If the New York Islanders have any strength in the system it’s on the blue line. While they have no clear bluechip prospect in the pipeline, they have a ton of talent that could make it to the NHL level.
Helping those talented youngsters is an AHL program that can clearly churn out NHL caliber defensemen. Over the last few years, the Sound Tigers have pumped out: Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock, Scott Mayfield, and Devon Toews.
So looking at the players in the system on the blueline, here’s a top ten.
New York Islanders defensive depth is the strength of their system
As the title suggests, this isn’t about ranking the guys already in the NHL. So this doest’ count the top six as we know it:
This is about figuring out who’s next in line, as well as the next man after him, and then, how far out are they from the NHL?
1. Sebastian Aho | 2017 5th round pick
On another team, he’s already consistently playing in the NHL. The fifth-round pick from 2017 is the Isles seventh d-man. If not for Noah Dobson still learning the ropes Barry Trotz might have more faith in having Aho in the lineup today.
Just one look at the structure of his contract will tell you the Islanders think should be in the lineup consistently next season. Aho is paid $275,000 at the AHL level this year and $750,000 next.
2. Robin Salo | 2017 2nd round pick
He’s one of the top defensemen in the SHL right now. The 22-year-old plays big minutes and scores a bunch of points for Orebro. He ranks eighth for defensemen in average time on ice with 21:39 and seventh for point with 25.
Salo has been consistently playing at the pro level for years now. Guys like Bolduc and Wilde are taking their first steps in the pro ranks, but Salo is already playing top minutes in one of the top league in the world. There’s no doubt that when Salo gets to North America he will be playing top minutes for the Sound Tigers.
3. Samuel Bolduc | 2019 2nd round pick
Two games into his pro career, Samuel Bolduc uses that big shot of his to notch his first pro goal.
The Islanders like him a lot. And for good reason. He’s a big body who skates very well. Not only for his size. He’s a good skater compared to most blue liners. He just also happens to be 6’4″ and 200+ lbs.
He still has a thing or two to learn but he’s got a good d-man coach in Brent Thompson. He won’t be in the AHL long.
4. Grant Hutton | Undrafted
He had a good year last year in his first season as a pro with the Sound Tigers. So good that the Islanders had him in their second camp leading to the qualifiers and playoffs. He didn’t make the final cut to travel to the bubble, but he was one of only eleven defensemen called up.
5. Bode Wilde | 2018 second-round pick
His ceiling is higher than Hutton’s, I think, but the fact that he didn’t start the Sound Tigers opening game and his “not-that-great” start in Bridgeport’s second game pushes him down a spot for me.
I have no doubt that he’ll grow into an NHL’er sonnish but he’s clearly a step below some of these other players on the Islanders depth chart, for now. That could very well change if Wilde can take charge a bit more at the AHL level.
6. Mitchell Vande Sompel | 2015 third-round pick
He’s playing top minutes for Bridgeport but I don’t see him factoring at the NHL level at any point soon. Maybe if he has a good season in the AHL he can be traded as part of a cap clearing move.
7. Parker Wotherspoon | 2015 fourth-round pick
Wotherspoon had another solid year at the AHL level in 19-20 with 27 points in 62 games. Much like Vande Sompel, I have no expectations he’ll make the NHL. It’s not that Wotherspoon or even Vande Sompel are poor players, but the Islanders depth on the blueline is that good.
8. Ben Mirageas | 2017 third-round pick
Ben Mirageas is having a solid year for Providence with nine points in 18 games. He’s not the biggest guy (6’1″, 174lbs), but he’s a solid presence on the blueline with some offensive upside. Mirageas is in his senior year, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Isles sign him to play at the AHL level next year.
9. Christian Krygier | 2018 seventh-round pick
His production won’t impress you. With three points in 18 games for Michigan State, Krygier will likely finish with a career year. His previous high was three points in 19-20. But Krygier is a good shutdown guy.
10. Matias Rajaniemi | 2020 sixth-round pick
Rajaniemi is an important piece for his Liiga side. The 6’4″ blueliner is playing big minutes with an average of 17:46 in the month of February for the Lahti Pelicans.
There’s a lot to like in his game. His size, skating abilities, and his shot. He’s only turned 18 on September 11 so he’s a young man still, but the Islanders are certainly happy with the way things are going for their sixth-rounder for the most recent draft.