Islanders 2007 draft preview

By Jeffrey Bausch

Islanders Top 10 prospects

1. Kyle Okposo, RW
2. Jeff Tambellini, LW
3. Frans Nielsen, C
4. Blake Comeau, RW
5. Rhett Rakhshani, RW
6. Jeremy Colliton, RW
7. Dustin Kohn, D
8. Wes O’Neill, D
9. Petteri Nokelainen, C
10. Andrew MacDonald, D

The 2006-07 New York Islanders, for better or worse, produced many highlights over the course of their season. There were big trades, particularly the end of the season swap with the Edmonton Oilers that brought over all-star forward Ryan Smyth. There were crippling injuries, like Rick DiPietro’s nagging head injury that sidelined him for much the end of the season. And there were many edge-of-your-seat plays, like goalie Wade Dubielewicz’s shootout save that secured the Islanders a playoff spot. Not to mention, there was also the professional development of Islanders prospects Jeff Tambellini, Frans Nielsen and Blake Comeau.

Much of the fallout following this roller coaster season has already begun with the Islanders decision to buyout former captain Alexei Yashin’s contract. Such effects will continue to be felt into the 2007 NHL draft as well, where the Islanders will not make their first pick until the third round, a result of the trades the team made in an attempt to transform itself into an east coast powerhouse.

The Islanders traded top prospects Ryan O’Marra, Robert Nilsson and their first round pick (15th overall) to the Oilers. They also sent their second round pick to the Washington Capitals in exchange for Richard Zednik. In the third round, the Islanders could receive up to two choices if they choose to exercise their option with the Philadelphia Flyers. Should they do this, they would be given either the Flyers’ 62nd pick or, if Phoenix chooses to exercise its option with Philadelphia, the 63rd pick. If, however, the Islanders choose not to use this option at all, the pick will turn into Philadelphia’s second round choice in 2008. All things considered, since this is a limited year in picks for the Islanders, look for the team to exercise this option. In addition to all of this, back in January 2006, the Islanders traded their fifth round draft pick to the Dallas Stars as part of the Janne Niinimaa for John Erskine deal, thus nixing their choice in that round as well.

Team Needs

With the departure of Yashin, the non-guarantee that Smyth will re-sign with the team, and last season’s top scorer, Jason Blake, opting to test the free agency market, offense is certainly a priority on the Islanders list — but it’s not the team’s need. The Islanders have a solid group of young, offensive stars who have the potential to fill the holes on the team’s roster. Rather, the Islanders are in dire need of some blue line help.

More specifically, the Islanders need to try and land more "game-smart" defensemen. Brendan Witt and Sean Hill carried a good deal of the defensive responsibility for the team last season; the rest of the NHL-veteran pack was unreliable while recent prospect graduates Chris Campoli and Bruno Gervais looked to still be a bit away from being able to impact the game. Defensive prospects who just signed with the Islanders, Dustin Kohn and Andrew MacDonald, still have a few seasons before being ready to play in the NHL.

Making the trade or free-agent signing of a proven, young defenseman or two should help provide the building blocks for the Islanders in becoming a more defensively reliable team and will ultimately transform the team into a more consistent contender in the NHL.

Organizational Strengths

Going into this year’s draft, the Islanders are better off than where they were last season. In the months before the 2006 draft, the Islanders were still searching for a General Manager before finally settling on Neil Smith. The newly-appointed GM did what he could in the limited time he had before being fired in favor of the team’s former goaltender, Garth Snow.

Snow will be entering his first full draft experience. While that may be looked at as a weakness, the good thing is that he is surrounded by members of the Islanders stellar scouting staff, including pro scout Tony Feltrin and assistant GM Ryan Jankowski (head of amateur scouting).

The Islanders have produced a good crop of offensive talent in their farm system. One needn’t look any further then the team’s top-10 prospects to see that there are seven players who play offense on that list. Short of there still being an amazing offensive prospect available come the third round or if Snow is able to put together a trade that gives the Islanders access to the earlier rounds where such talent is available, expect Feltrin and Jankowski to put their heads together in trying to produce a gem of a pick.

Organizational Needs

The Islanders have a tendency to try and do whatever it takes to instantly produce victories for the team, hence their trading first and second-round picks for players like Zednik and Smyth who, while talented, did little more than help get the Islanders into the first round of the playoffs. The team, over many seasons, has unfortunately shown little patience in seeing its prospects come up through the system.

Each season, there’s a new crop of late-round draftees who turn into NHL stars, a direct result of their team’s dedication in seeing to their development into professional players. Unfortunately, the Islanders have traded away many of their promising prospects for quick-fix veterans. In the new salary cap world, the organization will need to be less trigger-happy when it comes to making deals with other teams and instead focus on developing talent from the inside.

If the right player is available, drafting a young goaltender could serve the team well in the future. The Islanders have two goaltending prospects on the horizon – Jase Weslosky and Stefan Ridderwall – but neither are elite prospects. At the same time, there’s also no guarantee that DiPietro will continue to be as strong a goalie as he is today 14 years down the road. Building up the Islanders on the blue line and in net will make them a formidable foe for other opponents in seasons to come. After all, offense may win the team some games, but it’s defense that’ll win the championships.

Draft Tendencies

The Islanders have not selected a defenseman with their first pick since 1995 draft when they chose Wade Redden. Since then, they’ve selected two goalies – Roberto Luongo and DiPietro – with their first pick. Every other pick has been a forward. Since the Islanders are selecting so late in the draft and the fact that this is Snow’s first NHL draft as GM, there’s just no telling as to what direction the team will go in this year’s draft.

One thing for sure, however, is that owner Charles Wang likes to make big splashes – whether it’s pushing for trades to bring in players like Michael Peca and Yashin on draft day, giving a player a record long contract, or buying out a player’s contract for an unprecedented amount, he’s always looking to make the big play that will turn in the big result. Look for Snow to be working the room in the first and second rounds trying to make a deal happen.

Hockey’s Future Staff Mock Draft Result: No first-round selection (traded to Edmonton).

Draft Picks

3rd round – 62nd or 63rd (optional)
3rd round – 76th
4th round – 106th
6th round – 166th
7th round – 196th

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future.  Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.