2011-12 stats: 21G, 0-1-1, 8PIM
Clark is an interesting player and one that is going to have a very important next two seasons. He's coming off his sophomore season at Wisconsin where he didn't see very much playing time. Clark accumulated only 15 SOG all year, so don't let the stat line automatically convince you that he's a lost cause. It's tough to judge a player when he's not getting in the game (although that in itself could be a red flag, of course). That was the same story as his freshman year at UW, one that required off-season hip surgery.
However, Clark's pedigree is enough for us to keep him in the Top 20, hoping that he'll have a solid final two seasons in Wisconsin with some upperclassmen moving out and giving him more playing time. He's got a solid pedigree, spending two years at Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Minnesota and scoring more than a point-per-game there. We'll have to wait and see if he can step up at Wisconsin before passing any final judgement on him. He's a 6-foot-2 center, something that would be a nice addition to the Bridgeport pipeline.
19. Rhett Rakhshani, RW, RFA24 years old, Bridgeport (AHL)
2011-12 stats: 49G, 20-29-49, 42PIM, +25
One of the best players statistically on the Sound Tigers this year was Rakhshani, who put up a point per game in the AHL. I feel like I'm making a mistake ranking him this low but the truth is that he's yet to prove himself at the NHL level. He had five games with the Islanders last season (granted, very small sample) and wasn't able to hold onto a spot on the league's 27th best team. If the Islanders do re-sign him, and they should, it'll be an interesting year for the 24-year old. He's going to have very serious competition to make the big club from some of the forwards coming later in this feature. Hockey's Future projects him as a career AHL player; can he shake that mold?
See also: IPB's January 2012 feature on Rakhshani
18. Mark Katic, D, RFA23 years old, Bridgeport (AHL)
2011-12 stats: 14G, 0-4-4, 6PIM, -3
Back in June 2009, the Islanders had three prospects playing for the Sarnia Sting of the OHL: Matt Martin, Justin DiBenedetto and Katic. Chris Botta called Martin the "surest thing", and it turns out CB was right on the money as Martin has made a solid impact on the Island for the past two seasons. He also gave Katic the mark of having the biggest upside from the trio, as Katic was one of the leading scorers on the Sarnia team as a defenseman.
In the second half of 2009, Katic made the jump to the AHL and found success as a quick, puck moving defenseman in Bridgeport. He had two solid years and was called up to the Islanders at the end of 2010-11 for 11 games. Things were looking right on schedule for Katic until he hit a major roadblock last September. He injured his left shoulder, requiring season-ending surgery, the second time he has had surgery on that wing. As LHH noted, it was a catastrophic turn of events for a promising young defender who was in the third year of his ELC. He did return late in the year to play 11 games for the Sound Tigers, but it was still a lost season. The Islanders now must make a decision on Katic and whether to hold onto him with a depth chart that is chock full of "fast, puck moving defensemen."
17. Justin DiBenedetto, LW, RFA23 years old, Bridgeport (AHL)
2011-12 stats: 55G, 20-21-41, 73PIM, +7
Right along with Katic is Justin DiBenedetto, whom the Islanders have an RFA decision to make. DiBenedetto had an excellent year in Bridgeport, upping his point total for the third straight year. He's 5-11, full of energy and gets under opponents' skin. The best part? He's got a scoring touch. The downside to DiBo is that he's at most a third line wing on the NHL level, he's not a high-end talent (although I'd love to be proven wrong). There's no reason for the Islanders to not come to terms with him this summer, it's a matter of finding a spot for him. He should be given every chance to fight for a spot in camp this fall.
16. Aaron Ness, D, 2nd year of ELC22 years old, Bridgeport (AHL)
2011-12 stats: 69G, 5-22-27, 36PIM, +8
Ness got the call for nine games last year on the Island and fit in fairly well, looking like he could have a future with the big club with a little improvement. He's probably the biggest challenge to Mark Katic's future, as Ness is the younger version of Katic (and a bit smaller and quicker). Two of the biggest positives that we did see during his short time on the Island was his passing ability and quickness that could give him a leg up going into camp. The knock on him is certainly his size as he is *listed* at only 5-10, 170. In a organization with a lot of defensemen cut from this mold, it will certainly be a tough fight to make it to the big club.
See also: IPB's January 2012 feature on Ness