Hockey

Islanders acquire Jason Wiemer

Jason Wiemer is headed north from Florida to Long Island.

Wiemer, a 26-year-old forward, was traded to the New York Islanders by the Florida Panthers for defenceman Branislav Mezei on Wednesday.

The Kimberley, B.C. native had 11 goals and 20 assists for 31 points with 178 penalty minutes in 70 games last season.

"I'm excited to be a part of a winning team that also has such a winning tradition," Wiemer said. "The moves ownership and the hockey staff have made over the last year have turned the franchise around.

"To go to battle with this team is going to be a lot of fun."

"Jason is one of the toughest and hardest-working players in the game," added Islanders general manager Mike Milbury. "We looked to improve our team toughness this season and we have definitely done that with young players like Wiemer, Arron Asham and Eric Godard.

"We also believe Wiemer is an excellent leader and two-way forward who can play a lot of roles until Mike Peca returns to the lineup. We will miss Branislav Mezei and we're completely confident that he's going to be an excellent NHL defenceman, but this is a trade that makes us better today and for years to come."

Wiemer has 71 goals and 77 assists for 148 points with 1,071 penalty minutes in 521 games over eight NHL seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Calgary Flames and Panthers.

His assist, point and penalty totals were all career-highs, as were his three assists in a 6-6 tie against the Islanders on February 4.

"I've always liked the way Jason Wiemer plays the game," Islanders head coach Peter Laviolette said. "He always goes with his heart first.

"He's always been a very competitive guy that you want on your team in the heat of battle."

Wiemer, drafted eighth overall by the Lightning in 1994, has one goal in six career playoff games.

He was traded to the Flames for Sandy McCarthy and third and fifth round draft picks on Mar. 24, 1998.

Wiemer was shipped to the Panthers on June 23, 2001, along with Valeri Bure for Rob Niedermayer and a second rounder in 2001.

"Jason's a big, strong power forward that can do a little bit of everything," said Islanders forward Bill Scatchard, Wiemer's junior teammate with the WHL Portland Winter Hawks.

"He is a physical player that can use his body to change a game around. He has good hands for a big guy and can drop the gloves when the time comes.

"Jason's been in the league for a long time. Particularly as young as he is, it's a great addition.

"He knows what this league is all about. From the number of years he's played in the NHL, he's going to add leadership to the locker room."

"I never enjoyed playing against him, so I'm sure I'll enjoy playing with him," added Islanders defenceman Adrian Aucoin. "Wiemer is one of those players that can do it all.

"He's gritty, he can score. I think Mez has a huge upside but, when you want to improve now, you have to give to get a player of Wiemer's calibre."

At 6-5, 236-pounds, Mezei is a hulking 21-year-old who managed two assists and 12 penalty minutes in 24 appearances for the Islanders last season.

"He's a young player with a tremendous future," Panthers general manager Rick Dudley said. "He has the skills that we are looking for in our defencemen -- big, mobile, fast, gritty and he can pass the puck."

Mezei, a native of Nitra, Slovakia, scored once with four assists and 53 penalty minutes in 42 games as a rookie in 2000-01.

"It's unfortunate to see Branislav go," Laviolette said. "He is going to be a good player.

"But in order to get a good asset, you have to give up something that has value."

"As much as we'll miss Brano, Wiemer makes us a better and tougher team," added Islanders goaltender Garth Snow. "He adds a lot of toughness and grit that is a must on any winning team.

"You look at the Toronto series and the way it transpired. I think that's a series Jason would have thrived in."