Islanders 2003 draft evaluation

By Peter Prohaska

The Mike Milbury Era increasingly resembles something better forgotten.  The current management is still dealing with some of the draft busts, impatience and bad luck of his reign.  The fans won’t likely remember the 2003 draft fondly.  Considering its overall depth and three second-rounders, the Islanders could have done a lot better, but the glaring problem is the Russian one.  The Islanders selected three Russians, including two in the second.  Not one of them has suited for an NHL game. The brightest part of 2003 for the Isles came in the sixth round, when they took Bruno Gervais at 182nd overall.

Of the nine young men drafted, only three (Nilsson, Gervais and Colliton) have played an NHL game (302 games total).  The fact that they gave Nilsson (and Ryan O’Marra and a first-round pick in 2007) up in exchange for 18 games of Ryan Smyth’s services has to sting a little in retrospect.

Robert Nilsson, C

1st round, 15th Overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games: 128

Nilsson finally had a season worthy of a first-round pick in 2007-08.  Unfortunately for the Isles, it happened in Edmonton, where he landed as part of last year’s trade for Ryan Smyth.  Nilsson put up 41 points (10 goals) in 71 games, clicking admirably with rookies Andrew Cogliano and Sam Gagner.  The Oilers signed Nilsson to a three-year deal worth around $6 million. He still has some of the issues that led to his departure from Long Island: occasional softness on the puck and ill-advised passes, but is starting to show the playmaker’s flash that was expected. The Oilers had Nilsson on their list back in 2003, and finally got their man.  He gained quite a bit of attention for a spectacular SEL season, in which he broke Markus Naslund’s rookie scoring record.  Still, there was a lot of talent still on the board at this point.

Dmitri Chernykh, R

2nd round, 48th Overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games: 0

With their second pick, the Islanders took Russian winger Chernykh.  He last appeared in North America having a mediocre 2006-07 with the ECHL Dayton Bombers (5 goals, 4 assists in 37 games) and transferred back to the Russian League (Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk), where he didn’t stick (4 games played, no points). He played with the Second League teams HK Ryazan (22 games, 7 goals and 8 assists) and Gazovik Tyumen this past season.

Evgeny Tunik, C

2nd round, 53rd Overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games: 0

The Islanders then selected another young Russian who didn’t quite fit the program. Tunik had a decent 2005-06 season in Bridgeport of the AHL (4 goals, 18 points in 61 games), but returned to Russia where he plays with Crystall Elektrostal of the Russian 2nd league, putting up 32 points (17 goals) and 109 PIM in last year’s campaign.

Jeremy Colliton, C

2nd round, 58th Overall
Status: NHL Prospect
Games Played: 36

Colliton saw a little more time in the major league this past year, logging time in 16 Islanders games, but failing to register a point.  He also saw his point totals in the AHL fall to nearly half what they were in 2005-06, and were less than in 2006-07 as well.  He sustained a tear in his shoulder in early 2007 and was forced to undergo surgery.  This was a lingering injury that obviously set him back significantly.  Colliton will likely never be a scoring threat, but his solid penalty-kill skills and defensive strengths make him a valuable asset.  It remains to be seen whether he can finally secure a place on the Islanders roster.

Stefan Blaho, L

4th round, 120th Overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games: 0

Blaho was killed in an automobile wreck in his native Slovakia, in August 2006, just after his 21st birthday.  He had previously split time between Sudbury and Sarnia in the OHL, posting 5 points in 47 games.

Bruno Gervais, D

6th round, 182nd Overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games: 138

Gervais was a player who fell during the draft.  Central Scouting had him at 78th, which was probably closer to accurate than where he was taken.  He possessed great leadership, having been captain of his Acadie-Bathurst team at 18.  He had also scored 22 goals and 50 points the previous season in the QMJHL.  A right-handed defenseman with a lot of upside, Gervais was a solid pick in the sixth round.  This year he appeared in 60 games and had 13 assists.  He has certainly outperformed his draft position thus far, proving a very likable presence off the ice as well as a legitimate NHL rearguard with offensive skill.  He did miss time over the last couple of seasons with a concussion and an ankle injury, but Gervais has shown ability to persevere: the first requirement of success in pro hockey.

Denis Rehak, D

7th round, 212th Overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games: 0

Rehak had some decent seasons since leaving British Columbia in 2004, including a nice showing in the Czech U20 League with Ytong Brno (19 points in 46 games), but his time in the Czech majors with SK Slavia Trebic was unremarkable.  He is now playing in the Slovakian Extraliga.  Rivak was a -20 with no goals and 8 assists in 54 games for his squad last season.

Cody Blanshan, D

8th round, 238th Overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games: 0

The Minnesota native was toiling for the Mississippi River Kings of the CHL this past season, contributing 20 points (2 goals) and demonstrating his physical side with 118 PIMs.  The Islanders had given up on him by July 2005, choosing not to sign the prospect at that time.

Igor Volkov, L

8th round, 246th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games: 0

Volkov still plays with his former club, Ufa Salavat Yulayev, in the Russian Hockey League, with former NHLers Alexander Perezhogin, Oleg Tverdovsky, and Vladimir Vorobiev. Volkov was good for 14 goals and 23 points this season (50 games), plus 11 more points in a 16-game playoff run.  He has put up 23 points or more for five consecutive seasons, and one would surmise he’s comfortable at home in Russia.