For those who don't pay close attention to what's happening in the American Hockey League (AHL), Bridgeport, the New York Islanders AHL affiliate is having a tough season. Under first-year head coach Rick Kowalsky, the team has a 10-19-4-0 record and last in the Atlantic Division.
In some ways, the team struggling is not unexpected, having moved away from AHL veterans and toward dressing a younger roster to give more the organization's prospects more opportunity. High-profile prospects such as William Dufour (8G, 4A) and Matthew Maggio (4G, 4A) have eached battled injuries and struggled to find consistency until recently. Defenseman Robin Salo is having a nice rebound season as the team's highest-scoring defenseman with 5 goals and 13 assists.
However, it's the speedy and diminutive Ruslan Iskhakov, who has been able to carry over last year's breakout AHL season to more success this year. The 23-year-old is currently on an 11-game point streak (5G, 7A), the longest such streak in the AHL and on Wesnesday, was named an AHL All-Star for the second consecutive season.
“I’ve been definitely feeling more comfortable,” Iskhakov said via NewYorkIslanders.com in January. “I don't want to say I feel like a veteran because it's only my second year, but I just feel better. We have a young team, so I think we just got to find a way to win and just keep battling all the 60 minutes.”
The 2018 2nd-round pick leads Bridgeport in goals (12), assists (17), and points (29) in 33 games this season. He also has tallied four-game-winning goals, all of which came in O.T. tying an AHL single-season record for overtime goals with plenty of the season left to play.
He's speedy, he's flashly and he's been productive. The current state of the Islanders forward group doesn't provide an opportunity for Iskhakov to get a shot at playing in the NHL this season, and although concerns remain about how his game will translate to the next level, the growing confidence in his game and desire to have the puck on his stick is hard to ignore.