In a season that started out with mixed vets and kids heading for a downward spiral to the bottom of the standings pretty much from the get-go, to a release of some "bad apples" and increased reliance on prospects and AHL fill-ins, the year is coming to a rapid close with only seven games remaining. During the usual fun-filled playoffs, 16 teams will compete for a chance to battle for Lord Stanley's Cup, but there will be another competition going on in which five teams will be more focused on.
And that my friends, is the draft lottery.
It isn't fun to say that this is the second year in a row that I will be rooting for a ball to be selected out of chance instead of a playoff victory. Hell, in my short tenure as an Islanders fan I haven't seen anything more than a Game 7 loss to Toronto.
But let's face it, as Isles fans this is what we need right now: the first overall pick. The odds are in the Isles favor if they finish the year dead last in the standings where they are right now. They have a comfortable cushion of five points separating them from the Colorado Avalanche, the closest competitor that still can somehow pull out an upset.
But at the end of it all it, the race for dead last is much like the standings before the playoffs begin. It doesn't matter where you finish after 82 games...it all comes down to one single, solitary moment.
If the Isles finish in last they are guaranteed either the first or the second overall pick. The history of this team speaks for itself when it comes to luck, but let's say the Isles retain the first overall pick. The two leading contenders are obviously John Tavares and Victor Hedman. Both are predicted to be all-star calibre players that a team can revolve around, so who is the one the Isles should go for? Let's have a look-see.
John Tavares weighs in at a modest 198 pounds at 6' tall and is a left-handed center. If anyone watched the Junior Olympic games they know what this kid is capable of doing. Simply put he is one of the most exciting players to watch when he is on the ice. In 32 games with the Oshawa Generals, Tavares put up 54 points scoring 26 goals and 28 assists. After a mid-season trade sent him to the London Knights, Tavares has put up almost identical numbers. He has scored 50 points with 32 goals and 18 assists in only 24 games played. The previous two years he had put up a total of 118 and 134 points as well. He is strong on the puck and will deliver when needed. He has size, strength, and the hands to put him at an all around level of play that can definitely be the focal point of rebuilding a franchise.
Becoming quickly compared to Chris Pronger of the Anaheim Ducks, Victor Hedman comes in as a towering defenseman at 6'5 and 220 pounds. Most players at his size are criticized for poor skating ability, but not this kid. He has great offensive ability and has been working on his all around defensive game as well. In 43 games played this year with MoDo of the Swedish Elite League, Hedman has put up 7 goals and 14 assists for 21 points. However he did not rise to the occasion for Team Sweden during the World Juniors. He didn't necessarily play poorly, but he was over shadowed by Tavares who was consistent on a nightly basis.
Although both are players that would be valuable to any team, it is important to address what the Isles have in their system and see what needs they might be concerning themselves with.
On offense they have the surging play of Kyle Okposo who is leading the team in goals with 17 and has become a regular go-to guy on the ice. Josh Bailey is starting to score some goals and will be able to handle the NHL better if he bulks up over the summer. Blake Comeau has improved nicely as the checking forward that gets the puck out of the corners and works it to his line mates. Frans Nielsen is a reliable center man and has some sweet hands that need to be utilized more often. Jeff Tambellini is FINALLY starting to get his goals. And of course there is Sean Bergenheim. Although he is injured, he was the hottest player on this Isles team after his hat-trick against the Devils a few weeks back.
On defense the Isles have Bruno Gervais starting to turn his game around with the help of his partner Mark Streit. As a result Gervais is putting up points and is finding himself caught out of position on a less frequent basis than earlier in the year. Jack Hillen has stepped in and appears to be gaining confidence with each shift he takes. I wouldn't say he's Campoli's replacement just yet, but he has the potential to be a regular offensive dman in the future.
Two players from Bridgeport that the Isles have called up and stood out are Jesse Joensuu and Mike Iggulden. Both have good hands and good size and were a pleasure to watch. However both need more time in the minors, especially Joensuu as Iggulden was able to contribute offensive almost each game he played. On defense is where the Isles are pretty thin. Andrew MacDonald and Joe Callahan got a little taste of the NHL but are no where near ready to join the Islanders blue corps. Dustin Kohn is someone the Isles had high hopes for, but he has still yet to get his NHL debut and doesn't seem to be improving his game at the pace many had hoped for. He only has 13 points this year in 54 games played with the Tigers, a far cry from his 50 points scored in 61 games while playing for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL.
With this assessment, Garth Snow may be leaning towards drafting Hedman since the Isles future on the blue line is pretty empty. However, the Isles still have three second round picks and that late first round pick they acquired from Ottawa in the Comrie/Campoli deal. It is very possible that Snow may package a 2nd and that 1st to a team that is say in the 14th/15th overall range to snag a mid round defender.
I may be spit-balling my hopes and dreams because I personally want John Tavares on this team next year. Although Hedman is a great defenseman who may be another Chris Pronger, when a player like Tavares comes around you cannot pass him up. I can only imagine what a line of Comeau-Tavares-Okposo could look like. Perhaps he's the guy that turns Tambellini into that all-star we all thought he would be. It is very possible that he may take some time to get adjusted, much like Steve Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning, but he seems like the type of guy that would be worth the wait.
There's my two cents. Hopefully the Isles will draft Tavares and address their needs on defense with a draft day deal. However, if the Isles finish with the second overall pick, Hedman would not be a bad choice either.
So, who would you take?