Maybe it was making up for lost time due to lengthy absences from the NHL scene, but new Islanders General Manager Neil Smith and new head coach Ted Nolan certainly made the most of their opportunity to reacquaint themselves to the National Hockey League’s Entry Draft. In fact, the New York Islanders spent so much time at the podium the organization was on the verge of claiming squatter’s rights to GM Place.
Entering the draft with eight picks, the club started wheeling and dealing and ended the day hoping that 13 – as in the number of players they finally selected – would be lucky for the franchise. The team entered the draft with their own pick in the first round, Dallas’ second-rounder (from the John Erskine/Janne Niinimaa trade), a trio of third rounders, and one pick in each the fourth, sixth, and seventh rounds.
By trading down, the Islanders were able to parlay those extra third-rounders into three extra fourth-round selections, a pair of fifth rounders, and two more sixth-round picks to add to their own. But the lingering question left in the wake of the draft-day deals was: will the Islanders quantity include any quality?
Picking seventh overall in a fairly deep draft, the Islanders were certain to get a quality player with their first-round pick. Unfortunately for the boys from Long Island, after the consensus No. 1 Erik Johnson, this was a draft that was rich in forwards early – the one position that the Islanders organization doesn’t need.
In fact, for an organization with a notable lack of quality defensive prospects, the Islanders didn’t pick their first blueliner until the fifth round – with their eighth pick overall! At the end of the day, the Islanders did a commendable job replenishing their depleted farm system with a bevy of bodies: seven wingers, and two each of centermen, goalies, and defensemen.
Kyle Okposo, F
1st round (7th overall)
Des Moines, USHL
Ht: 6’, Wt: 195
“All the indications that we got about Kyle’s style is that it’s a style that a lot of teams like to have,” Islanders head coach Ted Nolan explained. “You combine the skill, you combine the speed, you combine the talent with a little bit of edge to his game – you feel you have a pretty complete player.”
The Minnesota native is a solid, rugged forward who can play in all situations: even-strength, power-play, and on the penalty kill. Not only is this winger comfortable in the corners and enjoys throwing the body around, but he’s also shown a flair for offense, tallying 58 points in 50 games this past season, paced by 27 goals.
Okposo said after his selection that although the interview he had with the Islanders went very well, he didn’t really have any indication that they would pick him.
Despite an abundance of promise, Okposo still is rough around the edges and will take the next step in his development by playing against better-quality competition at the University of Minnesota next season.
“It’s a nice thing to know that they won’t try to rush me and I’m going to let my development play forward and we’ll see what happens,” he said.
Jesse Joensuu, F
2nd round (60th overall)
Ht: 6’4, Wt: 207
Going with the philosophy that you can always improve one’s skating, the Islanders decided to take a chance at acquiring an imposing power forward prospect in this veteran of the Finnish Elite League.
Although he currently is the definition of the word plodding, Joensuu is blessed with a cannon of a shot and he still has plenty of room to grow with that frame of his. This season, Joensuu enjoyed a breakthrough campaign in Finland with Assat. In 51 games he scored four goals and added eight assists – a marked improvement from the previous year’s campaign of two points in 39 games. But what has scouts on this side of the Atlantic intrigued is that Joensuu decided to add some physicality to his game with that imposing frame: upping his penalty totals from four the previous season to 57 this year.
The Pori, Finland native was ranked as the 18th-best European skater by NHL’s Central Scouting.
Robin Figren, F
3rd round (70th overall)
Frolunda Jr., Swedish Junior League
Ht: 5’11, Wt: 176
After beefing up with their second-round pick, the Islanders went for some lighter fare in the third round, selecting Figren, an offensively inclined winger from Sweden.
The knock against Figren is his stature, as he’s relatively slight, but no one can discount his exceptional speed and skating ability. In many ways he’s the opposite of Joensuu, light on his skates, nimble, but more likely to kill with a deft pass or a burst of speed than a bone-crushing check.
In 39 games with Frolunda of the Swedish Junior League, Firen, who was ranked 29th amongst European skaters by Central Scouting, tallied 30 points, including 19 assists.
Rhett Rakhshani, F
4th round (100th overall)
US National Under-18 Team
Rakhshani may not get the same press as his fellow U.S. U-18 national team members, but he’s been key to the development program’s success this past season. While the spotlight obviously shone on Pat Kane and Johnson, Rakhshani was one of the team’s leading scorers all season long, with 24 goals and 25 assists in 59 games.
The forward, who joined the national team and has continued his home-schooled education, is another who needs to put some meat on his bones, but he’ll have time to develop over the next couple of years at the University of Denver.
Despite his lean frame, Rakhshani has shown a willingness to get his nose dirty accumulating 65 penalty minutes over the season.
Jase Weslosky, G
4th round (108th overall)
Sherwood Park, AJHL
Ht: 6’2, Wt: 170
With one of their four fourth-rounders, the Islanders decided to add a little depth between the pipes taking tall but lanky netminder Jase Weslosky out of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
At 6’2, Weslosky has the size that many organizations like to see in their goaltending prospects and he enjoyed some success this season backstopping Sherwood Park. In 41 games this season he posted a less than stellar 9-18-8 record, but that appears to be more a result of being on a weak team than poor individual play. Weslosky’s individual stats were solid, as he ended the year with a 2.33 GAA behind at .910 save percentage.
He’s committed to joining the WCHA’s St. Cloud State University in the fall of 2007.
Tomas Marcinko, C
4th round (115th overall)
Kosice, Slovak League
Ht: 6’4, Wt: 187
Not only did the Islanders pick a big pivot with promise, but they’ll be able to keep closer tabs on him as the Slovak center will be joining the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts this season.
Ranked 26th amongst Europeans by Central Scouting, Marcinko is a solid two-way player and will benefit from acclimatizing to the North American game in the OHL. He tore up the Slovakian junior league this season, with 26 goals and 21 assists in 35 games, and he’s not afraid to put the puck on the net, leading that league in shots.
Compliments about his skating are usually followed by the usual caveat “for his size,” but Marcinko has the potential to be a serviceable player in North America.
Doug Rogers, C
4th round (119th overall)
St. Sebastian’s, USHSE
Ht: 6’, Wt: 175
The Harvard-bound Rogers scored 24 goals and amassed 62 points in total with St. Sebastian’s this season. He was previously a member of the Under-17 squad that took home the silver medal at the Five Nations Cup.
Published reports indicate that Rogers intends to stay at Harvard for all four years of his program, which would allow the Islanders the luxury of watching him develop – and for him to fill out his 6’ frame.
Rogers plays a nice overall game, but does not excel at any one aspect. A true jack-of-all-trades, he now has the opportunity to master a few while he completes his degree at the prestigious university.
Shane Sims, D
5th round (126th overall)
Des Moines, USHL
Ht: 5’11, Wt: 192
With their first of two fifth-round picks, the Islanders picked up Okposo’s Des Moines teammate. Sims is one of a new breed of defensemen tailor-made for the new NHL – slick on his skates, able to move the puck accurately, and with good mobility. He also possesses a good shot, which he used to rack up 10 goals and 12 assists in 59 games this season.
The smooth-skating blueliner has also shown solid defensive responsibility to match his offensive gifts. In 59 games he finished with a +5 rating.
Sims has one more year at Des Moines to finish before beginning his tenure at The Ohio State University.
Kim Johansson, F
5th round (141st overall)
Malmo Jr, Swedish Jr. League
Ht: 6’1, Wt: 172
New York went back overseas for their second pick in the fifth round, picking up a center/winger known more for the steak than the sizzle.
While not bereft of offensive talent, he did notch 15 points in 39 games during the Swedish league’s regular season, Johansson’s more known for his willingness to be responsible in both sides of the game. He’s an accomplished penalty killer and enjoyed a solid, but not overwhelming, performance in the World Junior Championships.
A solid skater with playmaking inclinations, Johansson’s also able to effectively switch between the center and wing positions.
Andrew MacDonald, D
6th round (160th overall)
Ht: 6’, Wt: 188
MacDonald, an Islanders’ sixth-round pick, certainly will feel right at home when training camp opens as he’s more familiar with the coach than any of the other draftees –- and even most of the team’s veterans.
A member of the QMJHL franchise that Nolan coached to the Memorial Cup finals, MacDonald netted 46 points in 68 games this season. He’s a player who refuses to let obstacles stand in his way. MacDonald joined Moncton as a free agent and worked his way up into the team’s top-three rearguards. He will probably return for an overage year to the QMJHL.
Brian Day, F
6th round (171st overall)
Governor Dummer, USHSE
Ht: 6’, Wt: 186
Yet another player destined for the U.S. college ranks, Day will spend one more season at Governor Dummer before heading off to Colgate to compete at the NCAA level. Unranked by Central Scouting, the projected power forward finished the season with nine goals and 13 assists in 28 games.
One thing to note is that his performance was marred by the fact that he suffered a knee injury playing football, which directly affected his draft status and ranking.
Stefan Ridderwall, G
6th round (173rd overall)
Djurgarden Jr., Swedish Jr. League
Ht: 6’1, Wt: 189
If pedigree counts for anything in hockey, this late-round pick may end being a steal for the Islanders. Ridderwall’s father, Rolf, once backstopped the Swedish National Team and his son now is hoping to follow in his footsteps.
The 12th-ranked goaltender from Europe, Ridderwall is still very much rough around the edges and will be allowed to take all the time he needs to polish his game. However, he has shown promise. In his one elite league game last year, Ridderwall earned a shutout. And his junior performance was impressive, as well, posting a 2.40 GAA in 18 games with a .910 save percentage.
Troy Mattila, F
7th round (190th overall)
Ht: 6’2, Wt: 176
The Islanders’ final pick in the draft had no problem filling the net last season against midget and high school competition. In fact, the winger ended the season with 240 points. This season he joined the NAHL and scored 36 points in 54 games.
At this point of the draft, Mattila is a luxury pick that is a bonus if he develops. He has good height, but needs to put on some pounds. And despite the outrageous point total, he wasn’t able to attract much attention from junior clubs.
In large part, the players picked by the Islanders fit the mold of the type of team that Nolan envisions for the future of the NHL – a future that may come for his squad sooner rather than later.
“You look at some of the guys we have [Jeremy] Colliton, [Blake] Comeau, [Jeff] Tambellini — those are young kids and the game of hockey has changed now – it’s not like the old veterans have to be around,” Nolan said. “One thing we want to make sure we do on Long Island is that we want to make sure we have an exciting brand of hockey, and we want to have some young, enthusiastic kids with some speed and size.
“It’s exciting not only for the fans, but also for the hockey.”
Dustin Nielson contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.