The New York Islanders took a huge step forward this season making the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2006-07. After clinching the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, the Islanders took the high-powered Pittsburgh Penguins to a hard fought sixth game before being eliminated in the first round.
All in all, the Islanders own seven drafts picks in the 2013 NHL Draft, with the hopes of continuing to build upon their very deep and talented prospect pool. They may also use these picks as trade bait to acquire an established NHL player or two if General Manager Garth Snow feels that will suit his team best.
Top 10 Prospects:
1. Ryan Strome, C
2. Griffin Reinhart, D
3. Matt Donovan, D
4. Nino Niederreiter, LW
5. Brock Nelson, C
6. Ville Pokka, D
7. Kirill Kabanov, LW
8. Adam Pelech, D
9. Anders Lee, C
10. Scott Mayfield, D
The Islanders most glaring needs are on the blue line and in net. They recently dealt Mark Streit, their captain and top pairing defenseman, to the Philadelphia Flyers. The future of their aging netminder, Evgeni Nabokov, is also up in the air as he is set to become an unrestricted free agent. Nabokov, who turns 38 this summer, does not appear to have many successful years left in his tank and the Islanders may be best suited to walk away.
Travis Hamonic, Josh Bailey, David Ullstrom, and Kevin Poulin are restricted free agents and all are definitely worth re-signing at the right price. Hamonic has become a very reliable top-four defenseman and is still improving. Bailey showed some signs of life along the stretch and in the post-season, most likely earning himself at least another year with the Islanders. Ullstrom also played great and should continue to serve as an effective third line player. Lastly, Poulin has not yet established himself as a full time NHL goaltender, but has shown he has the skills to potentially establish himself as a starter in the future.
While defense may be an immediate need, it is definitely a strength among the organization's prospect pool, with defensive prospects of every size and variety in the pipeline. These youngsters still need a few more years of seasoning before making their NHL debuts, but they have made a lot of progress in this past year.
The forward position is also a strength and these young guns appear to be ready sooner rather than later. The likes of Ryan Strome, Nino Niederreiter, Brock Nelson, and Anders Lee all have a legitimate shot at making the teams' 2013-14 opening night roster.
The only glaring weakness would be Islanders future in net, as many are unsure if Poulin or Anders Nilsson are capable of carrying the load. Both have dealt with injuries and inconsistency, which is common among young goaltenders. Hopefully one of them, if not both, can take the starting reins and not look back. Regardless of whether or not Nilsson and Poulin develop into NHL goaltenders, the Islanders need to add to their goaltending depth, as it is lacking in comparison to their depth at other positions.
Garth Snow is one of the toughest general mangers in the NHL to predict, but he does have some tendencies in the way he drafts. With his early picks he loves to select players from the CHL.
In the later rounds Snow has selected more college prospects, as the team can retain their rights for an additional two or more years before having to make a decision on whether or not to sign them to a contract. Snow is also not afraid to select players from Europe if they have high upside. Lastly, he loves to select youngsters that are legitimate leaders and high performers in international play, most importantly the Under 20 World Junior Championships.
The Islanders hold the 15th, 76th, 106th, 116th, 136th, 166th and 196th picks in the 2013 NHL Draft.
Considering the Islanders selected defensemen with all of their picks last year, a hard-nosed forward like Bo Horvat would go a long way in reinforcing the Islanders forward depth. Horvat plays a solid two-way game and is considered by many to be the best-rounded forward in the 2013 draft. He is also thought to be among the more NHL-ready players available, which would be huge for a team already on the rise.
Follow Josh Buckingham on Twitter: @WheelSnipeBuck