With work, school, and final papers/exams, it has been a bit tough to catch a lot of these playoff games, and it truly does disappoint me. Today I just had enough time to only catch the final buzzer of the third period of Game 2 in the Pens/Rangers series, and you can imagine that I liked seeing Avery get what he had coming too him...but there is a lot more to be seen from this Penguin team besides defense of a teammate or a shutout by Fleury.
The team's nucleus is young, fast, and improving. Staal's game winning goal just took a subtle pull from his left hand to position the puck away from the far side of the net, roofing it over Henrik's pad. He almost looked frozen in time as Staal was left untouched and positioned well to put the icing on the cake.
Sure, they got lucky when they drafted Sidney Crosby, but even without him this team is a force. There is no question that he makes a difference on and off the ice, but when he's sidelined there is still Malkin, Staal, Sykora, Whitney, and now Marian Hossa. Sykora and Hossa may not be here next year, but the fact that Crosby will be along with Malkin and Staal says a lot about this team's future. Malkin can run this team on his own and be the superstar of any team. The fact that he is shoulder to shoulder with Sid the Kid only further suggests that this team will be a powerhouse for years to come.
It proves that bad years yield a profitable return in the end, and gives some form of hope that my Islanders can one day be a team like this. DP was the first goalie to be selected first overall in draft history. The only other goalie to be drafted first overall was the kid who got the shutout today, Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury's development seemed to take a little more time when compared to Ricky's, but he's evolving into a top-tier net minder in the NHL. Don't believe me? He's yet to lose a game in his six played in the playoffs, and swept Spezza, Heatley, and Alfredsson amongst others to the golf course.
Unfortunately this team does not have anyone comparable to Crosby or Malkin. There is Filatov in this year's draft, and he may possibly go with the Isles' Number 5 pick. He's the next best forward after Stamkos and has put up some incredible numbers over in Russia. The only problem is that Russia has continued to put up a brick wall to North American arms when they try to bring their picks from their native land, and it may be enough of a concern to cause the Islanders to look elsewhere.
If Filatov was drafted by the Isles I think it could be an exciting choice that may allow him to jump right to the NHL, pending the Russian team's agreement. Again, he won't be a Crosby or Malkin, but he sure would be exciting to watch. We also have Okposo beginning his NHL career, with youngsters Blake Comeau and Sean Bergenheim developing as well. Throw Tambellini in there, but again...with him we don't know what to expect. On defense we have Campoli and Gervais with full-time roles in addition to the forward core.
The problem is that none of these young guys have stepped up their game to a level that's significantly noteworthy when compared to Crosby, Staal, or Malkin. Campoli made some great strides last year while playing with a dislocated shoulder, which eventually forced him to sit the second half of the season. Hopefully that means next year he'll be even better after being completely healthy. The kid has a heck of a slap shot when he gets it off, he just needs to make that a priority.
The Pens are a perfect model of building through the draft. Their talent and success didn't come over night. It took years. Even when they had Crosby straight out of the draft they still fell short of the playoffs, but two years later they are only two games away from competing in the Conference Finals. They have the making of a possible dynasty, something the NHL hasn't seen in decades. They're causing me to want them to make it to the Cup Finals; I'm not a front runner or jumping on the bandwagon here, but their spirited play and effort combined with their patience over the years and rebuilding is what I want to see for my Isles...and seeing it for them gives me hope.
Hopefully the Isles organization continues to recognize that building through the draft is the best way to go. The stupid trades for underachieving seasoned veterans need to be erased from the future's plans. It will take time, but one day we may see Okposo and Filatov, or Pietrangelo, or Doughty, along with Bergenheim, Comeau, and Campoli leading this team for their first serious cup run since the 90's.
In the meantime I will be watching them develop, and waiting.