The Hockey season is back, and I'm putting up a post or two for the first time in a while. I was busy with work in Ohio and the lockout killed off my niche as everyone and their sister went to cover the AHL and provided excellent commentary throughout the "Time without Hockey." Me, I prefer to talk about prospects and the occasional piece on the team in general. Today I'll mix a little bit of both in talking about the Islanders biggest mistake this offseason, and it has to do with signings...and getting one completely wrong.
This past off-season the Islanders signed Forward Jason Clark to an Entry Level Contract over Defenseman Brenden Kichton. Clark was a 2010 3rd rounder (taken after Kirill Kabanov) and a University of Wisconsin Badger for 2 seasons. In his WCHA career, Clark played 35 games amassed 2 points and a grand total of 14 PIMs. Clark had been plagued by injuries in his short college career and at the time I tweeted that the signing was weird as the Depth at Bridgeport (guys like Collin McDonald, Matt Watkins and Brandon DeFazio) was signed and Bridgeport's top 6 was never in doubt with guys like Casey Cizikas, Nino Neiderreiter, Brock Nelson, etc.; so why was Clark signed to an ELC this past summer? The best answer I can assume was as a built in failsafe for the post lockout for when the Isles called up a bunch of their Bridgeport players. My biggest issue with that is that there was no idea how long a lockout would last and having a guy around just keeping him in the press box wasn't going to do much for Jason Clark's development. And if the Isles were going to raid Bridgeport after the end of the lockout (which they may still do), the team should have just relied on ATOs for Bridgeport to mix and match the best guys to get through the season in place of burning a year of an ELC for no good reason. So that's why the signing made ABSOLUTELY no sense.
Well, guess what? Clark got into 4 games for the Sound Tigers and he notched as many points in 4 games (2 assists) as he did in 2 seasons with the Badgers. The 3rd rounders development needed some speeding up and, predictably, the Islanders re-assigned Jason Clark to the ECHL's Gwinnett Gladiators where he's logged 10 games and a total of...6 assists. Between amateur and professional ranks Jason Clark is yet to score a goal. Even after a rash of injuries to the Sound Tigers (Nelson and Kabanov have missed significant time), Clark wasn't re-called and instead the Isles signed two Colorado Eagles Forwards (Jack Combs and Chad Costello) to fill in, and both have landed full season AHL contracts.
The Clark signing was and is a mistake, in place the Isles should have signed: Brenden Kichton.
People have done a good number of profiles on the 2011 5th round Defenseman from the WHL who's just absolutely torched the league and, as an over-ager, has nothing left to prove there. But here's why: it made more roster sense for the Isles to sign Kichton over Clark. Signing Kichton would have allowed the Isles to have Kichton stay at Spokane as an over-ager and not need to plug into the Bridgeport blue line, but even if he won a spot at Bridgeport (which I think he would have with or without Calvin de Haan around), he would have been eligible to send back to the WHL as long as he was under 9 games without burning a year on the ELC.
Also, given the immediate black hole the Isles face, needing 2 defensemen right now assuming Lubomir Visnovsky actually honors his contract, Kichton's performance at the WHL (or presumably the AHL) would give him a good shot at plugging him into the Isles blue line at the end of the lockout. A signed Kichton would make this Visnovsky mess easier to tolerate.
Why am I praising Kichton so much; well, the numbers at the WHL are staggering: in his last 176 games (including 41 this year) he's amassed 204 points (already at 49 points). He's been crazy good. In his first 127 games Kichton compiled 28 points, so he's been really good since his first year of draft eligibility and only turned it up since. Also, Kichton has had back to back 50+ assist years prior to this year. Of note, Calvin de Haan had only one 50 assist year in his three at Juniors and Ds Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald had none. Kichton's numbers aren't just good organization-wise for the Isles, he's beaten out higher selected Ds like 2011 1st rounders Duncan Siemens, Nathan Beaulieu and Doug Hamilton. Kichton should have gotten an ELC in the summer before Clark and should be getting a look right now or a call up to Bridgeport to replace one of the two Ds who were going to be re-called by the Isles.
The signing of Clark and lack of signing of Kichton just made no sense whatsoever this offseason.