As most of you know by now, the Islanders signed Casey Cizikas, their fourth round selection in 2009, to an entry-level contract on Tuesday.
The 20-year-old from Toronto, Ontario enjoyed a breakout campaign this season, notching 64 points and captaining Mississauga to the Memorial Cup Finals and representing Team Canada at the World Junior Championships.
Cizikas' road to the NHL wasn't the one most commonly traveled, to say the least. In 2007, he was charged with manslaughter for an incident that occurred during a Rugby match. Cizikas wasn't picked until the fourth round, when the Islanders decided to roll the dice on him.
He hasn't disappointed, developing into a strong prospect for the Isles.
How strong? Jess Rubenstein, who covers the prospects for the Islanders and Rangers year-round at his blog, The Prospect Park, will try and answer that question and more:
Daniel Friedman: When the Isles drafted Cizikas, some fans didn't realize the team was getting a good prospect. Are you surprised with the way all of this has unfolded for Casey Cizikas?
Jesse Rubenstein: No, as one thing I look for in a prospect is, how he goes to camp and is asked to work on specific parts of his game, that he does so. What was holding Cizikas back was a lack of consistency, which he has answered this season.
DF: What type of player is Cizikas, and which NHL player would you compare his style to?
JR: Cizikas is a hard working, blue-collar kind of player. He is never going to make those pretty, highlight-reel plays, but if you want someone to go into a corner and outfight someone for the puck then he is your man. A player to compare him to would be Brian Rolston, as he plays hard, uses the body, but does not resort to some of the cheap antics of someone like Alex Burrows.
DF: How soon into his junior career did it appear to you that he might become an effective NHL-caliber player?
JR: I first noticed him during his draft year, because he was the one always asked to go against the other team's best players. You could see the skill level was there, the work ethic was there, and he had all the parts, but could not put them all together until the last part of last season and then this season.
DF: Are there any particular aspects of his game that you like, and are there parts that still need improvement?
JR: I want him out on the ice when I'm protecting a one goal-lead in the last minute. I just love the way he sees the ice, especially while killing penalties; really love how he can play an aggressive attacking game and be able to stay out of the box. His weak areas, I would like to see him improve on his finishing skills, as he has a great jump to create scoring chances, but I'd say he only finishes off about 40 percent of them.
For example, in the Memorial Cup, Cizikas had several breakaway chances, but only cashed-in on one of them. It sounds crazy for a kid who had 29 goals, but I think he is, at times, afraid to trust his own shot, as his ratio of goals-to-scoring chances is mid-range. He should have scored 40 last season.
DF: How big of a role did Cizikas play on Team Canada at the World Junior Championships this year?
JR: It helped that his own coach, Dave Cameron, was behind the bench. Cizikas was used as the defensive forward and first penalty killer. Cameron used him as an energy guy and, in many ways, his use as a defensive specialist should give the Islanders a blueprint as to how to use him. At the NHL level he'll be a defensive stopper who can also chip in offensively.
DF: How much did Cizikas' play contribute to the Majors' run to the Memorial Cup Final?
JR: I would say more than he got credit for, as Cizikas, for a while, during a couple of long winning streaks that Mississauga had, was the guy who opened the scoring for them. Their defense was built around having the lead and it was rare that they trailed in a game.
His defensive work was key, as Mississauga, when they got the lead, would smother you with their defense. Being the captain of the Majors, Cizikas set a good example that his teammates followed.
DF: Are you at all concerned with Cizikas' history off the ice? Has he matured, and do you believe his past is behind him?
JR: Yes, I believe he has grown up, and what happened was a tragedy, but the fact that the victim's family did not want to see Cizikas punished said a lot to me.
DF: What type of role do you envision him playing for this Islander team?
JR: Defensive specialist. Energy guy who can chip in on offense and as a penalty killer.
DF: Can you see Cizikas wearing a letter?
JR: Cizikas has leadership skills and was the captain of his team, this past season. I could see him wearing a letter, but even if he does not wear one, I can see him as a leader.
DF: In your opinion, is he ready for the NHL, or do you think he needs to spend some time in the AHL before he takes the next step?
JR: Time in the AHL would help him, as the speed of the game, as you move up the ladder, greatly increases. I think Cizikas would benefit from some time in the AHL polishing up his game, improving his skating, as well as adjusting to a pro lifestyle. Give him a year and I think he will be able to contribute to the Islanders.
Jess Rubenstein provides coverage of Islander and Ranger prospects at The Prospect Park.
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