We are now fully into the second week of the suspension not only of the NHL season but what it seems like life as we normally know it and live it.
With no relief from the coronavirus pandemic in immediate sight, all we can do is look to the future of hockey and specifically the Islanders because there WILL be a future and the young players coming up in this organization promise to make the Isles competitive for a number of years to come.
Down on the Islanders “farm”, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the AHL posted a 22-33-5-2 record prior to the suspension of the season. While Bridgeport’s record doesn’t necessarily stand out as stellar, the primary purpose of both the AHL and the ECHL is player development – team records are of secondary importance to molding future Islanders who will play with the “big club” eventually.
That’s not to say that the Islanders don’t care about their affiliates as organizations; on the contrary, the Islanders spend millions of dollars each year to ensure that their affiliate teams in minor league hockey from the junior levels all the way up through the AHL are equipped, staffed and prepared to develop their entire player rosters.
As this current season is on an indefinite hiatus, it’s time to take stock and evaluate some of the key prospects who will pay dividends down the road for the Islanders and help this organization to the Stanley Cup playoffs, maybe as early as next season.
One of the top prospects currently in the Islanders development pipeline is left winger Kieffer Bellows. Bellows, a 6’1″, 195 lb. forward out of Edina, MN was selected by the Islanders in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft and the 19th pick overall.
Currently, Bellows is the leading goal scorer in Bridgeport with 22 goals and 9 assists and Bellows leads the Sound Tigers with 136 total shots on goal this season as well. Bellows came up for a brief visit earlier this season with the Islanders and in eight total games he recorded 2 goals and 1 assist on 11 shots and the 21-year-old Bellows looks to make a possible move to the Islanders during the next training camp if not the NHL doesn’t resume the current season.
Another aspiring Islander is fellow 21-year-old Felix Bibeau. Bibeau is a 6′, 187 lb. center and was a sixth-round pick for the Islanders last year. Bibeau has proven that the Islanders didn’t waste a draft pick on him as he’s truly developing in the Quebec junior leagues with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens this season.
Bibeau has posted in 63 games a total of 29 goals and 41 assists including 13 power-play goals in split time between Quebec and Chicoutimi and he looks to get promoted possibly to Bridgeport soon.
The Islanders are also well stocked with defensemen like Sebastian Aho who has already had some impact with the Islanders this season. Aho, a 24-year-old defenseman out of Umea, Sweden, came up earlier this year with the Islanders and in 22 games had one goal and three assists. While being sent back down to Bridgeport for more developmental playing time, in 49 games with the Sound Tigers Aho has recorded three goals and a team-leading 27 assists which make him not only a valuable blueliner but a defenseman who can help in scoring.
As a short history lesson, Aho was the first defenseman in Bridgeport team history to score three goals in one game (Nov 5, 2017, against Providence) and Aho has made numerous trips up to the Islanders and this 2017 NHL draft pick looks to stake a claim on making the Islanders roster permanently in the very near future.
One of the hallmarks of any successful NHL organization lies in the stability and strength of a team’s farm system. The Islanders have numerous players to call upon to step up and help them not only this season (if in fact the current season is resumed) or early next season.
The Islanders have talent waiting in the wings with their minor league affiliates and numerous players are ready to make the transition to claim their spots on the Isles bench in an NHL game coming soon.
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