Sound Tigers' talent could bring bright future for Isles.
The Islanders picking up goaltender Jaroslav Halak and forwards Mikail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin in free agency have been their biggest moves thus far, but they have also made other important signings that should not be overlooked.
The Isles currently have the fifth youngest roster in the NHL with an average age of 27.751, and saw many young players from the AHL step up in a big way last season when injuries began to plague the team. Players like Ryan Strome, Calvin de Haan, Anders Lee, Johan Sundstrom, Scott Mayfield, Mike Halmo, Brett Galant and even Justin Johnson found themselves in the Islanders lineup late in the season and were given the chance to showcase their talents at the NHL level.
While some of these players were simply brought up on an emergency basis, players like de Haan, Strome and Lee showed that they had the skill set to stay up in the NHL on a full time basis. Calvin de Haan, 23, ended up playing 51 games and scored 16 points on the blue line for the Isles after being called up early on in the season from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Strome, 21, who since he was drafted was expected to be a big help to John Tavares when he was mature enough to be called up, spent 37 games with the NHL club and scored seven goals. Even Lee, 24, who was up briefly for the Islanders two seasons ago, was able to score nine goals in 22 games in his stint with the Islanders this season.
If the Islanders want more de Haan’s, Strome’s and Lee’s in their future, they will need to secure their young talent if they see they have potential in them, and that is exactly what they have done this offseason. The Islanders were quick to sign de Haan to a three year NHL contract at nearly $2 million per year, and also posted a qualifying offer to Lee. They also inked 23 year-old Casey Cizikas to two year, $2 million deal after scoring 16 points in his first full NHL season, proving they liked what they saw out of these three players and want to see them continue to grow and produce in their system.
The Isles also put out qualifying offers to Matt Donavan and Brett Gallant. Donavan, 24, was another defenseman call-up from the Sound Tigers this season that proved very beneficial in helping New York’s poor blue line play. While Gallant, 25, spent four games with the Islanders, but served as an assistant captain with the Sound Tigers and played on the fourth line as an enforcer, someone the Islanders could turn to as a fourth line player next season in the NHL that could provide some toughness if needed.
Signing and putting qualifying offers out to all of these players, Strome having one year left on his entry level deal and the acquisitions of Halak, Grabovski and Kulemin could give the Islanders everything they need to make this a turnaround season for the organization. The lockout shortened season and playoff appearance was a step in the right direction, but they took two steps back this year missing the playoffs due to a multitude of injuries due to key players like Tavares.
With so much young talent currently NHL ready, and players like Sundstrom, Gallant and Halmo getting some excellent NHL experience last season, the Islanders and their youthful group could surprise plenty of people going forward. While picking up a good goalie in Halak and veterans like Grabovski and Kulemin were important, it will be the deals they made with de Haan, Cizikas and other youngsters that could prove to be their most important.