Islanders turning a corner?

It was four long years ago when the Islanders were at, if not rock bottom, then pretty damn close to it. It was at that time when I started hinting for keeper leaguers to consider picking up some of the youngsters there. It was a practice that I followed in my keeper league earlier in the decade, picking up Penguins and Blackhawks as those teams struggled, despite being laughed at by fellow poolies. But patience pays off.

If you remember in the case of the Penguins, they were a laughingstock. In 2006, they finished 29th in the league. That summer, experts predicted Pittsburgh would finish around 29th again the next season (The Hockey News projected the Penguins 28th in its pre-season guide). They finished 10th. And just like that, all was forgotten. Years of drafting high and finishing low ended once their franchise player came into his own and was surrounded by a great supporting cast that started growing together as a group.

When the Islanders drafted John Tavares in 2009, I began shifting my long-term outlook for the team. In 2009 I upgraded them in my off-season report from a D to a C+. Ignoring the laughter, I upgraded them the following year to a B. In 2011-12, the Islanders finished 27th – and yet I upgraded them for the third year in a row, giving them a B+ in keeper leagues.

While the Islanders have not yet secured a playoff spot, it seems like they will get in. With their franchise player meeting expectations, some other key pieces added and some of their young talent rising to the fore, the Islanders are finally entering the upper portion of the cycle of team sport success. That means more playoff appearances ahead, better goaltending numbers, more goals scored and thus improved statistics for most of their players. Let's take a look at what's in store for some key players in the organization.

Josh Bailey

For three seasons in a row, Bailey has looked like a second-line player over the final quarter. It's the other three quarters where he’s looked lost. He's still only 23 and as the roster around him improves, he should (in theory) become a solid 60-point producer. Especially if he remains on the wing, where he has been a better NHL player than at center.

Brad Boyes

He’s shown flashes, but Boyes always makes a splash with a new team early on. Five points in his past 13 games leads me to believe that he’s not a part of the long-term future here.

Casey Cizikas

I've often labelled Cizikas as potentially the best third-line center in the league. He’s some years away from realizing that, but he’s on the right track and looks to be two years away from 200 hits and 40 points in a season.

Calvin De Haan

The 12th overall draft pick in 2009 was making huge strides in his development until he turned pro. Injuries have stalled De Haan and he will need a healthy season next year to get back on course. Potentially, he could be a top-pairing rearguard.

Matt Donovan

Along with Travis Hamonic, Donovan has a bright fantasy hockey future as a 35-point, 100-PIM player. He’ll get a long look in the fall.

Michael Grabner

A former 34-goal scorer, but he did that when he was a rare scoring option on the team. As the team improves and his scoring is no longer required, he’ll settle in as an energy guy and penalty killer. Great to have on the third line.

Travis Hamonic

Has failed to build on his promising freshman campaign of two years ago. Still only 22, lots of time for him to become that multi-category stud we hope for.

Jesse Joensuu

Formerly a budding power forward, Joensuu is finding his niche as more of an agitator. He’s looking like he'll be a 200-hit, 100 PIM player who can chip in 25 points.

Kirill Kabanov

Boom or bust is leaning towards bust. But he’s not to be written off yet and will need a healthy 2013-14 with Bridgeport to get back on the radar.

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Matt Moulson

How many 30-goal seasons does he need before he’s acknowledged as a genuine star? Looking at a big payday next year.

Evgeni Nabokov

He’ll be 38 in the summer and an unrestricted free agent. Nabokov could continue posting solid numbers for another year if the team signs him. It would give Kevin Poulin the time needed to take the helm.

Brock Nelson

A forgotten prospect in fantasy circles because he lacks the hype of Niederreiter or Strome. But Nelson was a first round pick in 2010 (30th overall) and leads Bridgeport in scoring in his first pro season. He'll compete with Strome for a spot in the fall. Could surprise, similar to the way Drew Shore surprised this year for Florida.

Nino Niederreiter

Still an elite prospect in my books. He was rushed into the NHL a year ago and his confidence took a knock. He regained that confidence this season with Bridgeport. He is reportedly unhappy in the organization, but we've heard that before (Nabokov, Visnovsky, etc.). A top six winger in about three years.

Frans Nielsen

A quality third-liner who is seeing second line ice time. His future lies as a 45-point checker, just as soon as Ryan Strome is ready to assume second-line duties.

Anders Nilsson

A promising prospect goaltender, Nilsson struggled this season and lost out to Kevin Poulin as the goalie of the future. Now he's fighting for starts with Rick DiPietro. May be time to cut bait in fantasy circles. At least for now.

Kyle Okposo

Tuesday’s birthday boy (25) has been a budding power forward for several years now, but hasn't taken that next step. Someone with elite skill on his line could coax that out of him (see Strome, Ryan).

Kevin Poulin

Poulin vs. Nilsson was up for debate in the pre-season. But clearly Poulin has jumped ahead and could be the starting goalie soon, depending on what is done with Nabokov. Given the Isles' promising future, Poulin could be a very valuable goaltender to sit on in keeper leagues.

Griffin Reinhart

There’s room on the depth chart for Reinhart to make the jump in the fall, where he'll be a second-pairing defenseman immediately. Long term, he may not be an offensive stud, but he'll get his points.

Ryan Strome

With five points in seven games for Bridgeport he’s already making an impact at the pro level. He tallied 94 points in 53 Ontario League games for Niagara. Keep expectations low for next season as his minutes are reined in. But three seasons from now he could be a 70-point player or better.

Johan Sundstrom

Another unheralded prospect in this organization, but the 50th overall pick in 2011 is making his mark as a rookie pro in Bridgeport. His future may be on the wing, in which case he could be on the second line by 2015.

John Tavares

He’s the franchise and a likely 100-point player when he comes into his own and the supporting cast matures.

Lubomir Visnovsky

Signed three weeks ago to a two-year contract extension, Visnovsky will likely retire an Islander. He has the talent to rebound for another 50-point season next year, but injuries are piling up and you may have to settle for 30. His fantasy value is winding down, but the kids could learn a lot from him.

Darryl Dobbs’ Fantasy Pool Look is an in-depth presentation of player trends, injuries and much more as it pertains to rotisserie pool leagues. Also, get the top 300 roto-player rankings on the first of every month in THN’s Fantasy section. Do you have a question about fantasy hockey? Send it to the Fantasy Mailbag.

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