Phantoms Scouting Continues: Sound Tigers

sound tigers

The Loose Cannon is back at it, this time he’s looking at the AHL-affiliate of the New York Islanders:

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Last season, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers tied for last place in the 15-team Eastern Conference and, in fact, finished level with three other teams for the unenviable ‘honor’ of having the second-least amount of points in the entire 30-team American Hockey League. Things don’t appear as if they will be any brighter this season for last term’s Bully Boys from the Constitution State, who, with 1,726 penalty minutes, finished second only to Terry Murray’s undisciplined Lehigh Valley Phantoms (1,824 pen min) in terms of time spent in the sin bin. In short, it looks as if the Bridgeport Sound Tigers have not added enough new talent this off-season summer to make all that much of a difference in the standings.  

The New York Islanders seem to be all set with two-time Slovak Olympian Jaroslav Halak and German Olympic veteran Thomas Greiss as the two goaltenders on the NHL roster.
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Thus, it would appear that Kevin Poulin, the 5th round pick (# 126 overall) of the New York Islanders at the 2008 NHL Draft who has appeared in 50 NHL games (3.07 avg, .899 svpct) in his career to date, will be returning to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers for a sixth season at the AHL level. Only just recently, the 25-year-old was re-signed to a new two-way contract by the Islanders that will reportedly pay the former Quebec Major Junior Hockey League goaltender at the rate of $ 275,000 per year for AHL service, a bump up from the $ 175,000 salary that Poulin was pocketing while turning out for Bridgeport (45 ga, 2.87 avg, .912 svpct) last season. Altogether, Poulin has appeared in 156 AHL games (2.83 avg, .912 svpct) in his career but The Hockey News writes that the veteran Sound Tigers netminder “must work on his consistency, especially his penchant for letting in soft goals at the wrong time.”
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Bridgeport will be hoping that the form displayed last spring by Stephon Williams (5 ga, 2.12 avg, .936 svpct), the 22-year-old out of Minnesota State University who was the 4th round pick (# 106 overall) of the New York Islanders at the 2013 NHL Draft, was no flash in the pan. Should the Alaska native not measure up to snuff, the Sound Tigers will look for Parker Milner, the undrafted 24-year-old out of Boston College who spent most of last season in the East Coast Hockey League with the Quad City Mallards (43 ga, 2.28 avg, .920 svpct), to be the backup goaltender. Two seasons ago, Milner, a native of Pittsburgh, made 8 AHL appearances (2.95 avg, .904 svpct) for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers as a rookie professional. 
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Unless the club make some additional free agent signings, it appears as if the New York Islanders will keep the following seven defensemen on its NHL roster — Leddy, Boychuk, Harmonic, Hickey, de Haan, Strait and Ryan Pulock, the still 20-year-old who was the 1st round pick (# 15 overall) of the New York Islanders at the 2013 NHL Draft. 
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The loss of Pulock (6’1″ 220 lbs), who appeared in 54 AHL games (17 go, 29 pts, 6 pen min, – 6 def rat) and scored a baker’s dozen power play goals for Bridgeport as a rookie professional last season, would be a serious blow to the Sound Tigers. The New York Islanders already traded away 21-year-old defenseman Griffin Reinhart, the club’s 1st round pick (# 4 overall) at the 2012 NHL Draft who skated in 59 AHL games (7 go, 22 pts, 64 pen min, – 13 def rat) for Bridgeport as a rookie last season. And the Sound Tigers’ quarterback on the blue line last term (Aaron Ness) has been signed as a free agent by the division rival Hershey Bears so it appears as if Bridgeport’s defensive corps could be considerably weaker than the 2014/15 crew.
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The player who figures to be the most serious threat to Pulock’s roster position as the seventh defenseman with the Islanders is Scott Mayfield (6’5″ 220 lbs), the 22-year-old out of Denver University who was the 2nd round pick (# 34 overall) of the New York Islanders at the 2011 NHL Draft. The bruising Mayfield, who was one of the AHL’s more heavily penalized players with 173 minutes in 69 games (1 go, 14 pts, – 12 def rat) for Bridgeport last season, did skate in two Stanley Cup playoff games for the Islanders last spring. Mayfield will probably be the Sound Tigers’ anchor at the back this season. 
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Adam Pelech (6’3″ 220 lbs), the brainy and bulky 20-year-old who was the 3rd round pick (# 65 overall) of the New York Islanders at the 2012 NHL Draft, will return to Bridgeport after skating in 65 AHL games (0 go, 11 pts, 48 pen min, – 2 def rat) as a rookie pro last season. Kevin Czuczman (6’3″ 210 lbs), the undrafted 24-year-old out of Lake Superior State who skated in 13 NHL games (0 go, 2 pts, 14 pen min, – 5 def rat) for the New York Islanders after leaving school in the spring of 2014, will also be back with the Sound Tigers after appearing in 50 AHL games (1 go, 7 pts, 56 pen min, + 4 def rat) last term. Despite having the highest plus/minus rating out of all of Bridgeport’s defensemen last season, Czuczman was demoted to the East Coast Hockey League and appeared in all twelve of the Florida Everblades’ playoff contests.
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Bridgeport will be hoping that the back of highly experienced blueliner Matt Carkner (6’4″ 226 lbs) is in good working order. The imposing 34-year-old is a veteran of 237 NHL games (4 go, 27 pts, 556 pen min, – 12 def rat) as well as 546 AHL games (34 go, 141 pts, 1592 pen min, – 12 def rat) and would bring a great amount of leadership and stability to the Bridgeport defensive corps. Carkner, who appeared in just 19 games (2 go, 3 pts, 38 pen min, + 2 def rat), all with the Sound Tigers at the AHL level, just played out a three-year contract that paid a total of $ 4.5 million dollars but now has a new, two-year, two-way deal with the New York Islanders organization and will reportedly be operating in a player/assistant coach role for Bridgeport this season. 
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Jesse Graham (6’0″ 178 lbs), the 6th round pick (# 155 overall) of the New York Islanders at the 2012 NHL Draft, could be the player that the Sound Tigers are counting on to fill that ‘quarterback on the blue line’ role. The slenderish 21-year-old had decent offensive numbers for Bridgeport (39 ga, 3 go, 19 pts, 20 pen min, – 5 def rat) as a rookie last season but was ultimately demoted to the ECHL in late February. Graham, who is known to be rather speedy, was productive with the Florida Everblades in both the regular season (23 ga, 1 go, 14 pts, 10 pen min, + 7 def rat) and the playoffs (12 ga, 1 go, 6 pts, 6 pen min, + 4 def rat).
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None of the three defensemen Bridgeport are bringing in as free agents appeared in more than 28 games at the AHL level last season. Kane Lafranchise (6’1″ 196 lbs), the undrafted 27-year-old out of the University of Alaska – Anchorage, skated in 27 AHL games (2 go, 10 pts, 4 pen min, – 1 def rat) for the Utica Comets but also appeared in 24 ECHL games (0 go, 16 pts, 0 pen min, – 4 def rat) for the Kalamazoo Wings. C. J. Ludwig (5’11” 205 lbs), the undrafted 25-year-old out of Northern Michigan University, dressed in 28 AHL games (1 go, 5 pts, 59 pen min, – 5 def rat) for the Oklahoma City Barons but also turned out in 26 ECHL games (3 go, 14 pts, 21 pen min, – 8 def rat) for the Bakersfield Condors. 
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Bryce Aneloski (6’2″ 198 lbs), the 7th round pick (# 196 overall) of the Ottawa Senators at the 2010 NHL Draft, only skated in a combined 7 AHL games (1 go, 2 pts, 2 pen min, 0 def rat) for both the Providence Bruins and the Toronto Marlies last season; the 25-year-old out of the University of Nebraska – Omaha spent most of his time in the ECHL lacing up his skates for the Orlando Solar Bears (58 ga, 9 go, 27 pts, 37 pen min, + 8 def rat).
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Loic Leduc (6’7″ 220 lbs), the 4th round pick (# 103 overall) of the New York Islanders at the 2012 NHL Draft, spent his entire rookie professional campaign competing at the third-tier level. The towering 21-year-old divided his time between the Stockton Thunder and the Colorado Eagles, appearing in a combined 55 ECHL games (4 go, 7 pts, 95 pen min, – 14 def rat). With such a long reach and a willingness to play physical if necessary, Leduc will challenge for a roster spot with the Sound Tigers.
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The one incoming rookie defenseman is Kyle Burroughs (5’11” 188 lbs), the 7th round pick of the New York Islanders at the 2013 NHL Draft. The mobile, if somewhat underweight 20-year-old is said to be solid in his own zone and able to make smart decisions with the puck offensively, if not in possession of an overpowering slapshot. Two seasons ago, Burroughs did skate in 9 AHL games (0 go, 0 pts, 2 pen min, – 6 def rat) for Bridgeport at the conclusion of the 2013/14 schedule.  
At the moment, the New York Islanders have 13 forwards listed on their NHL roster posted at their official website — Tavares, Okposo, Nielsen, Nelson, Lee, Bailey, Kulemin, Strome, Grabovski, Cizikas, Clutterbuck, Martin, Grabner.
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The thing is that Brock Nelson, the 23-year-old center from the University of North Dakota who was the 1st round pick (# 30 overall) of the New York Islanders at the 2010 NHL Draft, is actually still unsigned. In his second full season as an NHLer, Nelson scored 20 goals in 82 regular season games for the Islanders before leading the bronze medal-winning United States squad at the 2015 IIHF World Championships in both goals and points. But Nelson rejected the Islanders qualifying offer in early July and has remained a restricted free agent ever since.
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Conventional wisdom is that Nelson will ultimately agree terms with the Islanders before the start of the new season but, if he does not, then New York would have at least one roster spot to fill; personally, I think that the Islanders will keep 14 forwards and, if the regular season started tomorrow, those players would probably be — Tavares, Okposo, Nielsen, Lee, Bailey, Kulemin, Strome, Grabovski, Cizikas, Clutterbuck, Martin, Grabner, Wright, Petrov.
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If Nelson does re-sign with the Islanders, that would mean that at least one of the fourteen forwards I listed would then be making the short journey to Connecticut. Given that scenario, the most likely candidate would seem to be center James Wright, the already well-traveled 24-year-old who has 146 NHL games (4 go, 12 pts, 64 pen min, – 19 def rat) for the Tampa Bay Lightning and Winnipeg Jets under his belt. Wright (6’4″ 200 lbs) spent all of last season skating in the crack Kontinental Hockey League for Croatian club Medvescak Zagreb (53 ga, 15 go, 19 pts, 39 pen min, – 2 def rat), where he was teammates with new Lehigh Valley Phantoms forward Aaron Palushaj.
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Another player who could be sent to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, though, is newly arrived Russian right wing Kirill Petrov (6’3″ 198 lbs), the 3rd round pick (# 73 overall) of the New York Islanders at the 2008 NHL Draft. The 25-year-old import had a disappointing campaign for Ak Bars Kazan (47 ga, 5 go, 15 pts, 41 pen min, + 8 def rat) in what the least productive of his five full seasons in the KHL. The past four years, Petrov has been on the fringe of Russia’s senior national team (23 ga, 2 go, 8 pts, 0 def rat) but, significantly, has not yet appeared at a major international event on behalf of Sbornaya — he may need some AHL time to assist with the adjustment process to the professional game as it is played here in North America.
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Bridgeport’s one ‘big-name’ minor league free agent signing is that of left wing Joe Whitney (5’6″ 170 lbs), the diminutive 27-year-old out of Boston College who again led the Albany Devils in scoring last season (66 ga, 23 go, 37 as, 60 pts, 64 pen min, – 3 def rat) while also notching his first career NHL goal in four games for the New Jersey Devils, as well. Whitney has been consistently racking up the points at the AHL level (278 ga, 86 go, 122 as, 208 pts, + 2 def rat) ever since turning pro four years ago and can be expected to do the same this time around, too. Whitney has netted no fewer than 22 goals in each of his last three AHL seasons, it should be noted.   
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The Sound Tigers have also signed three other free agent left wingers, two of whom who share the same first name and each had more than thirty points in the AHL last season. Justin Florek (6’4″ 205 lbs), the 25-year-old out of Northern Michigan University who was the 5th round pick (# 135 overall) of the Boston Bruins at the 2010 NHL Draft, had 35 points (11 go, 33 pen min, + 2 def rat) in 73 AHL games as a third-year professional for the Providence Bruins last term. Two seasons ago, aside from 19 goals and 38 points in 69 AHL games for Providence, Florek also appeared in four NHL regular season games (1 go, 2 pts, 0 pen, + 1 def rat) and six Stanley Cup playoff games (1 go, 0 as, 4 pen, 0 def rat) for the Boston Bruins.
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Justin Vaive (6’4″ 210 lbs), the 25-year-old out out the University of Miami (Ohio) who was the 4th round pick (# 92 overall) of the Anaheim Ducks at the 2007 NHL Draft, finally had his first full season at the AHL level as a fourth-year pro with the Hartford Wolf Pack (62 ga, 14 go, 32 pts, 92 pen, – 3 def rat). The most interesting acquisition is perhaps that of Bracken Kearns (6’0″ 195 lbs), the 34-year-old veteran who is returning to North America after spending a season in the Finnish elite league with Kiekko Espoo (45 ga, 10 go, 20 pts, 38 pen, + 4 def rat). Two seasons ago, Kearns appeared in 25 NHL games (3 go, 5 pts, 6 pen, – 2 def rat) for the San Jose Sharks as well as 45 AHL games (6 go, 25 pts, 75 pen, – 12 def rat) for the Worcester farm club.
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Ben Holmstrom (6’1″ 197 lbs), the undrafted 27-year-old veteran from the University of Massachusetts – Lowell who spent part or all of five seasons in the AHL for the Adirondack Phantoms before changing to the Charlotte Checkers (62 ga, 5 go, 20 pts, 92 pen, – 16 def rat) last summer, is a free agent acquisition brought in by Bridgeport to provide the Sound Tigers with an experienced defensive center who can be counted on to stand up for the club physically.
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Bridgeport do return their leading scorer from last season. Alan Quine (6’0″ 195 lbs), the 22-year-old center who was originally taken by the Detroit Red Wings in the 3rd round (# 85 overall) of the 2011 NHL Draft before being selected by the New York Islanders in the 6th round (# 166 overall) of the 2013 NHL Draft, impressed with his play in the offensive zone (75 ga, 23 go, 61 pts, 34 pen, – 11 def rat) but needs improvement on defense. It was Quine who had both of the Sound Tigers’ goals in the game that saw the Lehigh Valley Phantoms overturn a 2-0 deficit and win 4-2 on the road in Bridgeport last March 14th.
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Also returning for his fourth year with the New York Islanders organization is left wing Mike Halmo (5’11” 210 lbs), the undrafted 24-year-old whose third pro season with Bridgeport (33 ga, 10 go, 18 pts, 83 pen, – 2 def rat) was wrecked by injury. Two seasons ago, skating on a line for half a season with current NHLers Anders Lee and Ryan Strome, the hard-nosed winger had 38 points (18 go, 124 pen, + 11 def rat) in 58 AHL games and also enjoyed a 20-game stint (1 go, 0 as, 32 pen, – 1 def rat) with the Islanders in New York. Halmo will be looking to reestablish his place among Bridgeport’s top six forwards and could be shifted over to the right wing as a result.
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Another interesting free agent acquisition is that of Louis Leblanc, the 24-year-old right wing who was the 1st round pick (# 18 overall) of the Montreal Canadiens at the 2009 NHL Draft and played one season college hockey at Harvard University before moving to the Montreal Juniors of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. As a rookie during the 2011/12 campaign, Leblanc appeared in 42 NHL games (5 go, 10 pts, 28 pen, + 3 def rat) for the Canadiens but then skated in just eight NHL games (0 go, 0 pts, 4 pen, + 1 def rat) as a sophomore pro and never has returned to the pinnacle. Last season, after being traded by the Canadiens to the Anaheim Ducks for a conditional draft pick, Leblanc had what amounted to a ‘career year’ in the AHL with the Norfolk Admirals (71 ga, 14 go, 29 pts, 38 pen, – 19 def rat).
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Sebastian Collberg (5’11” 186 lbs), the 2nd round pick (# 33 overall) of the Montreal Canadiens at the 2012 NHL Draft, is another right wing who is looking to have a breakout season. As a rookie last term, the now 21-year-old imported from Swedish club HC Vastra Frolunda Gothenburg showed some promise in 43 AHL games (4 go, 18 pts, 13 pen, – 6 def rat) for Bridgeport but also required a little time in the ECHL with the Stockton Thunder (6 ga, 4 go, 7 pts, 0 pen, – 2 def rat). Collberg has lots of technical skill including a quick wrist shot but only has the weight to withstand a certain amount of physical punishment and can use work on the defensive aspects of his game.
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(Collberg is the rare sort who has represented a major hockey power at the annnual IIHF World Junior Championships on three occasions — Collberg won the gold medal with Tre Kronor at the 2012 WJC and was also teammates with Lehigh Valley Phantoms defenseman Robert Hagg on the two Swedish teams which won silver medals at the 2013 WJC and 2014 WJC, respectively)
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It is fair to say that the Bridgeport Sound Tigers could use more depth (to speak nothing of scoring punch) at forward but, by the same token, competition in training camp for a place on the fourth line could be intense.
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Jared Gomes (6’1″ 190 lbs), the undrafted 26-year-old who just returned after a season in the German elite league with the Straubing Tigers (41 ga, 4 go, 14 pts, 20 pen, – 10 def rat) will be looking to secure a full-time job in Connecticut; the University of Prince Edward Island product had 33 points (16 go, 26 pen, – 5 def rat) in 73 AHL games for the San Antonio Rampage as a rookie professional three seasons ago but suffered a noticeable drop in scoring production (56 ga, 4 go, 11 pts, 32 pen, – 2 def rat) as a sophomore. Gomes, who has never spent even a single day at the ECHL level, is a right-handed shot who can play either on the wing or at center.
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Jesse Root (5’11” 185 lbs), the undrafted 25-year-old center who is a native of Pittsburgh and the cousin of NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino, is hoping for a successful return to the Constitution State. In the spring of 2014, Root skated in 11 AHL games (1 go, 0 as, 4 pen, – 1 def rat) with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers after winning the NCAA national title with Yale University right up the road in New Haven. Last season, Root spent a considerable amount of time in the AHL skating for the Texas Stars (37 ga, 5 go, 12 pts, 6 pen, 0 def rat) but ultimately finished up in the ECHL with the Idaho Steelheads (15 ga, 8 go, 16 pts, 6 pen, + 7 def rat).
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Andrew Rowe (6’2″ 180 lbs), the undrafted 27-year-old left wing out of Michigan State University, skated in fifty-five AHL games for the Adirondack Phantoms as a rookie professional during the 2010/11 season but has basically been an ECHL player the past three seasons in a row now even though the former Spartan did appear in 28 AHL games (1 go, 5 pts, 8 pen, – 8 def rat) for the Charlotte Checkers last term. 
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Also in the hunt for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers are a cast of characters who might very well be appearing for the New York Islanders’ “split squad” that is scheduled to face off against a similar contingent from the Philadelphia Flyers at the PPL Center in downtown Allentown on September 21st.
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Tyler Barnes (6’0″ 190″), the undrafted 25-year-old right wing from the University of Wisconsin who skated in seven AHL games (two goals) for the San Antonio Rampage in the spring of 2014 and also got a couple of games for the Grand Rapid Griffins last winter, spent most of last season in the ECHL with the Toledo Walleye (71 ga, 34 go, 74 pts, 30 pen min, + 20 def rat) but will be looking to establish himself at the next level this fall.
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Colin Markison (5’10” 185 lbs), the undrafted 23-year-old right wing who is a native of Princeton, New Jersey, made six appearances (1 go, 0 as, 0 pen, + 1 def rat) in the AHL for Bridgeport last spring after completing his career at the University of Vermont. Josh Holmstrom (6’0″ 190 lbs), the undrafted 25-year-old right wing who skated in seven AHL games (0 go, 1 as, 2 pen, -1 def rat) for the Sound Tigers in the spring of 2014 after concluding his career at the University of Massachusetts – Lowell, also suited up with the Toledo Walleye (63 ga, 13 go, 27 pts, 25 pen, + 7 def rat) in the ECHL last season. Yes, Josh is the little brother of former Philadelphia Flyers farmhand Ben Holmstrom.
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The one guy who could win a spot with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers based on his size and aggressiveness is Ross Johnston (6’5″ 225 lbs), the 21-year-old rookie who competed in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League as an overage player last season; although not blessed with an abundance of technical skill, Johnston is said to have a good work ethic.
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See you at the arena,
@Kram209


Categories: Kram's Korner - From the Club Level, Phantoms Hockey

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