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.

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