Here’s a look at the Isles’ top prospects.
Kyle Okposo -- Okposo means ‘thunder storm’ in Nigerian, so perhaps the Lightning should have drafted him. But the Islanders grabbed him with the seventh-overall pick in 2006. Okposo isn't all that big at 6-feet, 190 pounds, but his attitude and broad shoulders make him seem bigger. On the ice, he definitely plays bigger ... and very well.
As a freshman at the University of Minnesota last season, Okposo finished second on his team with 19 goals and 40 points and was the seventh-leading freshman scorer in the NCAA. Okposo was named to the WCHA All-Rookie team and the All-WCHA second team, the only freshman picked to be on one of the top two conference teams. He was the top player in the USHL the previous season, making the First All-Star team, earning rookie of the year honors and being named the playoff MVP.
Okposo had one assist in seven WJC games last winter and is a strong candidate to play again for Team USA. Okposo will return to Minnesota for at least one more season.
"Kyle had a really good first year at the University of Minnesota," Islanders Assistant GM Ryan Jankowski said. "Kyle had a very strong start and played exceptionally well at the World Junior Championship. He went from being a high scorer at Shattuck-St. Mary’s to the USHL to a high scorer in college. Ted Nolan likes him a lot. He's strong with exceptional skills and he has a lot of drive and determination. We're looking for him to have a strong second season in college and for him to develop his leadership skills there. He'll represent the USA again at the World Juniors. This year will be another big step and we expect he'll take up where he left off and continue to progress."
Blake Comeau --This is how to define Comeau: In 253 Western Hockey League games with the Kelowna Rockets, Comeau had 60 goals and 117 assists for 177 points in 253 games and a plus-49 rating. He is neither a prolific scorer nor a liability. He's a player whose best aspects are the intangibles. He produced points as a junior, but at a rate of 0.7 points per game, good at the NHL level, but not so hot when you're trying to separate yourself from average players of your generation in Canadian juniors. On the other hand, that's a pretty impressive plus-minus ratio. His teams have won not because of his scoring, but rather they score consistently more than their opponents. Can you say Jay Pandolfo? Comeau went scoreless in three NHL games last year which is either typical of players getting "a cup of coffee" or a harbinger. More input: When he was out of the lineup with an ankle injury late in the season after his Bridgeport team had gotten on a roll, in part due to his contributions, the Sound Tigers went 8-7. An enigma wrapped in a riddle? No, Comeau is a good hockey player with an understanding of his defensive responsibilities who is likely to score at a lower level in the NHL than he has in junior and the AHL.
"Blake got off to a really good start last year in his first year as a professional at Bridgeport, then the grind of the pro game wore him down," Jankowski said. "He needs to be a little stronger, but he has very good skills and is very dangerous in the offensive zone. Blake has a lot of raw talent to add to his skills. What we love about him is that he has been a winner at every level. He went to the Memorial Cup three times with the Kelowna Rockets, winning once with two seconds. That's a lot of great experiences that will hopefully help him bring his winning ways to the New York Islanders."
Rhett Rakhshani -- On the ice, it's obvious that Rakhshani, listed at 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, is smaller than most players, but the University of Denver forward is an excellent skater and playmaker. He led the Pioneers with 25 assists as a freshman last season and posted 10 goals. Rakhshani led Denver with a plus-15 rating. He tied for fourth among WCHA freshman with 25 points in league games. Rakhshani was the MVP of the mid-season Denver Cup. He was voted top freshman and top scholar-athlete.
"I just saw Rhett last weekend at the USA evaluation camp for the World Junior team in Lake Placid," Jankowski said. "He combines a lot of things we like in a player. He has great puck ability and extremely good vision. Rhett handles the puck very well, even in tight situations. You can see his feistiness, skills and his love of hockey every time he goes out on the ice. We're happy with what he did as a freshman with the University of Denver and we're hoping he takes another step forward this year. He can get more involved and become more of a complete player. The icing on the cake would be if he makes the World Junior team and plays in an offensive role for Team USA. We want to see him succeed at a high level like that. That would cap his year."
Jeremy Colliton had 71 goals and 105 assists in 229 games over four seasons with the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL.
Jeremy Colliton -- In 229 games over four seasons with the Prince Albert Raiders (WHL), Colliton had 71 goals and 105 assists, was even on the plus-minus scale and had 227 penalty minutes. He's an agitating forechecker and a hard hitter. Colliton had 21 goals and 32 assists in 66 games as an AHL rookie with Bridgeport in 2005-06 and put up 10 goals and 12 assists in 45 games there last year before a season-ending shoulder injury.
"Jeremy gave us a hard-working, honest second year in Bridgeport before his injury ended his season," Jankowski said. "He needs to get stronger and get more power in his skating, but his leadership, character and dedication are what the New York Islanders are looking for. He's not far away from being an Islander full-time, but we want to be patient with him after the injury. Jeremy is the type of player you love to have because of those intangibles, character, leadership, determination. He has great hockey sense and overall ability to process the game. He has a bright future."
Frans Nielsen --Yet another top player from that hockey hotbed, Denmark. Say what? Nielsen became the first Dane to play in the NHL on Jan. 6 and the first Dane to score in the NHL on Feb. 24. Nielsen moved to Sweden to play when he was 17 and spent four years with the Malmo organization before switching for one season to Timra. He had 20 goals and 44 points in 54 games for Bridgeport last season, his first in North America. Nielsen was brought up to play in January and had a goal and an assist in 15 NHL games. He's a terrific passer who makes teammates better and he has an excellent feel for the game. The expectation is that he could center the Islanders' second line in the near future.
"Frans made a great adjustment to the American Hockey League and playing most of his career in Sweden and Denmark," Jankowski said. "Frans has a lot of the unteachables in his game. He does the little things very well and adds exceptional skating skills. He was a bright surprise for our organization last year. We thought it would take him longer to adjust to the pro game. We underestimated him as a hockey player a little bit. We're looking forward to him getting stronger and adding more power. He's not far away from becoming a full-time New York Islander."
Petteri Nokelainen -- Nokelainen was drafted with the 16th overall pick in 2004 as a defensive center with some offensive upside. After two seasons in the Finnish Elite League, he jumped directly to the Islanders in 2005. He was struggling with an ankle problem when he badly damaged his knee in November 2005. Nokelainen was sent to Bridgeport last season and posted six goals and 10 assists in 60 games while going minus-11. He appeared a step slow and that negatively affected his scoring, playmaking and defensive duties. The Islanders aren't ready to write off the 21-year-old because they've seen his commitment to getting back to full strength. His character is top shelf.
"Petteri had a good year after missing his 19-year-old season with a serious knee injury," Jankowski said. "That's as tough a year to miss as there is, a very important year development-wise. But Petteri has extremely high determination and that helped him get over the injury. We're very excited in our organization about his recovery and having him at the AHL level to continue to develop his game. He's not very far away from being a New York Islander because of his character and determination. This will be a very important year for us to get him back on track. I think this is going to be a breakthrough year for him at Bridgeport."