The Islanders luck truly is turning around. First, a solid ownership takes over the franchise, and now fortune smiled on the up and coming Islanders when they won the 2000 draft lottery. With only an 8 percent chance, the Islanders’ number came up and became the first fifth place team in draft lottery history to jump up to the No. 1 pick. The jump dramtically improves their positioning considering the players available. The Islanders will now likely select one of the two highly touted impact players, Dany Heatley or Marian Gaborik. The most likely pick would be Gaborik.
The Isles have a host of Heatley-type playes, rugged up and down players with deft goal scoring touch (Isbister, Green, Pyatt, Hunter). However Gaborik projects as a speedy game breaker, something the Isles desperatley need since the departure of Ziggy Palffy. Gaborik scored 25 goals in 50 games in the Slovak Men’s league and averaged almost a point a game. He starred at the World U-18 team with 6 goals and 8 points in 6 games for a weak Slovakian team. Heatley had solid numbers as a freshman at Wisconsin, but not overwhelming. In the past few years very few college players have made a big impact in the NHL. Throw into the mix that Heatley is actually a year older than Gaborik and the choice seems clear.
The other option of course is trading the 1st overall selection. The Islanders biggest need is a solid veteran defenseman and then another veteran forward. The 1st pick is an asset than many teams would love to have, and Mike Milbury’s phone will be very busy this June.
Mike Rupp, Islanders first round pick and 9th overall in 1998, was not signed and will re-enter the 2000 draft. While Rupp had his best season to date, he projects as a third liner and was not deemed worth the salary commanded by a first round pick. The Isles were to receive a compensatory pick for not signing Rupp, but it was sent to Vancouver to complete the Felix potvin trade. The Islanders will now pick fisrt overall and will have the 35th overall pick in the second round.
In Rupp’s place the Islanders acquired and signed Trent Hunter, perhaps the WHL’s best kept secret. Hunter was fouth in the league in goal scoring and seventh in overall scoring. He is a big right winger with a great scoring touch.
Another 98 draftee also departed the Islanders organization recently, second rounder Chris Nielsen. Nielsen had a great year in Calgary and was a solid performer for Canada at the WJC. Despite his offensive outbusrt this year he still projects as a third line player. Chris figured to be buried in the Islanders depth chart and was dealt to Colombus for a 4th round pick that was used to get Trent Hunter.
At least one Islander tasted champinship glory this year, as Juraj Kolnik led his team to the Memorial Cup Title. Kolnik had 4 goals and 10 points in 4 games, tied for tops on his team. He scored several clutch goals and had an outstanding playoff run. His stock his risen a great deal this season due to both his own stellar year as well as Rimouski’s championship season. The QMJHL is generally regarded as being the weakest of the three major junior hocky leauges, but Rimouski and Halifax had the best records after round robin play. This strong performance suggests taht players coming out of the Quebec League may actually be underated, as the league is stronger than widely thought.
The last order of business is the upcoming expansion draft. The Islanders have very little to worry about here. Most of the Islanders good young players are exempt from the draft since they’ve played two years or less of professional hockey. This list includes Tim Connolly, Roberto Luongo, Eric Brewer, Mathieu Biron, Olli Jokinen, and Bill Muckalt to name a few. This means the Isles only have to protect one goaltender, Kevin Weekes, leaving veteran Wade Flahert exposed. By protecting only one goalie, they can protect 5 defensemen and 9 forwards which easily covers the remaining quality veterans that comprise the team. The rules of the draft require that at least one “experienced” player in each position be exposed. Experience is defined as having played either 40 NHL games this year, or 70 in the last two years for skaters. The prime candidates to be exposed are:
Goaltender- Wade Flaherty
Defenseman- Ian Herbers, Aris Brimanis (UFA), Vladimir Chebaturkin (UFA)
Forwards- Niklas Andersson (RFA), Mikael Andersson (UFA), Chris Ferraro (UFA), Daniel Lacroix (UFA), Mark Lawrence