There were 4 players that most fans felt the Islanders would end up with at the 2010 draft with the 5th overall pick. Every mock draft had the Isles taking one of either Gormley, Gundbranson, Connolly or Fowler. when Garth Snow walked up to the podium at the Staples Center on Friday night, he proved that every mock draft, every fan, (including me) and every pundit was dead wrong.
The Islanders went with highly touted, and quick-rising star prospect Nino Niederreiter with the number 5 pick. The fans at the Islander draft party did not quite know what to do. There were mixed emotions. Fans who follow the team, and all of its wheelings and dealings, as well as the prospects coming through the draft knew very well that "El Nino" was a desired commodity—by many teams. Many blogs and message boards suggested "El Nino" would be a perfect fit for the Islanders because of the team need for skill, and size on the wing. Numerous Islander fans I spoke with felt that if we could somehow walk away with Gundbranson or Fowler with the 5 pick—and then put a package together to grab El Nino, it would be a very strong draft for the Islanders.
The fear of course after the selection of Niederreiter was that newly minted Tampa Bay GM, Steve Yzerman would pounce on Cam Fowler solidifying that the best place to draft in any given year is the spot right after the Islanders. When "Stevie Y" strode to the podium, and announced Brett Connolly's name, followed by Jeff Skinner to Carolina, and Burmistrov to Atlanta, it brought into focus the fact that Gormley and Fowler—both excellent players and top prospects—had slipped somewhere during their interviews. It was not just the wacky Islanders who passed. Some very strong, "so-called" expert hockey people also passed—all the way to picks 12 and 13.
With El Nino in the fold, the Islanders addressed two major issue of contention with the fan base. First—they addressed the reality that the New York Islanders and their management believe that with two current NHL defenseman in Hillen and MacDonald; both still developing—plus Hamonic and De Haan moving up the prospect list, and perhaps one or both making the NHL squad this season—the need for a defenseman was not as pressing with the 5th pick. They also communicated that size matters. And there is an understanding that grabbing a bull-dog-built wing like Nino fits a big hole on the team's top 6 offense. Nino may or may not make the Islanders out of camp. But one thing is clear, the Islanders made a solid selection.
As the first round was wrapping up, it seemed as if the Islanders would be content with Niederreiter. But they clearly were not done and were concerned that there was another key player they liked, that would not last, and was worth two second round picks. What seems to me a bit of a flier, Brock Nelson was the 30th and final pick of the first round for the NY Islanders. Nelson has excellent size and a very nice scoring touch. In 31 games for Warroad High School, Nelson had 53 goals and 95 points—with a plus 55 rating. Those are very good numbers—but we are talking about high school. Nelson is committed to attend the University of North Dakota, where he will have the chance to develop some more. While the pick could be a reach, it could also be a very strong addition to the Islander family in a few seasons time. Clearly, Ryan Jankowski and Garth Snow saw something that impressed with Mr. Nelson.
With no second round pick available after the trade to Chicago for the 30th pick, there was some speculation the Islanders may make a deal to try to get back into the second round. Instead, Garth Snow solidified his reputation for patience, and he waited all the way to pick #65—the third round—to grab the highly skilled but questionable personality of Krill Kabanov. Had it not been for Kabanov's issues off the ice, he could have been selected in the top 10 of the draft. The Islanders brought some deja vu to the Staples Center. As they did in 2008, when they selected Krill Petrov, they took the chance on Kabanov. Together, with Kabanov's new representation—Bobby Orr's agency—perhaps the Islanders can bring Kabanov into the mix with some self control. This is one 3rd round pick that offers minimal risk, but incredible reward. He can be a bust and end up going back to Russia or becoming a problem off the ice, or—he can become a top 6 all star talent. Time will tell. This is certainly a dynamic and exciting pick.
Later in Round 3, the Islanders continued to draft offense. Jason Clark—6'2" and 180lbs is from NHL factory Shattuck St. Marys. Clearly, with all of the selections for the NY Islanders—size was a factor, as was a need for forwards.
The Islanders then grabbed defenseman Tony Dehart from the Oshawa Generals—the only defenseman they selected this year. He is 20 years old—and was a teammate of prospect Calvin DeHaan and John Tavares while in Oshawa. This shows the importance of building the team largely around Tavares.
The Islanders took goalie Cody Rosen with their final pick of the draft in round 7.
Some more trades took place for the Islanders as the dealt their 4th round pick to the Avalanche for a 3rd round pick in 2011, and they sent their two 6th round picks in this years draft to Atlanta for the Thrashers 5th round pick in 2011. Snow is already beginning to build onto next years draft with extra picks.
The Islanders could have hit a trifecta with Nino, Nelson and Kabanov. While Nelson is largely an unknown commodity in the prospect pool, Nino and Kabanov could both be strong impact players. If you take a moment to consider the past several drafts, the Islanders could easily have the following as their top 6:
Tavares, Bailey, Niederreiter, Okposo, Kabanov, Petrov
Add to that Moulsen, Comeau, Schremp, Neilsen, Martin, Joensuu, Hunter, Nelson
That is a fairly interesting and what could be—I stress could be—a very powerful forward unit for the Islanders—one that could do some real damage.
It also means that not everybody mentioned above is going to be here this season—or even long term. Moulsen was at the draft party—so we can assume he will be signed. But there has been no mention or sighting of Bergenheim, and no sightings or word on Schremp or Hunter. There could be some deals coming between now and July 1.
The Islanders have been following the plan—and Snow and Jankowski deserve a lot of credit. I think part of why Islander fans did not boo or suggest that Snow messed up with El Nino is because fans are smart enough to see a good mind and hockey sense at work. While most of us walked out of Uniondale in disgust on draft day 2008, it has proven to be very shrewd for Garth to move down and add picks. Had he not done so, Hamonic, Petrov, DeHaan and perhaps other prospects would not be Islander property. I think that the Islanders are on a very strong path toward becoming a top force in the NHL in the years to come. They have tons of cap space, and because they are under the cap floor, will be add $10 million in free agents or players via trade. This is a fact just to reach the cap floor.
Snow and Jankowski are building a powerhouse team. While it is taking time, and some fans are impatient, we are lucky to have a patient GM who is willing to take the lumps, and build the team the right way.