Across the Pond: Islander Prospects Playing in Europe


Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Islanders have a number of prospects not currently plying their trade in the farm system, having instead made the decision to travel a different route to a career in hockey. Some originated in Europe, others grew up in the North American game, but all have found alternatives to the NHL.

Sometimes lost in the shuffle are some of the second tier of prospects. They’re not the “name brand” guys – Ryan Strome, Griffin Reinhart, Ryan Pulock – but many are still potentially valuable players. Some of these Islander prospects playing in Europe tend to fall out of the public eye here in North America, with no day-to-day coverage of their play and performances.

There has been some occasional confusion over the eligibility of players in professional leagues other than the NHL, and whether or not they can be “called up”, so to speak. The thing to remember with such players is that, unlike those in an NHL team’s developmental system, in almost all cases they are under contract with another professional hockey league. While not in direct competition with the NHL, these are nonetheless the top tier of professional hockey in their respective nations.

But the Isles drafted these guys, right? Don’t they retain some rights to their draft picks, regardless of where they play? To some extent, yes they do, even though their contracts with the Islanders have expired. However they are playing under professional contracts and as such aren’t immediately available to the Isles.

Prior to 2005 the NHL team that drafted a European-born player retained his rights for five years, instead of the two years for North American-born players. Since then the two year rule applies across the board. Undrafted North American players over the age of 20 automatically become unrestricted free agents, or UFAs. All Europeans must be drafted before being signed, regardless of age.

Once a drafted player is signed to an NHL entry level contract his rights become the property of that team. Even once the contract expires the team retains some measure of control over his career. When his contract is up the player becomes a restricted free agent, or RFA. Of the following list of players the Isles only own the rights to three outright. The rest are RFAs who could return to the NHL but the Isles would have the right to match the offer of any other NHL team. Any team successfully signing an RFA most often has to send compensation in the form of draft picks to the player’s original team. In short, the Isles ultimately have the final say on where their returning players end up playing.

RFAs who aren’t signed to an NHL contract by December 1 are ineligible to play for the remainder of that season. So while all of the RFAs listed below are already under contract with their respective European league teams, even if they were not they would now be ineligible to play in the NHL for the remainder of the 2013-14 season.

This could potentially become a point of contention for a player unhappy with his team, and for a team unwilling to release a valuable asset for free. Playing in Europe creates a sort of buffer, giving such players a chance to play professional hockey without violating their contract status, and allowing the NHL team to retain their NHL rights while the player continues to play and develop. Players remain RFAs until they either have seven years of NHL service or turn 27 years old. At this point they become UFAs and are free to sign contracts with any NHL team they choose, with no compensation due their former team.

Often a player is drafted by an NHL team, works his way through the minors for a few years, then seemingly disappears. Sometimes players on the fringe, struggling in their team’s system and with no immediate future in the NHL, will opt for one of the European professional leagues. Whether or not he’s from the other side of the pond, many a player has found opportunity overseas, particularly with the emergence of the Kontinental Hockey League.

Here, then, is a brief look at the top nine prospects drafted by the Isles over the last nine years currently playing in European leagues. Also shown is their draft year and draft position. Restricted free agents are denoted with an RFA:

1) Kirill Kabanov, F (2010, 3/65)

Kabanov has struggled with the mental aspects of his game since finishing up a respectable stint in Junior with Shawinigan of the QMJHL. He posted mediocre numbers in parts of two seasons with Bridgeport. He recorded eight points in nine games in the ECHL before being loaned to Modo of the Swedish Elite League in January.

2) Kirill Petrov, F (2008, 3/73)

The talented Russian right winger has yet to venture to North America. He is currently playing for Kazan Ak-Bars in the KHL.

3) Ville Pokka, D (2012, 2/34)

One of the Isles’ brightest defensive prospects – which, considering their stockpile of blueline blue-chippers, is saying a lot. Pokka is on the small side by NHL standards, but boasts huge potential. He has represented Finland at the World Junior Championships the past three years, including their gold medal win in 2013-14.

4) Mark Katic, D (2007, 3/62) RFA

On the small side for an NHL defenseman and somewhat injury prone, Katic missed almost all of the 2011-12 season. He played in Germany last season and is currently playing for Zagreb Medvescak of the KHL.

5) David Ullstrom, F (2008, 4/102) RFA

The tall and lanky Swedish born center is a natural scorer, but is somewhat defensively suspect. Ullstrom recorded 13 points in 49 NHL games over two seasons. He declined a contract extension in favor of the KHL. Spent 18 games with Yaroslavl, and has since moved to the Prague Lev club.

6) Mikko Koskinen, G (2009, 2/31) RFA

Large and talented, Finland’s Koskinen was a starting goaltender in this year’s KHL all-star game. He declined a contract renewal offer after 2012, opting instead to return to Europe. He played for Espoo in the Finnish Elite League in 2012-13, then moved to the KHL in 2013-14.

7) Justin DiBenedetto, F (2008, 6/175) RFA

An explosive scorer in Junior, in 2007-08 DiBenedetto finished second to Steven Stamkos in scoring in Sarnia of the OHL. Since his Junior days he has struggled to rediscover his explosive offensive game. He passed on the Isles qualifying offer in 2012, and moved to try his luck in the Finnish Elite League.

8) Tomas Marcinko, F (2006, 4/115) RFA

Slovakian born Marcinko is a wide body and an exceedingly talented winger. While he lacks that sniper’s finish he also has strong defensive instincts. Marcinko played four seasons in Bridgeport, finally starting to put the pieces of the puzzle together in 2011-12. He rejected a qualifying offer in 2012, opting instead for Modo in the Swedish Elite League.

9) Rhett Rakhshani, F (2006, 4/100) RFA

On the small side by NHL standards, Rakhashani is a quick skater with good hands. He cracked the 20-goal plateau twice with Bridgeport in the AHL. He appeared in seven NHL games between 2010 and 2012, recording no points and 2 PIMs. He declined qualifying offer in 2012, went to play for HV71, and is now playing for Vaxjo, both in the Swedish Elite League.

– JP (Joe_SoWhatElse)