The puck-lovers of Brooklyn received some happy news today, as the New York Islanders announced they will relocate from their home in Nassau County to the brand-new Barclays Center in time to start the 2015-16 season. Even better news for Brooklynites? The Islanders team that takes the ice that season could be pretty darn good.
The long-suffering fans on Long Island are all too familiar with the franchise’s hit-and-miss (mostly miss) team-building efforts: A 15-year contract for a goalie -- Rick DiPietro -- who has averaged just 29 games a season since signing it, and enduring payments to Alexei Yashin (currently in the KHL) serve as the likeliest lowlights. But a plethora of seasons spent at the bottom of the NHL standings have yielded a few strong draft crops that should start to blossom about the time the Isles hit Brooklyn -- if not sooner. Depending on how prospects progress, the lineup in 2015-16 could be downright formidable.
Yes, the eternally-inked DiPietro will still be under contract when the relocation rolls around -- and for six seasons afterward -- but if you’re banking on significant contributions from the oft-injured netminder, well, there’s a nearby bridge for sale. Still, the Islanders have five skaters already under contract for the 2015-16 season, headlined by franchise center John Tavares who will have just turned 25. Pending future transactions, he’ll be joined by former 34-goal scorer and Calder Trophy finalist Michael Grabner, Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin. Promising young defensemen Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald should also remain under Isles control when the moving vans come to the Coliseum. Ditto for former top-five pick Nino Niederreiter, who still has the potential to put a (highly) forgettable 2011-12 campaign behind him (1 goal in 55 games).
But the best may be yet to come.
ESPN Insider’s Grant Sonier, a former NHL scout with over 13 years of talent evaluation under his belt, recently sized up his top 20 prospects outside of the NHL (Insider) and the Isles placed a pair in the top 10.
Here’s a taste of his analysis:
No. 7 -- D Griffin Reinhart
“The old saying that "you can't teach size" is true … and when "size" like Reinhart's 6-foot-4 frame can skate and see the ice the way this Canadian-born D-man can, there is much to be excited about on Long Island. Reinhart might have as much upside as any prospect on this list, but I feel he will take a little more time to get grounded in the NHL.”
Well, time is something the good people of Brooklyn have on their side. By the 2015-16 season, Reinhart will be of legal drinking age and, potentially, ready to join Hamonic, MacDonald and perhaps Calvin de Haan (recovery from injury pending) in the Top-4 for the Isles’ blue line.
No. 9 -- C Ryan Strome
“At the recent Canada-Russia exhibition, paying tribute to the 1972 Summit Series, Strome shined when the cards were on the table. He is not exempt from having to consistently work hard, but when he does, the results are clear. He's a smart puck-moving centerman, but patience will be important as he might need extra time to develop physically. I believe he will be better with better players.”
The Isles nabbed Strome at the 2011 draft. A day before the pick, TSN analyst and former GM Craig Button raved to me about Strome’s upside, particularly his hockey sense. If he plays to his potential -- and injuries muted his 2011-12 season in the OHL a bit -- Strome and Tavares could form a very potent 1-2 punch down the middle of the ice by 2015-16.
And those are just the team’s top two prospects. Others -- like Brock Nelson, Kirills Kabanov and Petrov, and D-men Ville Pokka and Scott Mayfield -- help give the Islanders the No. 2-rated prospect pipeline according to Hockey Prospectus.
Looking at the potential roster the Isles should boast to start the 2015-16 season, it sure seems as though all of the team’s long-term building may finally bear fruit in Brooklyn.