Monday, March 17, 2008

To Be Young Again

The biggest issue I've had with Ted Nolan during his tenure as Islanders coach is his clear favoritism towards certain players over others. We've seen it in terms of overall ice time, power play time, and in his choice of healthy scratches. But more so we've seen it in his bias towards his veteran players over the young guys. So the only bright spot in our current situation (9 points out with 9 games to play, countless injuries) is that he has no choice but to showcase some of our prospects at the NHL level.

Looking at the box score of our most recent game in Montreal, you'll find a veritable "who's who" of Islanders prospects - Ben Walter, Jeff Tambellini, Steve Regier, Blake Comeau, Matthew Spiller, and Tim Jackman. Seeing as we have only 13 players (excluding goaltenders and Shawn "Gimpy" Bates) under contract for next season, these players must be looking at this home stretch as their best opportunity to prove themselves, before the wheeling and dealing of the off-season begins.

As excited as I am to see more from these players, it also puts a spotlight on this team's biggest problem - scoring goals. Aside from Kyle Okposo (more on him in a minute), these are clearly our top prospects. And as you go down the list, you won't find many (any?) pure goal scorers. Sure, Tambellini has potential, but the guy has simply not stepped up at the NHL level. Say what you want to about his limited ice time, but it didn't prevent Comeau from making an immediate impact in essentially the same role. From there, does anyone project Ben Walter or Steve Regier much above third-line action? Is Tim Jackman more than a fourth-line role player?

Without question both Sean Bergenheim and Blake Comeau have been pleasant surprises this year, and both are prototypical "Ted Nolan Type" players. But despite their hard work and (overused cliche alert!) grit, neither are likely to be much more than 20+ goal scorers throughout their careers. We need prospects that can finish, not just work hard. Over this past offseason, every free agent we signed and every player we drafted was commended by the Isles press machine for their (choose 3 of the following 5):

Character, Grit, Work Ethic, Passion, Heart

Please, can the next player we bring into the fold be known for SCORING? I can see the press release now:

"XXXX is a somewhat dedicated player. He's not known as a 'team first' kind of guy, and will take a shift or two off here and there. But the guy scored 45 goals last year and is projected as our top-line center within 2 years. So we'll leave the grit to our third and fourth line players".

I know, I know...sounds like Yashin and we all know how that worked out. But one thing I promise, if Alexei continued his level of production from Ottawa we would not have soured on him nearly as quickly, if at all. Especially now that we as Islanders fans understand the premium on scoring, I think we'd all be willing to forgive an occasional lapse in effort for a guy that can net 35+ each year.

All of which brings us to tomorrow night, and the NHL debut of Kyle Okposo. Is he the real deal? We'll find out soon enough. But the fact that his reputation is already evolving from a "goal scorer" to a "playmaker" doesn't give me the warm-and-fuzzies. OK so I'm (mostly) kidding...I really am excited to see what this kid can bring to the table, even over the course of a brief 9-game stint.

Worst case, the season continues to spiral out of control and we find ourselves in the running for Steven Stamkos, one of the more heralded offensive prospects to come along in recent years.

Of course, even if we get the #1 pick we'll probably draft a goalie...

1 comment:

richard said...

how long will his deal be