Sunday, March 27, 2011

Final Observations - 2010-11 Sound Tigers

Been an interesting year to say the least. Some final thoughts as follows:
1) The Sound Tigers 2010-11 provided much talent to the big club, many of whom figure to have a very bright future over the next few years (see below).
2) And with the influx of many young players into the system over the next few years, including major prospects such as Calvin de Haan, Casey Cizikas and others, Bridgeport will continue to be interesting to be sure.
3) Of the players that remain, as the Sound Tigers finally catch some fire, final observations as follows:
  • Leading scorer Rhett Rakhshani - may start next season at Bridgeport again, is a decent 3rd line prospect for the Islanders
  • Justin DiBenedetto - 17 goals in just over half a season, and a solid two-way game makes him a 4th line or better prospect as well
  • Jeremy Colliton - played well at time when up with the big club, hopefully gets a 2-way contract for next season
  • David Ullstrom - starting to show some life, next year will be important
  • Jesse Joensuu - will the Islanders bring him back? Had an okay year, and may be a useful piece
  • Mark Katic - can be a fill-in on D, so another one to watch, given his speed and offensive game
  • Ty Wishart (recent callup) - seems to have a game that allows him to be a decent 6th D-man in the NHL for now, with room to grow
  • Mikko Koskinen - filled in reasonably well under the circumstances when the injury bug hit the big club - may have a future
  • others we'd like to see get another chance - Hisey, Motherwell, Kohn, Klementyev, Martin
  • guys who should stick with the big club - Martin, Haley
  • someone who should get another chance somewhere - Wes O'Neill - I'm talking to you, defense light Vancouver Canucks...

4) Too bad the Yale Bulldogs got somewhat ripped off yesterday - they have a decent team, but having observed the game, no player on either side seemed to be a decent NHL prospect, except perhaps O'Neill. The college game is several notches below, with no team having emerged this season making for an odd tournament. Defensively sound Duluth seems to have a decent shot if they stck with their game plan and continue to get good goaltending from Reiter. This is important to keep the Islander college prospects in perspective. That said, they have some of the better prospects in the NCAA game including Lee, Nelson, Donovan & Kessel, and a few others to spare. All of whom will likely need time at Bridgeport to hone their professional games in the years to come.

Hope to see you next season for some further Observations on the Sound Tigers.

Lets go Islanders - 2011-12 should be the start of something big.

Edited to add: took in the second period of today's rescheduled Syracuse - Sound Tigers game - Aaron Ness looked okay, nothing more - Brian Day did not impress - and as for the latest batch of temporary fill-ins, no comment - as the saying goes 'nothing to see here, move along...'

Friday, February 4, 2011

Sound Tigers Report #6 - Road Game One Goal Loss Blues

A quick one from here, with the Sound Tigers on the road in Hartford against the newly christened Whale (side note to Bettman - move the Thrashers here)

Since our last report, while some observers advocated Poulin's return to the minors, various injuries and his solid play in the NHL not only have kept him up top, but he continues to impress and learn. He will be hard to remove from the Islanders at any time soon as long as he stays healthy, fingers crossed.

On the other keepers - Joel Martin, someone we recently hoped would get some time, has done just that, and handled himself extremely well, to the point that he has not only just signed a two-way contract, but he may be on his way up to the Islanders as I write this, with the team needing temporary backup support.

This makes sense, as the alternative would be for the team to sign another keeper, something they don't really need to do, and it would be easier to find a temporary backup for Koskinen, who can handle the load at Bridgeport - regardless of what Strang & Botta say, Koskinen has been fine here, and he was largely again tonight.

The team just doesn't have enough firepower - tonight they came out strong, DiBenedetto was a spark from the first moment he hit the ice. He is Bridgeport's main offensive weapon, and would really like to see him get some time on the Island.

Not sure there is another solid prospect here among the forwards, but they played with intensity which was good to see, though am starting to think Ullstrom's idea of what it means to play hockey is to skate around in circles. Joensuu isn't doing enough - what else is new. They just don't have enough scoring.

The defensemen are solid at this level - any of tonight's 6 starters could be a 6th NHL defenseman if required. None of them are Denis Potvin, but who is at this level?

Good to see O'Neill healthy - he was a solid contributor once again.

Trying to figure out why the Islanders called up Wishart only to not play him - you have to figure they want to take a closer look at the kid's personality, see if he fit in with the top club's players, who have become quite close knit. Maybe they are trying to get a read on whether this kid is a prospect or what. Kind of makes sense I suppose.

Message to the Forwards - and its not rocket science - put the puck in the net, or at least create scoring chances - the team has been playing better lately - it seems as if they lose every game by one goal, and they have been closer in shots on goal lately as well, a good sign.

There are prospects here worth observing.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sound Tigers Report - Ranking the Sound Tigers at the Halfway Mark

quick one from here, as we hit the halfway mark of the 2010-11 Bridgeport Sound Tigers AHL season with 40 games now been played out of 80

(and a quick note - thanks to those of you who have been reading this blog, we are at more hits than I had any right to expect)

Here's a quick ranking with observations of the players who have played for the Sound Tigers to date this season, and how they rank, so far as potential to help the Islanders right now.

Some of these prospects would certainly rank higher (or lower) based on longer term potential, but this list is intended to be as regards prospects for contributing above as of today.

Not going to belabor the details on any one player, as further details on any and all are below in the previous game observations below.

1. Travis Hamonic - unlike Chris Botta's recent assessment of Poulin being the leading prospect, in many ways, it's at least as much Travis as well - in fact, would call Hamonic & Poulin very much prospects 1 and 1A - they are both stars in the making - Hamonic, as mentioned earlier, has every chance of being an all time great Islander - at his age, to be contributing at the level he has, the sky is the limit

1A. Kevin Poulin - as all are also saying, Poulin is the goods, and likewise at his age, has enormous potential - any NHL team with Hamonic & Poulin start to create a defensive backbone that figures to be quite useful going forward

3. Josh Bailey - we drop off quickly to Josh, but he retains his potential to be a 2nd line forward - has made a nice line with Schremp & Grabner which will hopefully get more time - the Bailey/Colliton/Rakhshani experiment, not so good - and with the plethora of C prospects and Bailey's less than stellar faceoff record, am thinking 2nd line LW for Josh - not too shabby,
if he produces, which is not a given, but prospects remain

4. Rob Schremp - a bit of an enigma, remains our 2nd line C for now - next season?

5. Jeremy Colliton - a nice surprise - Jeremy emerged as mentioned below, as the main F when the team needed one - lo and behold, he's a perfect 3rd line C for the Islanders in some ways - plays a two way game, can handle PK and even 2nd shift PP - hope he sticks, he deserves every chance

6. Dustin Kohn - looked great recently (see Report #4 below) coming off his injury - likely the call-up D if and when required, which as of now, it isn't

7. Dylan Reese - seems to have had a few decent games recently for the Islanders, and is close to Kohn in potential - getting the time now, and we'll see if he can ever more than a 6

8. Matt Martin - establishing himself with Konopka as fixtures on the 4th line - making Gillies redundant in some ways (Gillies needs to be sent down to get some playing time) - some argue he should be in Bridgeport getting more time - perhaps he will if the team loses all playoff chances soon, but for now, he plays a useful role - not sure if there's more potential than that

9. Mikko Koskinen - showing with his steady play that he could well be Poulin's backup - lets see where he stands at season's end (though at this rate, with the injuries above, he may get some time up top soon)

10. Jesse Joensuu - had a few decent games at 4th line - Martin/Konopka/Joensuu likely to be the 4th line until or unless they struggle - team likely not going to retain him after this year unless clear potential emerges, but who knows - lets see how rest of the season goes - this may be a decent spot for him for a few more years

11. Wes O'Neill - has potential to be another Colliton for the Islanders, except of course on D - equally solid and capable of contributing on all aspects, and an equally developed game sense - you can see why the Colorado Avalanche played him a few times last year and the year prior - and sometimes D take time to mature - don't count this guy out

12. Rhett Rakhshani - his prospects remain, but he likely needs time to mature, and especially to get used to a full NHL schedule, and too bad about his recent concussion - he figures to return to Bridgeport once he recovers to get his legs - remains a prospect for next season, but his real NHL prospects remain unclear

13. Ty Wishart - needs time, see below - has the god given tools, that's for sure

14. David Ullstrom - really hasn't been doing quite enough - as with Rakhshani & Wishart, will be fascinating to watch at training camp next year

15. Jon Sim - an excellent two-way signing, he really shouldn't play more than 40 games a year for the Islanders, but used sparingly, is a nice ingredient - would like to see them bring him back next year similarly

16. Justin DiBenedetto - has enough of a two-way game, that is prospects remain - rest of year at Bridgeport will be important for him to be sure

17. Nathan Lawson - is he still on the Islanders? Probably any minute now, DP will return, and Lawson will be back with the Sound Tigers - showing that he can play in the NHL as a backup potentially - would imagine he'll get more time to play once back down

18. Michael Haley - one game with the Islanders last year, will it be his only one? He plays enough of a two way game that he remains a decent emergency callup - not clear if he can be more than that

19. Mark Katic - a bit on the small side, but retains prospects - given another year or two, wouldn't count him out to be at least a Gervais of the future, perhaps more, who knows

20. Anton Klementyev - even younger at 20, Anton has the size and speed to still have NHL potential - lets see where he is by end of next season

We are at #20, and still talking about players with at least some prospects - kudos to Garth Snow et al for stocking the organization with depth

21. Mark Wotton - the captain is a rock - would love to see him get a game with the Islanders this year - he could hold his own, even if he is really too slow for the NHL now - in an emergency...

22. Olivier Labelle - this guy delivers crunching hits, so would be interesting to see if he has 4th line NHL potential at some point - perhaps more interesting than meets the eye

23. Robin Figren - having an okay season, often plays with good energy, but a bit small for the NHL most likely

24. Joel Martin - would like to see this guys get a game or 2 or 3 at Bridgeport - seems to have some prospects, and given netminders almost always need seasoning, let him have some - and lets see what we have in 2-3 years

25. Rob Hisey - has some skill, but likely maxed out at this level, but not an impossibility

26. Brett Motherwell - been playing with poise lately - good to see - is there more? He's at least a nice fit for the Sound Tigers - a nice signing to be sure

27. Brandon Svendsen - been playing well at times, will need to show more to ever advance, but lets see, also not impossible, but not likely either

28. Dustin Friesen - probably too slow to ever go higher, but plays D and F, so an excellent piece at this level - never say never....

29. Tony Romano - has something about his game - even down here at 29, we aren't in no way/never ever territory

30. Tomas Marcinko - does a decent enough job on PK, but is quite slow, and unlikely to advance, but that's what the AHL is for - three words - speed skating lessons....

+ all others (Blight/Bourbeau/Campbell/Castonguay/Landry/Leisenring/Taylor/Yablonski - no comments necessary)

That's a wrap - many prospects to ponder, and many more at junior & college levels - make Bridgeport Sound Tiger Hockey to remain interesting for some time to come.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sound Tigers Report #4 - The Ty Wishart Blues

One thing is for sure - Sound Tigers Hockey has been very good value this year.

As you can see from the first three posts below, each game has provided fascinating opportunities to witness Islanders prospects on the brink of contributing at the NHL level, and in important ways.

The exciting afternoon Islanders overtime win in Denver, which proceeded yesterday's Bridgeport home game, featured fully 10 players who suited up for the Sound Tigers earlier this year (as first pointed out at Lighthouse Hockey), or literally half the team.

Those 10 are:

Matt Martin, Travis Hamonic, Jesse Joensuu & Dylan Reese - see Sound Tiger Report #1 below - Hamonic's play & ice sense made clear that he was ready - he won't see this level again . Joensuu was a strong contributor to the win over the Avalanche - he & Martin make key components to the 4th line

Josh Bailey - see Report #2 - he's likely a key fixture for the big club going forward

Jeremy Colliton & Kevin Poulin - see Report #3 - Colliton with a few more years under his belt seems a nice fit for the Islanders as a two way player who can contribute - and Poulin is a star in the making

And the other 3 of those 10 who have played for both Bridgeport & the Islanders this year are Nathan Lawson, Jon Sim & Rob Schremp - and just about all of the current Islanders have recent Sound Tigers or AHL connections of sorts.

PA Parenteau played 35 games for now renamed Hartford last year, Michael Grabner was basically picked up off the scrap heap, as was Matt Moulson before him - the Islanders are becoming a combination of the Oakland Raiders & Billy Beane's Moneyball of the NHL, which makes them all the more fun to watch these days.

And so, it was off to Bridgeport for the first chance to see Ty Wishart, and the state of the Sound Tigers once again.

What was abundantly clear this time was that, with Colliton gone, there are literally no forwards ready for prime time whatsoever. More on that anon.

However, the D is stacked, and so the player by player analysis as follows

First, the very good news

Mikko Koskinen - his game is growing - with 40 quality shots on net, Koskinen was rock solid - no spectacular saves, that's not really his thing - but he uses his height well, and takes up a lot of space and makes no unnecessary movements, and blocked just about everything that came his way - as Fornabaio correctly said, this was one of his better games this year. If he plays most of Bridgeport's games the rest of the year, and continues this sort of progress, he will make a strong case to be up next year with Poulin. The Poulin/Koskinen duo that was very recently Bridgeport's 1/2, could well be the Islanders future at this position.

Dustin Kohn - this was a very encouraging showing by Kohn - he had good movement & game sense, wasn't afraid to throw his weight around, and gave the impression that he is ready to spend more time up top now, his recent injury now completely overcome. He had to limp off the ice towards the end of period 2 after taking some contact, but skated off at the end of the period and otherwise seemed okay. Dustin made the case that if the team needs a D now, its him.

In fact, would like to see the team flip flop Reese for Kohn now.

Justin DiBenedetto - if there is one forward that might be interesting to see up top now, it's Justin. He missed some time as well earlier this season, so has only played 19 games, but he plays a solid 2 way game, has energy, and could well fit okay on a 3rd or 4th line. Not that he is definitely ready, but if they needed someone - and the team might want to send Gillies down for a week, he's used so infrequently, and give someone like Justin and/or Ullstrom a game, like they did Rakhshani earlier, just to see how they mix in - 3-4 minutes a game for Gillies, once every three or four games is fine, but perhaps they can also keep Trevor sharper by giving him the occasional game or 2 in the AHL, especially if they know in advance they likely won't be playing him due to matchups, etc.

Wes O'Neill - the Islanders organization really should sign this guy if they can. As mentioned before, Wes has all the components needed to be an NHL defenseman. He has hockey sense, he blocks shots, isn't afraid to make good hits (see Wishart below...) and pairs nicely - he really understands the game, and has spent a bit of time up top, and has something about him. Once again, he was, with Kohn, one of the best D-men on the ice, and made a very nice combo with the continuingly surprising Brett Motherwell who keeps playing good hockey. Was surprised to see Klementyev scratched, as he seemed fine in warmups, but they had to scratch 1 D-man, and they probably wanted to look at all 6 of these guys to see what they had. In fact, the team had some step in them, as if they knew someone like Garth Snow was in the building. Of the other three defenseman, Mark Wotton didn't have one of his better games, but he's always at least somewhat dependable, and Mark Katic continues to play a nice AHL game from an offensive standpoint, the question being does he have what it takes above - he is a bit small, but his prospects remain. And that brings us to......

Ty Wishart - where to start.

Listed at 6'4" and 215, that's about right. And that's also about all there is so far...

The moment he steps on the ice, he looks tall, not big.

And he appears to not have very much hockey sense - other D like Wotton, O'Neill, Kohn, even Katic & Motherwell, have a sense of the game around them - Wishart in his own end at least, mostly seems to stand around and take up space, which to say the least, was not impressive.

The first Worcester goal came from one of Wishart's first shifts where he completely misplayed a clearance for no reason (there was no one around him), and then was literally standing around in front of the net, while the Sharks passed the puck between them for any easy goal.

Very discouraging, and this one shift alone, made it clear that he isn't ready for primetime. Not this season, anyway.

Later in the first period, during power plays, one of his key strengths did come into clear focus - he has an excellent shot from the point - he fired 2 at the net, and while they didn't score, that is a very useful skill for him to have (the other of his 3 SOG was an end to end clearance that happened to make it on net)

In general, Ty has enough speed without being fast, but didn't take the opportunity to use his body either to make or finish a check (the Sound Tigers made at least 10, and mostly well timed ones) or establish his presence meaningfully in front of the net.

For now, he is a player with potential if & when he chooses to use it, but he is mostly taking up space at this point, and that is discouraging for now.

He is 22 - I'd like to see his game when he is 24, he clearly needs time down in the AHL and/or to get a bit more experience/hockey sense - would suggest the team leave him in Bridgeport until he develops an edge, more game sense, something. He reminds me a bit of Zdeno Chara early in his career - who clearly needed time to learn how to use his skills & his body. In fact, it occured to me that Ty might have scope to be a decent forward. That would be an interesting experiment to try.

The fact that he is tied for 2nd on the team in points is more a statement on the lack of offense of this team as it stands than anything else, but he does have that nice shot from the point, which is something.

What he needs is more time - he simply isn't ready. The team has lost all three games he has played, which isn't completely his fault, but he hasn't brought anything over and above what the team already had and isn't contributing intangibles at least as of yet.

When playing Wilkes-Barre on Friday, this team had their heads handed to them - they mostly play average AHL teams like Portland, Worcester, Providence - which gives players a good opportunity to show what they have. In Wishart's case, it's simply not enough. Frankly, would expect him not to make the Islanders this year, and to have an uphill battle to make the team out of camp next year as well - maybe he starts to see some time up top this time next year or thereabouts. Enough boring bus trips, and maybe he'll get angry enough to play harder.

So far as the rest of the team, that's the forwards of course. And in the first period, there was some interesting switching up of lines which I think is a good idea

Svendsen - Ullstrom - Rakhshani - the supposed top line, didn't really have that much - Ullstrom was sharper, and would be good to see what he has in about a month. Bottom line - he isn't putting the points on the board at this level yet, and he needs to start to. Svendsen is okay, but probably not the guy for these two, really. With Bailey gone, Rakhshani looks lost. And he only worked well with Bailey at this level, something to keep in mind. Yes, he's the team's leading scorer, but he continues to unimpress.

Haley-Marcinko-Figren - play okay together, but no great shakes - none of these guys is ready, really, and may never be - perhaps switch this one around? They were switching around lines in the first period, would like to see more of that - this team isn't getting enough goals and needs to see if it can find something among different combinations.

DiBenedetto - Romano - Labelle - decent line for this level - DiBenedetto is one to watch - Labelle makes nice hits

Friesen - Leisenring - Bourbeau - had some energy, a decent 4th line for an AHL team - Friesen works better as Wotton's partner, but while they have too many D, this is an okay spot for him or Motherwell as needed - Leisenring is an okay 4th liner AHL level and that's it, as is Bourbeau

So that's the latest from Fairfield County. Great value this year in Bridgeport - and more to come.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Game #36: Third Take on this year's Sound Tigers - January 2, 2011

okay, first game of the new year, and disappointing not to get a chance to see Ty Wishart in action, as he was given the day off, which made sense - why rush him until he's fully acquainted when it's not necessary, but kind of what I was hoping for - oh well

probably at least 5-10 games here in the AHL, unless the Islanders develop a sudden need, or he shows a lot in a hurry - and then he gets a chance up top - perhaps on the next home stand, but once he does play it will be interesting to get a read

for now, it was a first chance to see a Sound Tiger game without a clear top prospect like Poulin, Hamonic or Bailey - and that's what we had - a game where no one stood out - it also struck me as a game that could go down as one that didn't feature a single player with an NHL future (except for Poulin who was a DNP)

Player by player breakdown as follows

Mikko Koskinen - second chance to see him play, he's solid but unspectacular - that was my first take earlier this year in the post below, and remains the case. He is perhaps the clear #5 keeper in the system (after DiPietro, Poulin, Lawson, Nilsson - and not necessarily in that order).

Nilsson is the wildcard here - assuming Nilsson is not in the picture next year, Koskinen should get most of the games in Bridgeport and then we can see what we have or not.

If Nilsson is the goods, Koskinen could be used as trade bait if the right package was required.

A future tandem of Poulin and Nilsson has potential - Koskinen is potential useful at some point, in some capacity, but it will take time.

Rhett Rakhshani - looked a heck of a lot like a college player used to a shorter schedule who has hit a bit of a wall - Rhett hasn't played a full major league schedule before, and it is starting to show - he seems to have lost half a step (or was he playing hurt) - in fact, the "top" line of DiBo, Colliton, Rakshani was the weakest of the 4 on this night - not encouraging

Expect Rhett to finish the season in Bridgeport learning what it means to play a full schedule - he may get some games up top just to see how he fits in, perhaps in February or March - he looked like someone who for now, could use some time off

David Ullstrom - having seen him for the third time, he still doesn't make much of an impression in general, by & large - the interview in the free paper they hand out says he's looking to have a consistent season - and its also his first full North American professional season as well - methinks the organization is looking for a bit more scoring and he needs to show that to get a chance up top next year or he'll be back as a Sound Tiger

The Six Defenseman - what was perhaps most interesting was how the three pairings actually looked fairly solid - Friesen/Wotton play well together and is a solid unit, hoping they keep Friesen around, he has a bit of moxie to his game and Wotton is the consumate professional - O'Neill/Klementyev are solid as well, O'Neill didn't quite have the spark he had last time, which makes one think he might be the odd man, which would be too bad - hope they at least bring him back for another PTO, as he's been one of the better players of late - Klementyev look like he broke his nose in the third period - he may be the odd man out on Wednesday for Wishart as a result - Katic/Motherwell was a very solid pairing - Motherwell was much better than the first game I saw, he was one of the better Sound Tigers this afternoon, but with Klementyev going down, the team was down to 5 defenseman for the last few minutes, and they were all running on fumes

In general, a solid group for this level, but not sure any of these 6 will play another game in the NHL

The Fourth Line - was probably the best line - full of energy, like how these guys are coming together. In fact, all four lines had good energy and cohesion (though as mentioned, the top line wasn't quite clicking on all cylinders) - Romano & Labelle are not bad players - Bourbeau is a 4th liner at this level at best

Haley/Marcinko/Figren - Haley got the goal, which was nice - they were also on the ice for the game winner and were sleep walking at the time, but mostly played a solid, energetic game as a unit - but like the 4th line and the 6 defensemen, none seem likely to ever play a game in the NHL from here on in - same can be said for Hisey & Svendsen & DiBenedetto for that matter - all have talent, but need to show more to ever have a chance above.

Jeremy Colliton - is probably the closest to an NHL ready forward on the team - and that says a lot

As I said, this group, Poulin aside, may not have that much if anything to offer above, but we'll see.

Onwards and upwards...