The offseason is fully upon us. With the opening of free agency on July 1 a month past, the mayhem and excitement of signings and trades has quieted. This summer the New York Islanders haven’t made many waves. The team’s only moves have been to re-sign key free agents and pick up goaltenders. There are still several spots to fill on the roster and even more prospects with high potential waiting for the call.
The Islanders only have one gaping hole in the roster – third-line center – as it currently stands, but several offensive positions are also in a state of flux. The team has yet to re-sign RFAs Anthony Beauvillier and Michael Dal Colle, which leaves two potential wing positions open. As well, Cal Clutterbuck and Andrew Ladd’s long-term injuries open up further potential for vacant positions.
While the team can continue to browse the free agency market, GM Lou Lamoriello is considering the franchise’s prospects. In particular, he told the media on July 1 that the college prospects are highly thought of within the organization. While Tanner Fritz, Josh Ho-Sang, and Travis St. Denis are among the top prospects most ready to join the NHL, the Islanders also have even younger prospects who still need more work but could be ready for the call-up soon.
Kieffer Bellows, for example, is an expressive young player who brings energy to the ice. Drafted 19th overall in 2016, he’s had ample time to improve his game and made headlines with Team USA in three World Junior Championships. A fast skater and strong forechecker, his slapshot is accurate, though not the fastest. Bellows relies on a good screen for the goal. He does, however, know how to follow his shot to the net for a rebound. Bellows has excellent hockey sense and more often creates rather than finishes plays, leading to 19 points (12 goals, 7 assists) in 73 games last season. With his -20 rating, the 21-year-old still has a lot to learn, but his ability to create space on the ice would serve the Islanders well in the third-line vacancy.
Another prospect drafted in 2016 who is highly anticipated by fans is Otto Koivula. A fourth-round pick from Finland, Koivula played his first season in North America this year. In his Bridgeport Sound Tigers exit interview, he told the media he greatly enjoyed the North American game but felt he had more to learn before he would be NHL-ready. His numbers – 46 points (21 goals, 25 assists) in 69 games – sound almost as good as his skillful skating and wrist shot looked throughout the season. Though a smaller player, he puts in good work around the net and has incredible stick-handling skills. Given he is still new to the North American game, he could use another season in Bridgeport to improve his speed and strength before he is fully ready for the major league.
Fresh out of Boston College, Oliver Wahlstrom is another prospect who looks perfect for the Islanders but needs more AHL time to prepare. He finished his 36 college games with 8 goals and 11 assists, before signing an entry-level contract with the Islanders. Wahlstrom then played the last five games of the regular AHL season and the playoffs with the Sound Tigers, scoring 4 goals and 3 assists in 10 games. Wahlstrom’s best qualities include his tremendously clean stick-handling skills and his smooth, accurate wrist shot.
Though he is not the strongest skater, he is constantly looking toward the net and for a play at the net. It is far too soon to tell if he is ready for the NHL, but given his raw talent, it is not hard to picture Wahlstrom in the major league after a full season in Bridgeport.
Although these prospects are much younger with less refined skills, their talent alone excites fans. They are certainly not ready yet but could be later in the season. No matter what injuries the Islanders face in the coming season, there are prospects ready to step up and hold the line.
Featured Image: Hearst Newspapers