10 NY Islander Players to Watch in the 2011-12 Season

Billy SmithCorrespondent IIIJune 12, 2011

10 NY Islander Players to Watch in the 2011-12 Season

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    There is still a ways to go until the puck drops on the Islanders season, but it's never too early to look forward.

    The anticipation of this season hasn't been seen in a long time from Islanders fans. This is an exciting time for the Isles and their fans. The team appears to be headed in the right direction. Building with a young core group seems to be working.

    So, which of these young guys should we watch in the upcoming season? Let's take a look.

1. Nino Niederreiter, RW

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    Nino Niederreiter was the Islanders' 5th overall pick in the 2010 draft. Islanders fans are going to love this kid. While he isn't a pure goal scorer, Nino is a physical player with good size and could be helpful in front of the net.

    Niederreiter played in the WHL with the Portland Winterhawks in the 2009-10 season and had 36 goals to go along with 24 assists, giving him 60 points in 65 games. Niederreiter had great numbers in the playoffs for Portland as well. In 13 playoff games, he had eight goals and eight assists.

    Fans will love this kid and will see a lot of him in the future. He should be starting the year with the big club, which will add to the excitement of the upcoming year. He should fit in nicely with the Islanders.

2. John Tavares, C

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    We all know what John Tavares can do. He is a pure goal scorer with an great shot. Believe it or not, but Tavares is actually overlooked on a list like this because he has been in the league for a few years. But I think he will break out this year.

    John Tavares scored 29 goals and 38 assists for 67 points last season. I wouldn't be surprised to see something like 35 goals and 45 assist for 80 points from him this season.

    He has gotten used to the league and looks more comfortable on the ice then he did when he first started. Building on a 29-goal season, I think, shouldn’t be hard for him.

    Tavares has been nothing but amazing for the Islanders in his time here. This is the player that the Isles will build around for years to come.

3. Travis Hamonic, D

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    Travis Hamonic will most likely be starting alongside veteran Mark Streit this year. I think they the potential to be a top pairing in the league, depending on how Hamonic plays.

    Hamonic was drafted 53rd overall in 2008. He hadn't been on the radar of many Islanders fans until a year ago or so. But this kid can play. Hamonic has a great shot and can move around well. He reminds me a lot of Mark Streit. Having one Streit out there is enough to make your defense a good one. Having two makes it great.

    If Hamonic can reach his full potential, he will be a force with the Isles.

    Hamonic showed a lot of improvement as the season went on last year. Every game, he did something that made him look better. Look for him to have a big part in the Islanders' future success.

4. Michael Grabner, RW

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    Michael Grabner is a great story. An early waiver pick up by the Islanders in October, Grabner was thought to be just a depth player or a fill-in. By the end of the year, he was nominated for the Calder Trophy, given to the NHL's top rookie.

    Grabner quickly made himself known to everyone in the league.

    His speed is overpowering. He won the fastest skater competition in the NHL's Skills Competition during All-Star weekend.

    He has a good shot, scoring a rookie-leading 34 goals last year. He finished third among rookies with 52 points.

    One of the more intriguing stats was his plus-minus. Grabner was a plus-13 last year on a team that only had a few plus players.

    It will be hard for Grabner to repeat this year, but I think he will do it. It is looking like a Matt Moulson repeat from a couple years ago; Grabner’s skills and ability should allow him to do the same this year. When you get a guy with 40-goal potential on your team, you know that you've done something right.

5. Kyle Okposo, RW

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    Kyle Okposo had a lost season last year. He was out the whole year with injuries and never really found his way back at the end of the season, looking lost at times. With that said, he is still waiting to break out.

    Okposo should break out this year. He has yet to hit the 20-goal mark, his career high being 19 in 2009-10. He has good hands and can get around defenseman well. His competitiveness will keep the Islanders going all year. He has great leadership, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least an "A" on his jersey this year.

    He helps this team a lot with his skill and style of play. He should be one of the better Islander players on the team this year, another player the Islanders plan on building around.

6. Andrew MacDonald, D

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    MacDonald is another young defenseman that the Islanders have on their team.

    Andrew MacDonald is more of an offensive-defenseman that likes shooting the puck. He plays a lot like the style of Travis Hamonic, except with a lower ceiling. MacDonald, though, is a guy the Islanders and their fans are looking forward to seeing this year.

    He has a good shot and can move the puck down low and create scoring chances. MacDonald is great on the rush, and it's almost like having a fourth forward out there when he is playing.

    He needs to improve though on the defensive side of the games. He sometimes gets caught up ice and can't get back. Other then that, he looks like a great fit for the team.

    Andrew MacDonald is just another Islander defenseman that fans are looking forward to see improvement from.

7. Blake Comeau, LW

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    Blake Comeau had his best season as an NHL player last year. It could be considered his break out year, but I think that his break out will happen this season.

    Comeau had a lot of missed scoring opportunities last year where he could have scored a few more goals. I could see him being a 30-goal scorer in this league. He had a couple of cold streaks last year which will need to change. Improve his shot a little bit, and he could be a very good goal scorer.

    Islander fans like Comeau a lot. If he could improve in a few different areas of his game, he could be a very strong player for this team.

8. Josh Bailey, LW

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    I don't want to say that Bailey has been a disappointment, but he needs to show improvement this year. Bailey was rushed into the NHL, which could have messed with him a little.

    Bailey's best year was in 2009-10 when he scored 16 goals and had 19 assists for 35 points. He needs to show that he can score 20 goals this year to show some improvement. If he doesn't show improvement, the Isles may need to make a decision on what to do with him. He was sent down the the AHL last year to try and find his game.

    His name has been in a few trade rumors here and there, but I doubt the Islanders would give up a player that they are trying to build around. If Bailey improves his game, he will be fine. Bailey has the talent and potential, he just needs to show it.

9. Al Montoya, G

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    It was a toss up between Al Montoya or Kevin Poulin in this spot for me. I chose Montoya only because if Rick DiPietro goes down with another injury, Montoya will be starting.

    The Islanders have seen their goaltending situation go up and down the past few years. It isn't all that bad this year. If DiPietro were to go down, the Islanders have Montoya, Poulin, Mikko Koskinen and maybe even former San Jose Shark Evgeni Nabokov.

    Montoya is a very good choice. He had a lot of great games and helped the Islanders become one of the best teams in the second half of least season.

    Montoya carried this team almost all year and played great. He showed that he can start games and win in the NHL. He was a bright spot in last year's season. Watch for him to make an impact on the Islanders during some point this season.

10. Calvin De Haan, D

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    Calvin de Haan is only this low on the list because it's still a question whether he will be on the Islanders this season.

    One of the Isles top prospects, de Haan is a great skater and is yet another offensive-defenseman player in the Islanders organization right now.

    He isn't all that physical, but he will learn with time that he will need to improve his game in certain areas. de Haan was drafted by the Islanders with the 12th overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. In 2009, he had shoulder surgery which kept him sidelined for six months.

    Last season with the Oshawa Generals in the OHL, de Haan had six goals and 42 assists for 48 points in 55 games. He is a good power play player (five of his goals were power play goals) and can be a dangerous player if he has an open shot at the net..

    It seems like only a matter of time before he is playing with the big club. I'd say he could play as early as midseason. But it's almost a guarantee that he will start in the 2012-13 season full time with the Islanders.