Islanders 2004 draft evaluation

By Stephen Good

The New York Islanders 2004 draft was still under the Mike Milbury regime. The team had a pick in all nine rounds and an extra one in the seventh which they put to good use. With 10 draft picks in all, they chose five forwards, four defensemen, and a goaltender. There were four Europeans chosen along with five CHL players and one NCAA player. Five of these draft picks have played an NHL game and three would be considered NHL players.

The 10 draft picks from 2004 have played a total of 511 NHL games for an average of 51.1 games per player — the fourth-highest average among the 30 teams for this draft class.

Petteri Nokelainen, F 
1st Round, 16th Overall (SaiPa Lappeenranta, FNL)
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games: 122

Nokelainen was the Islanders first selection in the 2004 draft and although he was somewhat of a surprise pick at 16th overall he was also considered to be a safe pick. He was ranked 10th among European skaters by Central Scouting and was often compared to countryman Jere Lehtinen for his consistent two-way play and competitive spirit. He was touted as an excellent penalty killer with the hands to score when the opportunity arose.

Nokelainen seems to be well on his way to living up to his draft-year billing. He is no longer in the Islanders organization, but was an effective penalty killer and fourth line player on a deep Boston team while overcoming an eye injury and finished the season strongly as a third line player in Anaheim. He has the potential to be a highly effective third line defensive forward with the same impact as the recently moved Sami Pahlsson had on the Ducks franchise. If he can up his offensive production with increased opportunities perhaps he could become an occasional option for second line duty with the Ducks.

The Islanders traded Nokelainen to the Boston Bruins for Ben Walter, who was a 2004 fifth round choice, and a conditional 2009 draft choice. Walter was a successful college player at U Mass Lowell and has shown an ability to produce offense.

Nokelainen is the player that he was supposed to be when the Islanders drafted him. Although he is already with his third NHL team, Nokelainen cemented his position as an NHL player this season and should fit nicely with the Ducks for the foreseeable future. One would have to consider this draft pick to be a success as he is one of 14 players to play over 100 NHL games so far from the first round in 2004. He might not have the same point totals, as he is primarily a defensive forward who can chip in on offense from time to time. Nokelainen, while not always flashy, could be an important part of a winning team.

Blake Comeau, F 
2nd Round, 47th Overall (Kelowna Rockets, WHL)
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games: 107

Comeau was ranked 65th among North American skaters by CSS and was considered to be a character player who could bring emotion, size, and the ability to do the dirty work required to win. He could play on the power play and the penalty kill and had won a Memorial Cup with the Kelowna Rockets and an U18 gold medal with Team Canada.

After being drafted by the Islanders in 2004, Comeau increased his point totals in each of his next two seasons with Kelowna, culminating in 74 points in 60 games in the 2005-06 season as well as helping to lead Canada en route to a gold medal at the U20 WJC. The next season was spent in the AHL where he accumulated 43 points and 46 PIM in 61 games with Bridgeport and was called up for three games with the Islanders.

During the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons, Comeau spent the majority of his time with the Islanders but was sent down to the AHL affiliate multiple times. He has played 50 plus NHL games each of these seasons while posting 15, then 25-point seasons along with 54 career PIM. His 2008-09 NHL season came to an early conclusion due to a broken wrist but was able to come back and play in the AHL playoffs.

Comeau still has tremendous upside even though his NHL point totals have not been exceptional through his first 100 games. He is a player who can contribute in ways not shown on the score sheet and should continue to improve his overall game along with his offensive production. Compared to other 2004 second-round selections, Comeau has the six-most games played and continues his improvement every season. Comeau may someday be a physical second line player who can provide some offense and sound defense, but at the very least will have an NHL career as a third or fourth line energy player.

Sergei Ogorodnikov, F
3rd Round, 82 overall (Tver, Russia)
Status: NHL bust
NHL Games: 0

Ogorodnikov was ranked 11th among European skaters by CSS heading into the draft. He was thought to be a center who had great vision to go along with his above average hands and patience with the puck. In the 2004 U18 Championships for Russia he had scored three goals in six games.

Ogorodnikov played in Russia for two seasons after being drafted from 2004-06. He spent time with both CSKA Moscow and Ufa Salavat Yulayev but did not produce much offense as he recorded eight points in 34 games. In 2006-07 he came over to North America and split time between the AHL and ECHL. He played 27 games with Bridgeport where he recorded six points. More production was found in his 42 games with the Pensacola Ice Pilots of the ECHL where he scored 18 goals and 40 points. After that season Ogorodnikov returned to Russia and has been playing for Novokuznetsk Metallurg where he had four points while playing 32 games this past season in the KHL. He will spend his career in Europe.

Wes O’Neill, D
4th Round, 115th Overall (Notre Dame, NCAA
Status: prospect
NHL Games: 3

The fourth round pick by the Islanders was thought by some to be one of the biggest steals of the 2004 Draft. O’Neill was at one time projected to be a first round selection but his stock fell and the Islanders caught him in the fourth round. At 6’4, he was expected to be a physical defenseman with enough speed to make plays and would have time to develop while attending Notre Dame.

He spent four years at Notre Dame and produced well for a defenseman. His last two seasons he had point totals of 25 and 21 while playing 35 and 42 games respectively. He declined to sign with the Islanders when he graduated and was signed by Colorado.

In 2007-08 O’Neill turned pro and played 51 games for Colorado’s AHL team in Lake Erie where he recorded two goals, six points, and 50 PIM. He also saw action in six regular season games and six playoff games in the ECHL where he had one assist for the Johnstown Chiefs.

This past season he had similar numbers to his first pro campaign but was able to see action in three NHL games with Colorado. O’Neill dressed for 54 games in Lake Erie and obtained six points again while dropping his penalty minutes to 34. O’Neill will continue to develop in Colorado’s system and may one day prove his doubters wrong and become a bottom pairing defenseman in the NHL.

 

Steven Regier, LW 
5th Round, 148th Overall (Medicine Hat Tigers, WHL)
Status: prospect
NHL Games: 26

The fifth round led the Islanders to select a forward who was passed over the previous year. Regier was a big body at 6’5 who was expected to fill out and continue to bring intensity, hard work, and do an excellent job along the boards and in front of the net.

Regier was drafted as a 19- going on 20-year-old and made the jump to the AHL for 2004-05 season. He played 75 games and registered seven goals, 22 points, and 43 PIM in his first season with the Sound Tigers. The 2005-06 season saw an improvement in his AHL statistics as he was dressed for 73 games and recorded 16 goals, 38 points, and 54 PIM. He also saw his first NHL action with the Islanders being called up for nine games but recording no points. The next two seasons Regier continued to play well in the AHL with 46 and 44-point campaigns as well as seeing limited time with the Islanders.

After the 2007-08 season Regier became an unrestricted free agent and signed with the St. Louis Blues. This past season he again put up career high numbers for Peoria in the AHL as he accumulated 22 goals and 50 points. He earned a call-up to the Blues this season and scored his first NHL goal and finished with eight games played, three goals, one assist, and four penalty minutes. He also scored two goals in seven playoff games with Peoria.

For the Islanders to grab a player in the fifth round who has played in the NHL and is definitely an AHL player at worst is not a bad selection. He is one of only eight players from this round to suit up in the NHL and of those players only Mikhail Grabovski and Kris Versteeg have had impacts in the NHL.

Jaroslav Mrazek, LW
6th Round, 179th Overall (Sparta Jrs., Czech Rep)
Status: NHL bust
NHL Games: 0

The Islanders sixth pick led them to another big defenseman. Mrazek was a tall, defense-first Czech who was also taken in the CHL import draft. This lead to Mrazek coming over to North America after the draft and playing for the Toronto St. Michael’s Majors in the OHL.

Mrazek played two seasons in the OHL with little offense but showed solid defense. He returned to the Czech Republic after the 2005-06 season and continues to play in the Czech league. He has suited up for Sparta Praha, Kladno, Vitkovice HC, and most recently Znojemsti Excalibur Orli. The 2008-09 season saw him dress in 44 games with a -1. Mrazek looks destined to have a career in his home country.

Emil Axelsson, D
7th Round, 210th Overall D (Orebro, Sweden
Status: NHL bust
NHL Games: 0

With their first of two picks in the seventh round the Islanders again chose a defensive defenseman from Europe who had size. Listed at 6’3, Axelsson was a Swedish player who was known to play with grit (83 PIM in 42 games) and bring character to his team.

Unlike Mrazek, Axelsson never came to North America and has spent all of his career playing in his native Sweden. He continues to be a defensive defenseman . While not playing in the Swedish Elite League, except for a two-game excursion during the 2006-07 season, he has been playing in the tier below. He finished last season playing for Vasteras IK in the Swedish Division 1 League where he registered 44 games played, 5 assists, 139 PIM, and was a +5.

Axelsson looks unlikely to ever come over to North America, but may have a career in the Swedish leagues. The Islanders failed to land an NHL player with this pick but only nine players chosen in the seventh round in 2004 have played an NHL game, and only three have more than 15 games of NHL experience.

Chris Campoli, D 
7th Round, 227Th Overall (Erie Otters, OHL)
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games: 253

After choosing two big European defensemen with the last two picks, the Islanders went with an undersized offensive defenseman who had been passed over in 2003. This was a good choice as Campoli is the Islanders 2004 pick who has played in the most NHL games. Campoli was the Erie Otters team captain and second leading scorer. He was said to have great hockey sense and was able to bring offense to the table but was small for a defenseman.

Campoli jumped straight into the AHL after being drafted and performed very well in his first pro season. He played 79 games and registered 15 goals, 49 points, and a +13 in Bridgeport. In 2005-06, Campoli stuck with the Islanders and played 80 NHL games. He was able to tally 34 points and was -16. At the beginning of the 2006-07 season, he was hampered by a groin injury and played 15 games in the AHL but still managed to play in 51 NHL games while recording 14 points and going -3. Campoli returned to full-time NHL status the following year but his season was ended by shoulder surgery as he played in just 46 games with 14 points and a -1.

The 2008-09 season brought an end to Campoli’s time with the Islanders as he was traded along with potential UFA Mike Comrie to the Ottawa Senators for Dean McAmmond and a 2009 first round pick. In 2004 the value of puck-moving defensemen was not what it is in the NHL today, but the Islanders have almost turned the last pick in the seventh round of 2004 into a late first-round pick in 2009. Campoli will continue to be a power-play quarterback in Ottawa and looks to fit well there as he scored five goals, assisted on eight, and was +4 in 25 games with the Senators after the trade.

Jason Pitton, F
8th Round, 244th Overall (Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, OHL)
Status: prospect
NHL Games: 0

The Islanders chose Pitton in the eighth round. He had good fundamental skills with potential to improve but was moved around a lot by the his junior team in Sault Ste. Marie. Pitton developed in the OHL for two more seasons and became a reliable energy forward with some scoring ability.

Pitton made the jump to pro with Bridgeport in the 2006-07 season and actually played on a line with Nokelainen. In 79 games he compiled nine goals, 10 assists, and 65 penalty minutes. The 2007-08 season Pitton started in the ECHL with the Utah Grizzlies but was back up in the AHL be year’s end and had established himself as a physical presence who would drop the gloves. In 2008-09 he only played 39 games for Bridgeport with four points and 47 PIM. Pitton has to work on his defensive zone coverage if he wants to see more ice time and move up the depth chart.

Sylvain Michaud, G
9th Round, 276th Overall (Drummondville Voltigeurs, QMJHL)
Status: Bust
NHL Games: 0

The Islanders last pick of the 2004 draft was goalie Sylvain Michaud. He continued to play in the QMJHL until the end of the 2004-05 season and has played two seasons in Canadian university hockey (CIS) for the University of Quebec, Trois Rivieres. He was most recently spotted with the New Mexico Scorpions of the Central Hockey League.

Another 2004 ninth-round selection was current Islanders blue-liner Mark Streit, definitely the steal of the draft by the Canadiens.

Overall, the Islanders in 2004 took character players who had size. The best player was seventh-round steal Campoli who the Islanders helped turn into a 2009 first-round pick. Comeau is the only draftee playing for the Islanders but Nokelainen and Campoli will contribute to their respective NHL teams and returned some assets when traded. Drafting three NHL players in one draft is a pretty good record. Comeau and Pitton are the only players who were drafted in 2004 still remaining in the Islanders organization.