Islanders 1999 draft evaluation

By Kevin Forbes

The 1999 NHL Entry Draft was possibly one of the most influential drafts for
the New York Islanders in quite some time. Trades with Montreal, Los Angeles
and Dallas gave them four picks in the first round, including three picks in the
top 10.

It was a year of change for the Islanders. Their top four scoring leaders
from the 1998-99 season didn’t return the following season. It marked the
end of Ziggy Palffy, Trevor Linden, and Brian Smolinski wearing the Islander colors.
The team went to the draft looking to reload and restock their system.

The Isles made 14 picks and eight of those have since seen NHL time, with
their first five picks all seeing some NHL ice time. However, only three of those
who have seen NHL action are still with the Islanders. A total of 1115 NHL
games have been played by the draft picks of 1999, averaging just under 80
games per player, tied for highest in the league.

Tim Connolly, C – 1st round, 5th overall (Erie Otters, OHL)
Status: NHL Player
NHL games played: 325

A dynamic offensive talent for Erie, Connolly immediately stepped into the
lineup for the Islanders. Blessed with great one-on-one skills as well as
good hands and quick feet, Connolly has first line center potential. He had
solid rookie and sophomore seasons, before being traded in 2001 (along with
8th overall pick, Taylor Pyatt) to Buffalo for holdout center Mike Peca. He
missed all of the 2003-04 season suffering from the after effects of a
concussion, so his rise to meet his potential may be stalled. Connolly,
23, will be a restricted free agent this offseason.

Taylor Pyatt, LW – 1st round, 8th overall (Sudbury Wolves, OHL)
Status: NHL player
NHL games played: 267

A potential power forward, Pyatt has the size and skills to dominate. He
first played in the NHL a year after he was drafted and after a season with
the Islanders, he was packaged with Connolly to Buffalo for Mike Peca. After
splitting the first season in the Sabres organization between the AHL and
the NHL, Pyatt has been a mainstay in Buffalo for the past two years. Now
22, he has still not put everything together, however and his play has been
inconsistent. However, it usually takes power forwards longer to put all
their tools together, so there is still time for this Thunder Bay native.

Branislav Mezei, D – 1st round, 10th overall (Belleville Bulls,
OHL)
Status: NHL player
NHL games played: 122

A big (6’5″) Czech defenseman, Mezei was drafted by a team that already had
many mammoth blueliners on the roster. After breaking into the league with
the Islanders in the 2000-01 season, he was traded to Florida in the summer
of 2002 for Jason Weimer. Mezei, 23, is a solid stay-at-home defenseman who
loves to play the body, however he lacks mobility and offensive skills.

Kristian Kudroc, D – 1st round, 28th overall (HK VTJ Michalovce,
Slovak-2)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games played: 26

Still a work in progress, Kudroc is another giant defenseman at 6’7″. After
being drafted, he saw one season in the QMJHL before having his rights
traded to Tampa Bay in the summer of 2000. Kudroc went pro the following
season and split time between the IHL and the NHL. He played 22 NHL games
that season but over the next two years, he only played another two NHL games.
He became an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2003 and was signed by
the Florida Panthers. He played in two NHL games last season. Kudroc, 23, has
decent skills, a hard shot and great size, but hasn’t put it
all together. He has also struggled with injuries recently.

Mattias Weinhandl, RW – 3rd round, 78th overall (IF Troja-Ljungby,
Sweden-2)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games played: 102

Weinhandl overcame a serious eye injury shortly after he was drafted to make
his NHL debut during the 2002-03 season. A product of the MoDo hockey system
in Sweden, he is a talented winger with great offensive skills. He has split
the last two seasons between the Islanders and the AHL. Although he has
showed chemistry with Alexei Yashin, Weinhandl, now 24, needs to improve his
consistency and defensive play in order to stick in the Islanders top-six
permanently.

Brian Collins, C – 3rd round, 87th overall (St. John’s, New England
Prep High School)
Status: NHL bust
NHL games played: 0

After being drafted from high school, Collins entered Boston University,
where he remained for the full four years. Since graduation, he has moved
onto the ECHL where he played last season with the Pensacola Ice Pilots. He
was a goal-scoring prodigy in high school and although he played well during
his time in college, he is no longer in the Islanders organization’s
plans.

Juraj Kolnik, RW – 4th round, 101st overall (Rimouski Oceanic,
QMJHL)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games played: 99

A talented sniper with a quick release, Kolnik has so far not been able to
stick on the NHL level. After two exceptional years in the QMJHL, he joined
the Islanders for the 2000-01 season. He spent the next two seasons
splitting time between the Islanders and the AHL, before an October 2002
trade sent him to Florida’s organization. So far in his career, the Slovak
has not been able to do the little things that keep a player in the lineup.
However, last season, the 23-year-old played in a career high 53 NHL games.

Johan Halvardsson, D – 4th round, 102nd overall (HV71 Jonkoping,
Swedish Elite League)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games played: 0

Selected with a draft pick acquired from Nashville, Halvardsson, now 24, is
a big (6’4″), strong, stay-at-home blueliner who has played the last six
years of his hockey career with HV71. He uses his size well to clear the
crease and plays a very physical North American style. Unfortunately, this
style of play has caused many injuries, mainly with his knees. Although he
has bounced back from these injuries, they may have slowed his progress
enough to prevent any NHL impact.

Justin Mapletoft, C – 5th round, 130th overall (Red Deer Rebels,
WHL)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games played: 38

Mapletoft was touted as being an offensive threat with great hands and
vision at the time of the draft. He continued to dominate the WHL for the
next two seasons after the draft before spending all of 2001-02 with
Bridgeport in the AHL. Since then, the 23-year-old has seen time at both the
NHL level and in the minors. Although he was drafted more for his
goal-scoring skills, Mapletoft will probably make it in the NHL as more of a
two-way players, due to his defensive skills and grit.

Adam Johnson, D – 5th round, 140th overall (Greenway High, High
School)
Status: NHL bust
NHL games played: 0

The second player chosen out of high school by the Islanders in the 1999
draft, Johnson was another gigantic defenseman. A towering 6’7″, Johnson
played his next two seasons in the WHL with Lethbridge and Tri-City. Then he
switched sports and is currently playing football as a tight-end at the
University of Minnesota-Duluth.

Bjorn Melin, LW – 6th round, 163rd overall (HV Jonkoping, Sweden
Jr)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games played: 0

A good skater with plenty of drive and determination, Melin was supposed to
turn into a second liner for the Isles. However, a March 2002 trade sent his
rights to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and he remains in Sweden. He looked
like he was poised to break out a few years back, but has not lived up to
that billing. Now 22, Melin may never cross the ocean to try his hand at the
NHL.

Radek Martinek, D – 8th round, 229th overall (HC Budejovice,
Czech)
Status: NHL player
NHL games played: 136

Drafted as a 23-year-old, Martinek stepped into the Islanders lineup in time
for the 2001-02 season. A strong, two-way blueliner, injuries have kept him
from having more of an impact.

Brett Henning, C – 9th round, 255th overall (Notre Dame, CCHA)
Status: NHL bust
NHL games played: 0

The son of Islander great, Lorne Henning (at the draft, the elder Henning
was an assistant coach with the Islanders, he is now an assistant coach with
the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim), the younger Henning was a talented center who
played for the US World Juniors Team in 2000. Sadly, he had a
career-ending spinal injury early in his junior year at Notre Dame.

Tyler Scott, D – 9th round, 268th overall (Upper Canada College,
CIS)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games played: 0

After being drafted, Scott spent the next two years with Sioux Falls in the
USHL. He then joined University of New Hampshire, where he just finished his
senior season. Drafted as a high-scoring defenseman, Scott has been
converted to a right winger, although he still fills in on the blueline from
time to time.