Despite the flurry of trading activity in the Top 10, the Islanders managed to hold tight and select three players with their elite picks. As expected the four premier players were all gone when the Isles stepped up to the podium at the 5th position. Connelly is an ideal selection for them at this spot, he is a dynamic offensive talent with explosive one-on-one moves and great vision. Thankfully Milbury and the gang shyed away from the larger but less prolific Beech. The Isles have a glut of good young centers who seem to be capable number two men. Connelly has all the earmarks of a legitimate number one center, something the team has craved but not had in many years. He was on pace for 50 goals and 100 points before a broken leg ended his season. Had he stayed healthy and posted those numbers he would have been ranked at least fifth by everybody.
At the eighth pick the Isles once again made a solid pick with Taylor Pyatt. Pyatt has all the tools to succeed, blazing speed, tremendous size and strength, and great hands. The organization has been itching for a prime time power forward for many years and Pyatt seems to fit the bill. They also now have great depth at this position with Pyatt and the recent acquisitions of Josh Green and Brad Isbister.
The Islanders fire sale has continued with the departure of their best player, Ziggy Palffy out west to the Kings. As upsetting as this move is the Isles did manage to land some quality young players, as well as a third top 10 pick in the upcoming draft. Olli Jokinen is one of the premier young talents in the league. He was eased into the Kings line up this season and was impressive despite his decieving stats. He was a superstar in the Finnish men’s league for two years as a 17 and 18 year old posting better than a point a game, and has also shined in international competition. His acquisition gives the Isles the 3rd (Jokinen), 4th (Luongo), and 5th (Brewer) overall picks from the talented 1997 draft.
Josh Green is a huge winger and was a dominant scorer at the junior level. He has put up solid numbers in the AHL and played 27 games with the Kings last season put only saw limited ice time. He has great size and potential and should be able to find his scoring touch in the NHL with some quality ice time. The Isles also acquired towering defenseman Matthieu Biron, the KIngs first round pick last year. Biron gets better every year and has shown signs of becoming an offensive presence to go along with his sound positional play and toughness. It would not be difficult to project a huge blueline for the Isladers with Kenny Jonsson (6-3 197), Eric Brewer, (6-4 201), Zdeno Chara (6-9 255), Biron (6-6 215), and Vladimir Chebaturkin (6-2 213).
As predicted, the Islanders house cleaning has already begun with the departure of team captain Trevor Linden to the Canadiens for the 10th overall pick. Linden didn’t produce on Long Island and this move frees up space down the middle. With two top ten picks for the second time in three years the Isles are expected to take a couple of forwards to bolster their goal scoring. At the 5 spot they are likely to pick one of two centerman, Jamie Lundmark or Kris Beech. It is reported that Milbury favors Beech’s size, speed, and two way game despite Lundmarks greater upside. At the 10th position the Isles will most likely selesct one of two wingers, Jani Rita or Taylor Pyatt. Pyatt is a huge left winger, however unlike Rupp he can actually score and is perhaps the fastest player in the draft. He won the CHL All-Stars lap skating competition with a faster time than Rico fata did last year. Jani Rita is also a likely possibilty if he is available at the 10th pick. He is a big fast right winger who plays a power game, however some question his scoring ability.
As usual the Islanders have shown that the only luck they have is bad luck. Thanks to a victory on the last day of the season and now Chicago winning the draft lottery the Islanders have dropped from the 3rd overall pick down to the 5th. This drop will almost certainly rule out the selection one of the 4 premier prospects (Brendl, Stefan and the Sedins). Had the Isles stayed at the 4 slot they would have happily chosen whichever of these players was still available, most likey Henrik Sedin. However, now there is yet another window of oppurtunity for Mike Milbury to make a mistake. It is well known that Milbury has a penchant for making trades, especially involving first round picks. The Isles are currently involved in new arena negotiations, the outcome of which will drastically impact next year. If a new deal cannot be reached by early June, Milbury will be forced to cut payroll yet again. The dumping of veterans such as Pilon, Linden, and Smolinksi will vastly alter the Isles roster. Any deals will certainly yield some young, inexpensive players/prospects, like those for Isbister and Lindgren.
Another season is in the books for the Islanders, and despite having the worst record in team history since their expansion year there is hope for the Islanders. The Islanders have alot of young talented players (also adding Lindgren, Isbister, and Krog to the lineup) as well as a top five pick in the upcoming draft. Several Islander prospects had good rookie seasons and have graduated from the ranks of prospects.
During the last few months of the season Zdeno Chara emerged as one of the team’s best players. He was logging well over 20 minutes a game, saw time on special teams, and was a dominant physical force. Zdeno has made tremendous progress this year and has established that he will be a top 4 defenseman for many years.
Fellow rookie rearguard Eric Brewer also had a solid first season. He experienced some growing pains, typical of young defenseman, but was able to learn from and make up for his mistakes. His high talent level is very apparent in his play and he has shown great character and work ethic. Eric should continue to blossom in the next few seasons the same way in which Kenny Jonsson did. Brewer seems destined to be one of the top defenseman in the league.
Mike Watt also completed a solid rookie season. He played every postion and was placd in many different roles throuhgout the year. He has good size, is a shifty passer and has a surprisingly quick shot. Watt too, should continue to progress and become a reliable forward for the Islanders.