Sunday, June 26, 2011

Post-Draft Analysis: Islanders Take Giant Step Forward

In what certainly should be remembered as the Isles' most complete draft since 2009, when they hauled John Tavares, Calvin de Haan, Mikko Koskinen and Casey Cizikas back to Long Island, there's no question they've now raised the stakes in their quest to, once again, become an elite NHL team.

There were a number of ways GM Garth Snow could have gone with the 5th overall selection, whether it be taking a defenseman like Dougie Hamilton (who I originally wanted them to pick) or going with a future scoring machine such as Sean Couturier or Ryan Strome.

Snow decided on the scoring machine.

Ryan Strome became the newest member of the New York Islanders, this past Friday night, and judging by his interviews and responses, it really seems as if the Isles have chosen a player who truly wants to be here.

What I felt was particularly telling, was how Strome made references to the collection of talented young guys who are already on the Island. The fact is, now that we have John Tavares, Michael Grabner, Kyle Okposo, Nino Niederreiter, as well as several others, this is becoming a place where these kids want to play. You have to think it's only a matter of time before those young guns develop into bona fide NHL stars, causing free agents to have similar thoughts.

Strome's going to be a tremendous talent, and he'll either give the Isles an excellent one-two punch down the middle, or he'll be the perfect center/winger for John Tavares (though I've already expressed my opinion on moving Tavares to the wing), as was suggested by NHL analysts Craig Button and Pierre McGuire.

The Islanders have just turned themselves from a franchise on the brink of becoming a future contender, to one that can now be labeled as such. Adding Strome into a mix that already included Tavares, Moulson, Grabner, Okposo, Niederreiter, the Kirills (well, soon enough) and Josh Bailey (though still questionable whether or not he'll reach expectations), along with strong two-way centers Frans Nielsen and, sooner or later, Casey Cizikas, and the Isles have themselves a complete offense.

Could a free agent scoring winger help? Absolutely, but when these players reach the NHL level, I really don't think that type of player will be a necessity, because the Isles should have a handful of goal-scorers on the roster at that point.

With the team's first of two picks in Round 2, Garth Snow addressed the issue we all knew he'd address, which was the lack of size on defense, both in the team's prospect pool and lineup. Scott Mayfield, who was expected to go late in the first round, slipped to the Islanders at no. 34, giving them the 6"4/ 203 lbs (at age 18, yikes!) stay-at-home blueliner they so desperately needed.

If I had any feelings of disappointment over the Isles passing on Dougie Hamilton at 5th overall, they were all subsided when Snow took this kid.

The hallmark of Mayfield's game is definitely his steady two-way presence, but he does have upside with the puck as well. He makes a good first pass, can shoot well and play the point on the PP.

Johan Sundstrom, a Swedish two-way center, was taken by the Isles at no. 50, the 2nd round selection they received from the Montreal Canadiens for James Wisniewski.

The Islanders continued to focus on defense with their next two picks, taking Andrei Pedan and Robbie Russo in the 3rd and 4th rounds, respectively. Pedan's known to be a stay-at-home guy while Russo is more of a puck-moving type.

Brenden Kichton, one of two Isles 5th round picks, could turn out to be one of the steals of the draft.

Kichton notched 81 points as a defenseman, playing for the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL. He was passed on during last year's draft, and with the way he performed this season, you have to wonder just why that happened, and how on earth he was still available in the 5th round in 2011.

Garth Snow and the Islanders' scouts don't care why Kichton slipped, they're ecstatic to have him.

If he pans out, they've got a special player. If he doesn't, alright so you took a chance on him at 127th overall. No one's going to complain much.

The other player taken by New York in the 5th round (before Kichton) was John Persson, a Swedish winger playing for the Red Deer Rebels (WHL), who's 6"2 and had 61 points this season. It seems like he'll be more of a two-way player because of his size, but the kid has a scoring touch.

Mitchell Theoret was the Isles' final pick at the 2011 draft, going 185th overall (7th Round). He's supposed to be a "plugger," an energy guy who can be physical and win battles for loose pucks along the boards and in the corners.

I think Garth Snow and his scouts did a tremendous job at the draft. They came in knowing exactly what they needed and who they wanted to fill those voids, jumped at opportunities to take low risk/high reward prospects and really addressed the blueline exceptionally well. Kudos to Snow for having the presence of mind to select Mayfield, a projected first rounder, at 34th overall.

I'm thoroughly impressed with the way the Isles came away with an offensive dynamo and D-man with size in the first two rounds. I'm thrilled with the group of players they chose in the later rounds as well.

All in all, this was a draft that, when they do become an NHL powerhouse, the Islanders will almost certainly look back upon as one of the defining moments of their resurgence.

Comments are welcome.


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