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Time with Islanders could be now for Ness

by Brian Compton /
UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Just over two years ago, Aaron Ness was the best high school player in Minnesota. Now he's debating whether it's time to officially leave his home state and begin his professional hockey career.

A second-round draft choice (No. 40) by the New York Islanders in 2008, Ness just completed his second season at the University of Minnesota. In 76 collegiate games, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound defenseman has 4 goals, 25 assists and 40 penalty minutes.

Ness was taken by the Isles with the first of their three second-round picks that year after winning the "Mr. Hockey" Award in Minnesota, which is given to the best high school player in the state. He had 72 points (28 goals, 44 assists) in just 31 games in 2007-08 for Roseau H.S. as his team went 25-0 during the regular season.

Durability has been one of Ness' strengths at the college level. He's appeared in every game for the Golden Gophers over the past two seasons and ranked second in team scoring among defensemen both times.

"I think things have been going real well. It's fun to be out here. It's good competition and you get to kind of see where you're at. Things have been going pretty well since the draft."
-- Aaron Ness

"I love it there … it's the greatest place to play college hockey, in my mind," Ness said. "Great coaches, great fans … everything's just perfect out there. I'm having a lot of fun there, too. We'll see what happens."

Ness is participating in the Isles' prospect camp, which opened Wednesday morning at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. He admitted that he's using this week to help determine whether it's time to turn pro or to stay at Minnesota for at least one more season.

"I'm not going to 100 percent say anything yet," Ness told "We'll see how this week goes and talk a little bit and just figure it out. I'm in no hurry to make a decision and I'm in no hurry to leave, either. We'll see how it goes and I'll probably make a decision pretty soon.

"I think things have been going real well. It's fun to be out here. It's good competition and you get to kind of see where you're at. Things have been going pretty well since the draft."

It appears as if the Islanders will be perfectly content if Ness opts to play another season of college hockey. He told he hasn't felt any pressure from GM Garth Snow or anyone else in the organization to turn pro.

"They've always been great about that -- they let me make my decisions," Ness said of Islanders brass. "They're there to talk to me and help me out through anything. It's pretty cool from that aspect."

Should Ness decide to leave the college game behind, he would be joining a trend in New York. In the past week, Rangers prospects Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh signed deals with the Blueshirts and passed up the opportunity to continue their college careers at the University of Wisconsin.

"I think it's a little bit of everything," Ness said when asked what weighs into such a decision. "Deep down, if you feel you can play at the next level, why not? If you know you're going to be able to do that, why not? I think those guys made their decision, whether it's something at school -- maybe they don't like it. There's little things that go into it that play a big role at the end."

If the first day of camp was any indication, Ness could be ready to make the jump as well. His skating ability was impressive and he also fired a gorgeous wrist shot past 6-foot-7 Mikko Koskinen during one of the drills.

"He looked a little more confident, a little more sure of himself," Isles coach Scott Gordon said. "It's hard to watch everybody. You're looking at a lot of different players. (Wednesday's) practice was a little more about some skills. It wasn't really anything that would jump out as far as playing the game of hockey. It was more about individual abilities."

Whether it's at Minnesota, AHL Bridgeport or on Long Island, Ness realizes there's an area of his game that still needs some work. He's put on more than 10 pounds of muscle since being drafted two years ago and is fully aware of the size and strength of the competition he'll be facing down the road.

"Just in the corners and stuff … I'm not 6-foot-2 or anything," Ness said. "For me, I just have to continue to get stronger and learn how to play against a guy that's five, six inches taller and weighs about 50 pounds more. I just need to use my speed and skill and hopefully I'll be able to play at the next level."

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL  
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