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NYI: Center's-a-Plenty

Posted 9:35 AM ET | Comments 3
New York Islanders Net

Do you recall about two to three years ago when a simple look at the Islanders prospects would bring about a nauseating feeling? Between lack of depth and lack of quality, the Islanders were truly a team without any hope to compete in the future. After his first two seasons as general manager were quite unsuccessful, Garth Snow decided that it was time for the New York Islanders to do it right, and that it was time for them to begin building from within. With the constant struggle of luring premium talent to a run-down facility and a team that has long struggled to be competitive, this was the only proper way to go about running the organization properly.

If we are to look at the Islanders prospect pool today, there is a calmer feeling than there was three years. I am not saying that the overall feeling is that great, considering the Islanders prospect pool is still on the weaker side, however, a sense of calmness is there, as the Islanders are finally doing it right.

An article that I wrote last week delved into the Islanders massive depth that they currently have in net, and Garth Snow’s ideology of building from the net out. Today, I take a look at the depth that the Islanders have accumulated in the center position. Long considered to be a tremendous weak spot for the organization, the Islanders now have a tremendous amount of highly skilled depth down the middle.

New York Islander’s Net Depth Chart at Center (Top 12):

1. Doug Weight

2. John Tavares

3. Joshua Bailey

4. Frans Nielsen

5. Richard Park (although a right wing as well)

6. Trevor Smith

7. Corey Trivino

8. Justin DiBenedetto

9. David Ullstrom

10. Casey Cizikas

11. David Toews

12. Anders Lee

Obviously, players listed in the slots numbered one through five will be appearing with the New York Islanders in the upcoming season. As has been discussed tremendously, John Tavares may be placed in a wing position to begin his NHL career as he learns about the responsibilities that entail being a first-line center in the NHL.

As you can see, the Islanders have great depth at the center position. While it is not considered to be the best depth at center in the NHL by any means, it still presents itself as a top-10 to top-15 center depth in the NHL. Let us take a quick look at the players listed in slots six through twelve, and I will provide a quick excerpt on what their talent will allow them to accomplish.

Trevor Smith: An undrafted player that was signed out of the Univeristy of New Hampshire, Smith has demonstrated that his not being drafted was unjust. Known to very tenacious on the puck and a quick skater, Smith has excited the Islanders scouts tremendously, and it is shaping up to be a very nice signing. Last year in the AHL, Smith posted great numbers, and he was even able to make his NHL debut with the Islanders.

What to Expect: Considering his late entrance into the NHL, Smith is taking his time in developing into a solid professional hockey player. It will at least take one more year in the AHL before Smith will even be able to compete for a roster spot in the NHL. His upside in the NHL will be nothing more than a third-line center, and he will be hard pressed to hold down that position with the talent the Islanders have in the system. Although he is ranked at number six, it is mostly because he is the furthest along in his development, and he would be the next person to make the jump into the NHL.

Corey Trivino: A small, but extremely quick and talented player, Trivino played last season for Boston University and had a fairly decent year on a pretty good team. Drafted in the second round by the New York Islanders in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Trivino was a nice pick-up by the Islanders considering many felt he had first round talent. The reason he fell into the second-round were because of concerns with his size.

What to Expect: Trivino possesses a lot of talent, skill, and speed. What he doesn’t posses is size. Before he can make the jump into the professional ranks, Trivino is going to need to put on a pretty fair amount of muscle so that he can withstand the physical abuse he will take during the games. If he is able to do this, you may see Trivino sign a contract in time for the 2010-2011 season, unless he wants to complete four years at school. He has the potential to be a good second-line center in the NHL, and time will tell if he can fill out that potential.

Justin DiBenedetto: Talk about the ultimate wild card. In the 2007-2008 season, his draft year, DiBenedetto skyrocketed to the top ten in the OHL in scoring, which was mostly attributed by scouts as a product of his linemate, Steven Stamkos. Last year, when everyone began to doubt his abilities, DiBenedetto shined once again, leading Sarnia in scoring and finishing again in the top-echelon in scoring in the OHL without the help of Stamkos. Drafted in the sixth round by the New York Islanders, little was expected of DiBenedetto, but he has proven all critics wrong thus far.

What to Expect: After finishing out last year in the AHL with the Sound Tigers, and getting a taste of what it is like to be a part of a professional hockey system, you can expect a competitive spirit like DiBenedetto to come to camp prepared for the challenge. He should easily be at top-six forward for the Sound Tigers next year, and it is even expected that should injuries occur, you could see DiBenedetto make his NHL debut. It is hard to predict where he will finish considering his “wildcard” status, and how he has proven so many wrong, but judging by his numbers in recent years, it is safe to say he has the talent to be a top-six forward in the NHL. Do not take my word on this one, as even professional scouts and talent analysts are having trouble understanding where DiBenedetto will wind up! He could prove to be a late-round gem.

David Ullstrom: Drafted in the 4th Round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, the Islanders may have found another great pick in a later round. Ullstrom is of quite large stature, measuring in at 6 foot 3. What intrigues the Islanders scouts even more is the fact that not only is he big and strong, but he is also an excellent skater with a great top speed.

Defensively is where Ullstrom is still on a major learning curve. He struggles a little bit on his backcheck, and his decisions in the defensive zone are somewhat obscure, however, he is working on that. After a very impressive World Junior tournament, Ullstrom had the Islanders very excited. It will be a very important year for his development in the Swedish Elite League.

What to Expect: Ullstrom is a very, very talented player with a lot of upside. He is quick, smart, tactical, and very shifty, much like many of the other Swedish players who play in the National Hockey League. He will be playing one more year in Sweden, hopefully in the Swedish Elite League, and he will be competing for a spot on the Swedish team at the World Junior Championships, which should be his barring injury. Ullstrom has the ability to develop into a second line center in the National Hockey League, as his offensive skills are quite impressive. It will be reliant upon his defensive development if he is to make it to the NHL, and whether or not he can be a center in the NHL.

Casey Cizikas: Please, for the time being, forget about his off ice incident. It was something that happened in the past, and he is trying to get over it as much as possible. It should not be something that allows our vision to become skewed. Cizikas is really a very promising prospect in the Islanders system. With a great mix of hands, speed, vision, and talent, Cizikas simply fell as far as he did in this past year’s draft because of his off-ice issues, and the fact people were waiting to see how his court case played out. According to some scouts, Cizikas was able to be an early-second round talent because of his skill and size, and he could very well play out to be a great pick up.

What to Expect: Cizikas is a determined player who wants to prove that he is also a good guy. As for maturity, the incident he has experienced has definitely expedited his maturation. He has potential to be a great player, and he has the skill to do as well. This upcoming year in the OHL will tell us a lot about the kind of player he is, and whether or not he will be ready to make the jump. I would expect him to finish out this year in the OHL, and possibly go back next year for one final year before the Islanders decide whether or not to sign him. He has the potential to be a solid third-line center, with second-line potential, but time will tell how well that progresses. His determination can only help his cause.

David Toews: Drafted in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Toews is a good player with a solid work ethic. While his brother definitely takes the limelight off of him, Toews has quietly and slowly walked in the footsteps of his brother. After playing and dominating for Shattuck St. Mary’s, Toews has moved onto the University of North Dakota. The depth at his college has allowed his coach to take his time in developing his players, and this will not be any different for Toews. David appeared in about half the games for North Dakota this year, and he played fairly well.

What to Expect: I wouldn’t expect to see Toews leave college early for professional hockey, but that all depends on how everything unfolds. He has the potential to be a solid third-liner, but if he doesn’t live up to his billing, he could find himself stuck as a fourth-liner or in the AHL as a call-up.

Anders Lee: A very big and strong player, Anders Lee has always stood out on the ice for his size. Gifted as a center in hockey, and as a quarterback in football, Lee is a very athletic person who not only excels in both of his sports, but in the classroom as well. After reading several articles I received from several of his friends, I believe that Lee does have great potential. Apparently, he has made up his mind, and he will be following his career dream in hockey. This works out well for the Islanders, who only had to give up a sixth round pick to grab the very big and fast centermen. Gifted with lower-round talent, Lee only fell this far because of his indecisiveness between hockey and football. Furthermore, the Islanders were considering taking Lee in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, but opted to pass due to his uncertainty. Now that it is certain, it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

What to Expect: I must admit that I have not seen any of Lee’s games, and I only have a little to go by. Apparently, Islander scouts are very high on the kid, and he has a tremendous amount of potential because of his size and strength. The fact that he chose hockey over football is a good start, and I will be interested to see how it plays out. The fact that several people from his hometown sent me emails advocating the player himself tells me a lot about his character and his popularity among his peers.

As you can see, the Islanders have quite the plethora of centermen. With John Tavares and Joshua Bailey being listed as the only ones with top-line potential, there will be a lot of fighting going on to fill out the rest of the center positions in the future. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out, but healthy competition like this can only be good for the team. The depth also provides the Islanders with a fair amount of security in the long run for second, third, and the fourth line center positions.

Now that Snow has the center position looking fairly well, it is time for his to begin looking elsewhere!

Please let me know what you think about the list, and whether or not you agree or disagree. All comments and questions can be left in the comments section below, you can email me at [email][email protected][/email] .

Take Care,
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