Graziano: Which Islanders Prospects Have Chance To Crack Lineup?

Andy Graziano
June 16, 2019 - 9:00 am

The St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins closed out the 2018-19 season on Wednesday evening with the conclusion of the Stanley Cup Final. Congratulations to the Blues and their fans on winning their first ever championship.

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The New Jersey Devils are now on the clock as the NHL entry draft is next up on the league’s annual calendar, scheduled for next Friday, June 21 in Vancouver. The New York Islanders will have the 23rd selection in the first round, but that will not be the focus. Instead, all eyes will be on team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello and his ability to wheel and deal for offensive help the club sorely needs.

If Lamoriello is unable to swing a deal using assets rumored to include defenseman Nick Leddy and Thomas Hickey, the importance of bringing back Anders Lee looms even larger. If they lose Lee (Jordan Eberle signed a five-year extension at $5.5 AAV), Artemi Panarin will be target number one, two and three for Lamoriello to chase in free agency. If he cannot convince the star winger to come to Long Island, the options drop off significantly after that.

With the impossibility of predicting trades and free agency, we are forced to look ahead to September’s training camp with what the Islanders currently have to work with. And what they have is a solid stable of prospects that could make the jump to the NHL sooner rather than later, keeping in mind Lamoriello often preaches patience when it comes to younger players.

Related: Islanders, Eberle Agree On 5-Year Deal

With that being said, let’s take a look back at the year some of those prospects had and what their chances might be to crack the big league roster (players listed are in no specific order).

Oliver Wahlstrom (Boston College, Bridgeport) - Wahlstrom did not have a good year in college, collecting 8-11-19 in 36 games, way below what was expected of someone with his pedigree. However, he shined in a late-season five-game tryout under Brent Thompson. 2-1-3 in his first pro experience might not wow many, but Thompson spoke glowingly of his play, on and off the puck and his famous quick release.

“Wahlstrom did some really good things out there,” Thompson said of the rookie’s pro debut. “You can see the offensive instincts. You can see the poise with the puck, the creativity. He’s obviously a guy who can shoot; I think he had four or five attempted shots, and one registered on net. For me, he was one of the positives of the game, came in, competed hard, won some wall battles and was pretty reliable, pretty strong on the puck. That’s a positive. We’ll build from there.”

Wahlstrom will challenge for a spot in camp, but will likely be better served with at least another half-year in Bridgeport.

Oliver Wahlstrom poses for a photo with team representatives after being selected as the number eleven overall pick to the New York Islanders in the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Kieffer Bellows (Bridgeport) - Bellows started out strong, then tailed off as the grind of his first full professional season took hold. He struggled to produce offensively, putting up an unsightly 12-7-19 in 73 games after tearing up the WHL with 41 goals in 56 games the season before. He did tally two goals in five playoff games and collected 101 penalty minutes, showing a penchant for getting involved. Thompson did like how his game off the puck improved, especially in the defensive end, and Bellows will look to build upon that in season two.

Make no mistake, this kid is a goal scorer and as long as he doesn’t suffer any confidence issues, the goals will come. Expect him to start in Bridgeport and maybe even get another full season under his belt before making his debut.

Otto Koivula (Bridgeport) - The most interesting and most talked about prospect as the second half of the season began was the 6-foot-4 Finn, who adjusted to the North American game more quickly than some had imagined. Thompson switched him to center, where the Islanders have a tremendous need, and his offensive game took off. Finishing the season with 21-25-46 in 69 games will only bolster the belief that he has a solid future in the NHL, likely as a second or third line center.

“I think he sees the ice very well, his hockey sense is good, and he’s adapting rather quickly to the North American style,” Thompson said in December upon making the position switch.

Expect Koivula to be one of the first on the list of call-ups when the Islanders come knocking. And they will.

Joshua Ho-Sang (Bridgeport) - You didn’t think we would make it through a column about prospects and not mention the mercurial Ho-Sang, did you? Didn’t think so.

Ho-Sang earned a call-up and played 10 games with the Islanders, showing terrific advanced stats but struggled to produce offensive numbers (1-1-2), likely due to the linemates he was playing with. What was evident was the Islanders ‘looked' to be a better team with him in the lineup, even though the defensive deficiencies were still apparent. Sent back down, he seemed to regress mentally and sounded off on how he has been treated by the organization.

I don’t think there is any question the Islanders qualify Ho-Sang to keep him, but believe that if a trade opportunity comes calling, he’s one of the first to go.

Arnaud Durandeau (Halifax, QMJHL) - Lamoriello finally got the 5-foot-11 winger signed a couple of weeks ago, and fans should be excited to see Durandeau suit up for Bridgeport in September. Want to see progression? He improved his goal total in the QMJHL each of his three-years with Halifax (15-20-38). Playoffs? How about 10-10-20 in 23 games. He could be the Islanders’ Xavier Laflamme.

Noah Dobson (Acadie/Rouyn, QMJHL) - Plays a steady two-way game, known for being more responsible defensively than electric offensively, which plays right into the style of head coach Barry Trotz. Will be a steady star on the Islanders' blueline for years to come, and his debut might come sooner rather than later. Had a terrific playoff season for Rouyn (8-21-29 in 20 games) and shined at the World Junior Championship with Team Canada.

If the Islanders do end up trading Leddy for offensive help, expect him to make the club out of camp and become an immediate contributor, ala Devon Toews.

Bode Wilde (Saginaw, OHL) - Upside. That is the best way to describe Wilde, who was passed up at the draft and ended up falling into the lap of the Islanders. HIs first season in the OHL was stellar as he put up 70 points in 62 games. ISS hockey describes Wilde as ‘2way D has size & strength, good offensive instincts & has a low hard shot’. As long as he doesn’t forget the defensive side of his game, he could crack the lineup within two years.

Follow Andy on Twitter at @AndyGraz_WFAN.