evident with the Islanders thus far this season, consistency has been a problem with this young team. With nine of their regular forwards coming in at 25 or younger, this figured to be another season of growing pains on Long Island. That the team has been as competitive as they have has been somewhat of a surprise, though the addition of two veteran netminders in the offseason figured to settle things down quite a bit from last year.
It will be interesting to see if they continue to progress in the second half or fade away and begin another chase for the first overall pick in the 2010 NHL entry draft in June.
Center: Josh Bailey — Age: 20
During the exhibition season Bailey began showing much greater strength on the puck and it has carried through to the regular—just not consistently. The kid often looked physically over-matched at times last season and at 19 years old that’s certainly not uncommon. As his 6-foot-1-inch frame has filled out a bit more his physical skills are now a closer match to his hockey skills, which were never in question. While much of the focus among the Isles kiddie corps has been on Kyle Okposo and John Tavares, Bailey has the skill set to steal a big chunk of the spotlight sometime soon.
Center: John Tavares — Age: 19
You wondered how well the 19-year-old would handle the pressure of his first NHL season after being selected first overall. Well, after half a season the answer back is…quite well. Nothing overly dazzling about his game, just smart with and without the puck, while loose pucks seem to find his stick around the net—a nice knack to have. As is the case with most 19-year-olds, he’s had games where his intensity has drifted (several lately) but truly looks like the real deal as a scorer. Although lately he has been over-handling the puck the last few weeks and has lost his way just a tad.
Center: Frans Nielsen — Age: 25
Took a while for the Danish center to round into game shape after a pre-season knee injury but the offensive skill set is there. Crafty with the puck, particularly with the man advantage, Nielsen just needs to be more consistent night in and night out. However, six goals at the half-way mark is a disappointment. Seems generally uninvolved too many nights.
Center: Rob Schremp — Age: 23
The Isles acquired the 23 year-old former first round pick off waivers from Edmonton and after a slow start the kid is coming on of late. Lots of offensive up-side, though doesn’t exactly posses the size the Isles lack up front. We simply haven’t seen enough yet to post a legit grade.
Center: Doug Weight, Age: 38
Have to hang an incomplete on Weight as the veteran center has only played 13 games. But when he’s in the line-up the team is significantly better. A calming influence both on the ice and in the room, Weight’s only drawback is the fact his 38-year-old body is failing him. Has shown his offensive game still has some pop left too. If he can hang in more during the second half he could be a key factor.
Center: Nate Thompson, Age: 25
The perfect fourth-liner, Thompson’s effort is consistently high every night. Though he has found the back of the net just once thus far, not a bad pair of hands either. Has been an effective penalty killer as well. Exactly the type of roll player a young club needs.
Left Wing: Sean Bergenheim, Age: 25
One of those players that you notice most when he’s out of the line-up, as he is currently, the Isles really miss his speed game. Still has trouble finishing but you just get the feeling Bergenheim will bloom late and the goals will eventually come. Fits into Gordon’s “overspeed” system quite well.
Left Wing: Blake Comeau, Age: 23
Finally getting back to being the player who showed such promise under former coach Ted Nolan, Comeau can be a big factor on this team. Shows good smarts with the puck and is finally listening to coach Scott Gordon’s pleadings to be more physical.
Left Wing: Matt Moulson, Age: 26
The Isles never find scrap heap players like this but they finally have one in Matt Moulson. The 26-year-old is one of those junkyard dog-types that scores the ugly goals from in front. Slumping of late, but where would the Isles be without his early season scoring binge?
Left Wing: Jon Sim, Age: 32
The 32-year-old now has a very clearly defined roll on this club as the poor man’s Sean Avery. Not quite in Avery’s class as an agitator, but Sim has come on of late as a feisty forward effectively getting under the opposition’s skin. A smart defensive player as well.
Left Wing: Jeff Tambellini, Age: 25
A tough payer to figure out as the offensive skill set is certainly there, but a reluctance to play in traffic has landed the young winger on the bench almost as often as in the line-up. However, can’t turn your nose up at seven goals in just 25 games. Lack of size is an issue but his speed keeps the Isles coming back for a look.
Right Wing: Trent Hunter, Age: 29
Showed such promise as a rookie in 2003-2004, netting 25 goals, but hasn’t come close to that total since. Still, there isn’t a player on the roster who puts in a more honest effort every night than Hunter. At 29, he is now one of the elder statesman on this club and with Doug Weight spending most of his time nursing injuries, Hunter needs to step it up on the leadership front.
Right Wing: Tim Jackman, Age: 28
Another prefect fourth-liner, Jackman throws his weight around every night, and for a team that is not an overly physical one, he plays an important role. One of the few forwards on the team that truly crashes the net every game—if his hands matched his effort level he’d be a jewel.
Right Wing: Kyle Okposo, Age: 21
Okay, there are those out there that will point to the goal total (six) and claim there has to be more pop in Okposo’s offensive game before he gets an A . Nonsense! This kid has arrived and the goals will come—heaven knows everything else has. A tireless worker who’s two-way play has been a highlight of every Islanders game this season. Shame on Brian Burke for overlooking Okposo for Team USA – he’ll regret it.