📝 by Dalton Rice | AHL On The Beat
Ruslan Iskhakov has been part of the New York Islanders organization since the day he was drafted 43rd overall in 2018.
He was on the team’s radar even before that.
Now he’s putting the rest of the hockey world on notice.
“He’s a special player, and he’s special for us playing on that top line and on that top power-play unit,” Bridgeport captain Seth Helgeson told NYI Hockey Now on Sunday. “So what he’s doing is working.”
Iskhakov has quickly made a name for himself in the American Hockey League. The 22-year-old scored his first AHL goal in just his second game on Oct. 15 at Springfield, ultimately sparking a six-game point streak that saw him earn 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in eight October games.
He was rewarded by being named AHL Rookie of the Month. Only four other players have ever earned that honor in Bridgeport history: Josh Ho-Sang (February 2017), Ryan Strome (November 2013), Trevor Smith (February 2008), and Wade Dubielewicz (December 2003).
“I’m happy with the start this season, especially for the team,” Iskhakov said. “I’m just trying to get better every day. I’m not a big guy so I have to be quick and shifty.”
The 5-foot-9, 165-pound forward has helped the Islanders post a 7-2-1-0 record through their first 10 games. Bridgeport ranks second in the Atlantic Division and had an eight-game unbeaten-in-regulation streak (7-0-1-0) come to an end on Sunday afternoon.
One of the key reasons that Bridgeport has been so strong to begin the season is its offense, which leads all Eastern Conference clubs averaging 4.0 goals per game. Before Sunday, the Islanders had scored at least four goals in seven straight contests.
Iskhakov has been a catalyst. He leads Bridgeport with 14 points in 10 games and has earned multi-point efforts in five of his last seven. In fact, Iskhakov’s 14 points are tied for most among all AHL players. He continues to be the top scoring rookie.
“When you see him, the first thing you notice is the offensive instincts he has,” Bridgeport Islanders head coach Brent Thompson said. “The vision, the shot, the ability to make passes that others can’t.”
Perhaps one reason he has settled in so quickly is his familiarity with the area. A native of Moscow, Iskhakov is playing professional hockey a long way from home, but he moved to the United States as a teenager to attend the University of Connecticut from 2018-20. He committed to UConn just days before the Islanders drafted him, and went on to collect 42 points (15 goals, 27 assists) in 64 career games with the Huskies.
“I think it (playing at UConn) helped me adjust pretty quickly, since I already played on the smaller surface area,” Iskhakov said. “It’s a big difference (from Europe). You have to make a decision very quickly, you have to move the puck, and you have to move your feet.”
After two college seasons, Iskhakov opted to turn pro and headed back across the pond. He played for TPS Turku in Finland in 2020-21 and Adler Mannheim in Germany in 2021-22. Over 79 games between the two leagues, he had 17 goals and 43 assists.
Something else to consider: For the majority of his two pro seasons abroad, Iskhakov played primarily at the center position. He transitioned to the wing when he arrived in Bridgeport.
“It’s been good,” Iskhakov said. “I’m still adjusting to the wing position right now, and I think I can get a lot better.”
Thompson sees consistent progress as well as impressive sense of maturity and poise.
“I think he’s confident, that is the biggest thing,” Thompson said. “He’s a mature young fellow that has come in confident in his skills, he is confident that he can play in this league. Right now, he is taking steps where we need him to take steps in North American hockey. He’s finding open ice, attacking the net, and not afraid to get on the walls.”
“I know the ice here and I’m used to having to make quick decisions,” Iskhakov said during the preseason. “I have only been back here for a few months, but I am ready. It’s exciting that it’s just the beginning.”