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by Staff Writer / New York Islanders
Emerging blueliner inked past first year of potential unrestricted free agency

The  Islanders have signed recently-acquired defenseman Brent  Sopel to a two-year contract. The 28-year old Sopel had 10 goals and 32  assists  for 42 points - all career bests - in 80 games in 2003-04 with the Vancouver Canucks. He would have been eligible to become an unresticted free  agent  in  the  summer  of 2006. Islanders defensemen Alexei Zhitnik, Janne Niinimaa, Brad Lukowich and Sopel are now all signed for the next two seasons, Zhitnik for an additional two seasons beyond that.

Sopel's  42  points placed him tied for 14th among NHL defensemen. Of the 13 defensemen ahead of Sopel on the scoring chart, only Ottawa's Wade Redden is younger than the new Islanders defenseman. Sopel was the Canucks' leader  on  the blueline in assists and points. He also took 173 shots, was plus-11,  scored  six  power  play goals and averaged just under 22 minutes played per game.

Sopel was acquired earlier this month in a trade with the Canucks for a  conditional  draft pick. As a result of Sopel signing beyond the 2005-06 season, the Islanders will give the Canucks a second round pick in the 2006 draft.

In  302 career NHL games, all with Vancouver, Sopel is 32-93-125 with 129 penalty minutes. His offensive output has increased in each of the last three  seasons: 27 points in 2001-02, 37 points in 2002-03 and 42 points in 2003-04.

The  6-1,  210-pound  Sopel was originally a sixth round selection of the Canucks in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft.




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