ON THE HORIZON – Andrey Pedan, D, Guelph (OHL)

As former defenseman Darius Kasparaitis wreaked havoc on Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Peter Bondra during a memorable 1992-93 post-season run, Andrey Pedan was just months away from being born halfway around the world in Kaunas, Lithuania. Yet, Pedan still is greatly impacted by Kasparaitis’ presence and has high hopes of patterning his game after the former blue-liner, who gave Islander fans some fantastic thrills during his nearly five seasons in Uniondale.

“I liked watching Darius play hockey,” said the 6-foot-4, 201-pounder Pedan, who grew up in Moscow, Russia, and was drafted by the Islanders in the third round – 63rd overall – of this past June’s NHL Entry Draft in Minnesota. “He is fast and he likes to hit.”

Pedan has translated that physical influence into being one of the rising young defensemen in the Ontario Hockey League, playing for head coach Scott Walker and the Guelph Storm.

“Andrey’s strength is definitely his size and his skating,” said Walker, who has coached Pedan for the past calendar year, after being named the Storm’s head coach on December 23, 2010 and guiding them to a 19-13-0-2 record to close out the 2010-11 season. “He still needs to physically fill out. I am not one who likes to project, but if [Andrey] doesn’t do too much and keeps things simple, he could be a top-4 defenseman on the NHL level.”

Walker speaks from experience, after finishing off a 17-year professional career last December for the Washington Capitals. In 829 National Hockey League games, Walker scored 151 goals and assisted on 246 others while racking up 1,162 penalty minutes playing for the Vancouver Canucks, Nashville Predators, Carolina Hurricanes and the Capitals.

Walker’s hockey acumen, along with his knowledge of the NHL game today, has provided him the wherewithal to project an NHL comparison to his impressionable 18-year old – a hulking defenseman frustratingly familiar to Islander nation.

“When I watch Andrey play, I see him very similar to [former Islander prospect and 2009 Norris Trophy winner Zdeno] Chara,” said Walker, who while playing for the Hurricanes, battled the 6-foot-9 Slovakian and the Boston Bruins through seven epic playoff games in the second round of the 2009 postseason. “They are both thin and have great hands. They both also shoot the puck extremely well from the point.”

Ironically Walker, who was vilified for breaking Bruin defenseman Aaron Ward’s orbital bone during game five of that series, would get the last laugh. He netted the game-seven overtime winner in Boston sending the Hurricanes to the Eastern Conference finals where they would eventually be swept in four games by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Prior to earning first pairing minutes with 2012 NHL draft eligible defenseman and first round prospect Matt Finn, averaging nearly 30 minutes a night for the past year-and-a-quarter at Guelph, Pedan had a life-changing decision to ponder – to stay in Russia and pursue a hockey career in the Kontinental Hockey League or venture over to North America and pursue a career in the National Hockey League.

The decision was simple, according to Pedan.

“The reason I came to play here (in North America) was because of the level of hockey,” said Pedan. “In the NHL, the players play fast and they are much more physical.”

Yet, a then 17-year old – with no parental supervision – trekking to new surroundings could have had its drawbacks, but according to Storm assistant coach Chris Hajt, the transition was slow but steady.

“For Andrey to move from Russia to Canada, he had to adjust to a whole new way of life,” said Hajt. “The way of living, the style of hockey, the language and living away from home, it is a lot for a 17-year old to adjust to. We had to spend more time with him to make sure he was comfortable and adjusting well all during the season.”

Pedan scored two goals and had 10 assists in his first regular season at Guelph. He assisted on eight others during Guelph’s opening round loss of the 2011 post-season to the Saginaw Spirit in six games.

“He was so good in the [locker] room,” said Walker. “The guys liked to have fun with him. He fit right in.”

After being drafted by the Islanders in the summer, Pedan welcomed his grandmother to Guelph, and she would become a mainstay for his everyday life as the 2011-12 campaign approached.

“His grandmother helps him with the day-to-day things,” said Hajt. “With being so far from home, it helps having a family member there for support and help.

“Still, he is much more self sufficient this year. He is now more relaxed and comfortable with the way of living and hockey.”

In his first 18 games of the 2011-12 campaign, Pedan has more than doubled his goal scoring output from last season with five. He has 11 points, second to Finn (16) among Storm defenders.

“The pressure of being drafted is definitely off,” said Walker. “He is continuing to develop, and plays hard on every shift. He needs to be a little more disciplined as far as taking less penalties, but he has got all the characteristics a coach would want.

“An NHL estimate, he could get a look as a 20-year old (2013-14 NHL season). It’s all up to him.”

Outside of hockey, Pedan enjoys playing soccer and tennis, reading books and playing video games, but his first love is still hockey.

“My role model is (Philadelphia Flyer) Chris Pronger,” said Pedan, who was invited to play for Team Russia on November 10th in the 2011 SUBWAY Super Series against Team OHL and Islander top prospect Ryan Strome. “He’s tough and has a hard shot.”

Strome would score twice and add an assist as Team OHL outscored Team Russia, 10-7. Pedan would have four penalty minutes, and be held off the score-sheet.

With hopes of adding 20-to-25 pounds over the next 24-to-36 months, the comparison with Pronger may not be so far-fetched. Furthermore, playing on the same blue-line with fellow 2011 Islander draftee Scott Mayfield, who himself stands 6-feet-4 inches tall, could provide a presence that is currently lacking on Long Island – much to the chagrin of the die-hards.

On the Horizon is a regular feature from Alan Avital that focuses on the best Islanders not yet with the big club. Comments on Andrey Pedan and other prospects are welcomed in this thread. Talk about the big club continues in other posts.