Most Islander fans cant even pronounce most of the Islanders late round picks this yera yet alone know much about their games. Team management is thrilled with their draft believing that they stole a few very good players and may have gotten some keepers that fell through the cracks. One of these players is right winger Juraj Kulnik. “Not many times can you get a guy this skilled in the fourth round,” said Isles scout Mario Saraceno. “He’s a goal-scorer and that’s how he will make it in the NHL.” Kolnik, who is Slovakian, notched 42 goals and 84 points in 62 games with the Rimouski Oceanic. The Slovakian sniper’s hot hand didn’t stop there as he netted nine more tallies in 11 playoff games. Not a bad rookie year. And according to Saraceno, Kolnik has his sights set on 60 next year. “He has tremendous hands,” said Saraceno. “He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but his ability to get open and avoid being checked makes up for that.” The Slovakian is fluent in English and should have no problem fitting in with the Islander locker room in the near future as countrymen Zdeno Chara and 1999 first-rounders Branislav Mezei and Kristian Kudroc will be there. Besides his goal-scoring talent, there’s a lot to like about the 5-11, 182-pound Kolnik, according to Saraceno. “He’s a hard worker and plays in traffic,” he said. “He kills penalties and has a pretty good skating stride. There’s of course some room for improvement in his overall game. The desire is there, however, and I think we got a keeper that fell through the cracks.”
Another excited new Islander is Massachusettts native Brian Collins, a third round selection. The Islanders’ scouting braintrust were thrilled that a player like Collins was available to them in the third round. “Brian is a very skilled player,” said Islander Assistant G.M. Gordie Clark. “He moves the puck well, is good around the net and sees the ice so well.” The 6-1, 190-pound center was one of the most dominant players in New England Prep hockey this past year as Collins racked up 38 goals and 73 points in just 28 games. He led his St. John’s team from Massachusetts to a state championship and notched five goals in the title-winning finale. Collins was one of the most heavily recruited prep players last year and is headed off to Boston University to play hockey for legendary head coach Jack Parker in the fall.
The Isles also selected severall more skilled Europeans including 6-0, 183-pound Weinhandl, who is listed as a right wing but also can play center. “Mattias is a talented, offensive-minded player,” said Kallur. “But he won’t hurt you in other areas. He kills penalties and understands his defensive responsibilities. He has good hands and is creative with the puck.” Weinhandl had such a good year that Swedish Elite League champion MoDo signed him to play next season. With Troja, the Swede scored 18 goals and notched 33 points in just 28 games. There’s been talk he may play with the Sedins next year on MoDo. On top of that, Kallur expects Weinhandl to be a major contributor for Team Sweden at the next year’s World Junior Championships.
Add to that list Johan Halvardsson, a 6-3, 200-pound blueliner who plays the body. The Swedish defenseman gained plenty of seasoning last year as he played for HV 71 in the Elite League and competed for his country’s World Junior Squad. “He’s very physical for a Swede,” said Kallur. “He’s a defensive type that plays a North American style.” It stands to reason that Halvardsson looks to emulate the play of his childhood idol and countryman, Ulf Samuelsson. If bloodlines are a consideration, Halvardsson’s father is a former player for HV 71. His older brother is also an Elite League player. The younger Halvardsson has expressed a desire to play in North America in the upcoming season. And because of his 1979 draft date (most players selected this year were born in 1980 or 1981), Halvardsson would be placed in the minors rather than play Canadian junior hockey. That would mean he could be the closest of any Euorpean to the NHL.
Another Swedish draft selection was HV 71 junior scorer Bjorn Melin. A 6-1, 178-pound right wing, Melin was the second leading scorer in the Swedish junior circuit this past season with 19 goals and 35 points in 34 games. He is viewed as a developing project compared to the more polished Weinhandl or older Halvardsson, with a chance of becoming a second-liner if he improves on his skating. He is a good goal scorer at his level, he competes and drives to the net. He makes plays in traffic. Melin is expected to get a shot with HV 71’s senior team next year.
Although most 8th round picks are considered afterthoughts that is not the case for Radek Martinek. He is a gritty, hard-working defenseman who really impressed at the World Championships. Since Radek is 23, he could join the organization right away. The Isles believe Radek could be ready immediately to play at the NHL level.