Happens all the time in the National Hockey League. A teenage hockey player blooms late, maybe is even passed up in his first year of draft eligibility. A team takes a minor risk on him with a late-round pick the next year. Player’s character matures and raw ability develops seemingly overnight.
The results: an eye-popping season in junior hockey. And a contract squabble.
What is Matt Martin? That is probably the essence of the friendly disagreement between the Islanders’ and his agent over their 5th round draft pick last June. What we know about the 6-2, 200-pound left wing is that over the last three years he went from non-factor to 5th round what-the-heck to one of the Islanders’ top prospects. Last season in 66 games with Sarnia of the Ontario Hockey League, Martin had 38 goals and 30 assists.
If you want to dream, think over-achieving third line goal scorer with intangibles like – oh, go ahead and say it – Bobby Nystrom. If you prefer to live in the now and on this planet, think Tim Jackman with more upside. Martin also takes on all heavyweights, and he is Sarnia’s captain.
“Matt’s big, strong, an intimidating force,” said John Tavares after today’s workout at the Islanders’ Prospect Minicamp. Tavares has centered a line with Martin and Rhett Rakhshani the last two days. “He’s really good on the forecheck. He creates a lot of room for his linemates. I’ve played against him the last few years and it’s been fun being on his team.”
For a similar story to Martin’s, all you have to do is review the case of his teammate Justin DiBenedetto, Sarnia’s leading scorer. After his selection one round after Martin last June, DiBenedetto quieted some critics and tore up the league even without former linemate Steven Stamkos. DiBenedetto signed quickly and without fanfare in April and joined Bridgeport for its first round AHL playoff series. Sarnia defenseman Mark Katic also inked a contract with the Islanders with no hassle.
Now it’s July and Martin remains unsigned. Educated view: the Islanders are willing to offer third round-type money, while Martin’s agent wants him paid like a first-rounder. If a deal is not struck, the powerful forward returns to Sarnia for one year as an overager – not ideal for his development.
What’s the deal, Matt?
“I have to leave that to my agent and the Islanders,” Martin said. “I hope something is worked out, but it can’t be my focus right now.
“I’m here this week to learn the system, do my part and hopefully make a name for myself. I want to prove I belong here, show them how much I want to be here.”
“Here,” of course, means within the Islanders’ system. Martin should be in Bridgeport in 2009-10, not beating up – and getting run by – overzealous teenagers in the Ontario League. He should be working every day on his skating with Sound Tigers tutor Matt Bertani.
A call yesterday to Martin’s agent, Pat Morris, has yet to be returned. Citing team policy, GM Garth Snow would not discuss negotiations, but said he’d like to have Martin under contract. Morris and Snow are known to enjoy a productive working relationship. Like 99% of these squabbles, it’s only business.
Let’s hope it doesn’t get in the way of the development of a worthy prospect.
Minicamp Notes: An expected dropoff in Tavaresmania with the media, as today’s JT scrum featured two writers from Newsday and three bloggers. We’ve now entered the stage where John is being asked about his favorite movies, color, etc.
The Islanders roomed Tavares this week with the savvy veteran Josh Bailey. The first overall pick said there’s much he wants to learn to prepare himself for training camp and his first NHL season, and Bailey is the perfect role model.
Player of the Day (aka Let’s Stat Over-Hyping…): Rhett Rakhshani. Looked terrific playing on the line with Tavares and Martin. The 2006 draft pick, a legitimate NHL prospect, returns to Denver for his senior season as captain.
“It was a tough decision,” said Rakhshani, “but the best one for me long-term. The Islanders were great about it. For the last two years, they’ve told me they’re ready when I’m ready. They’ve been incredibly supportive.”
Mikko Koskinen told Point Blank that he’ll also leave the business end between his agent and the Islanders, but he’s hopeful of playing in Bridgeport this season. “It’s the next step for me,” said the 2009 second round pick. “I need to learn how to play this ice surface.” Koskinen described the difference: “Everything – the angles, the plays, the crease. I want to be an NHL goalie and I have to learn how.”
Koskinen is rooming with fellow Finn Jesse Joensuu. “I didn’t know him, but we talked on the phone after I was drafted and we were on the same flight to New York this week,” said Koskinen. “He’s been great for me. I’m learning a lot from Jesse about how it’s done.”
Scrimmage tomorrow at 11:00 am. To have any hope of getting in, fans need to line up early and obtain a wristband from the Islanders. There’s not a lot of space at Iceworks.