Ruslan Iskhakov. If you don’t know the name, start to learn it. RUS-LAN. ISK-HA-KOV. The New York Islanders’ 2018 second-round pick (43rd) is turning heads in his first season in the American Hockey League.
The 22-year-old Russian forward has been a welcomed addition to a talented Bridgeport Islanders club, probably one of the more talented rosters that Bridgeport head coach Brent Thompson has ever had.
Through 10 games this season, Ruslan Iskhakov is averaging 1.4 points per game with four goals and 10 assists (14) as the baby Islanders are off to a 7-2-1-0 start.
It was an October to remember, as not only did Iskhakov score his first career AHL goal, but he tallied four goals total, along with seven assists, in seven games alongside Andy Andreoff and Paul Thompson on Bridgeport’s top line.
Given his production, the AHL acknowledged him as the AHL Player of the Month.
“He’s a special player, and he’s special for us playing on that top line and on that top power-play unit. So what he’s doing is working. He just needs to continue with that consistency,” Bridgeport Islanders captain Seth Helgeson told NYI Hockey Now. “I think that is a big thing that kind of gets lost among younger guys. But, we have all the faith in the world with a guy like him and the rest of the young guys too.”
Iskhakov has transitioned from being a centerman to being a winger this season, and it has been a transition that one would define as smooth.
As for what areas of his game he needs to work on: “I’m just trying to get better every day… Probably playing on the wall. The last couple of years. I played as a center, and I’m still adjusting to being in a wing position. I think that’s where I can get better as well as playing the defensive zone.”
Ruslan Iskhakov made his Bridgeport debut on Oct. 14 in the season opener at the Providence Bruins. In his second game with the Islanders organization on Oct.15 against the Springfield Thunderbirds, the speedy, shifty forward scored his first AHL goal.
The Moskva, Russia native also notched a game-winning goal on Oct.29 against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
Iskhakov's goal to end your night 😌 pic.twitter.com/Y7x1ra5C1g
— Bridgeport Islanders (@AHLIslanders) October 30, 2022
“I think he’s confident. He’s a mature young fellow that has come in confident that he can play in this league,” Bridgeport Islanders head coach Brent Thompson said. “I got to see him at UCONN, and the steps he has made since then, I think going back to Europe and playing two years of professional hockey over there and then coming to us has certainly helped his development.”
In his two years at UCONN (2018-2020), Iskhakov appeared in 64 games scoring 15 goals while adding 27 assists.
— UConn Men's Hockey (@UConnMHOC) January 25, 2020
After two seasons of college hockey, the Islanders prospect returned to Europe to play in the DEL with the Mannheim Eagles, appearing in 25 games with seven goals and 15 assists (22 points).
Having a few years of North American experience and living in the Connecticut area has undoubtedly helped Iskhakov with a smooth transition back after his two-year hiatus.
“I think it helped me adjust pretty quickly,” Iskhakov said. “I know that it’s a big difference with the European Hockey League. You got to make a decision quickly. You’ve got to move the puck and you got to move your feet quickly. So I think that helped me a lot to adjust quickly to the AHL.”
Iskhakov added that he learned a lot over his two years playing in Europe.
“When I played in Europe, I met a lot of people who had already played in the NHL or in the KHL. They helped me through a lot. I think I’m more comfortable with myself and just more experienced.”
We saw Iskhakov play during this past development camp and training camp, as well as some preseason games, and his speed was the standout. The one concern was his size. At just 5’9, 165 lbs, we saw a few times where he was hit hard and even got hurt during the Islanders inter-squad scrimmage at UBS Arena after taking a few hard hits along the boards.
But so far, his speed and quick decision-making have limited the number of hits that have come his way.
It’s intriguing how a coach will describe a player compared to how the player describes their game style. But Thompson and the Islanders rookie seem to be on the same frequency.
“He’s finding open ice. He’s attacking the net. He’s not afraid to get on the walls,” Thompson said. “Does he need to get stronger? Yeah, I think every player on my entire hockey team needs to get stronger. So I’m excited about where he’s at. And again, baby steps with him. It’s early in the year, and we have a long ways to go.”
The New York Islanders are off to a solid start with a 7-5-0 record. There is little need for them to call up any of their prospects at this time and while a player like Aatu Räty or Simon Holmstrom may be one and two on the depth chart, Iskhakov, a center, and a winger, has certainly put himself in the running.
Now it’s up to him to show a consistent game in the second month of the season, where he already has three assists in three games.
The Bridgeport Islanders are back in action Friday, Nov. 11, against the Hershey Bears, the first of a back-to-back against the Washington Capitals AHL affiliate.
NYI Hockey Now’s Editor-in-Chief Stefen Rosner contributed to this piece.