The New York Islanders kept the hockey world waiting. While thoughts of trades, shocking selections and franchise players danced in hockey pundits and fans’ heads, Garth Snow calmly walked up to the stage in Montreal and let everyone else in on the best kept secret in professional sports. With the first overall pick the New York Islanders select John Tavares.
“It’s a special moment. It’s been talked about and I’ve been in the spotlight for a long time” Tavares reflected after Snow announced his name. He was also in as much suspense as anyone.
“I was just like everybody else, wondering what the decision would be,” he said.
A first overall selection is always a chance for a team to move towards a brighter future and the Islanders and Tavares will look to do just that together.
“It’s an exciting time for everybody in Long Island and where the team is going in the future…..to be a part of that process, and obviously your goal is to bring success to where you’re going to play,” Tavares stated when asked about going to a struggling franchise.
Tavares was just the beginning of a busy draft for Snow and his scouting staff as the Islanders headed into the two-day event with 11 draft picks. Snow ended up bundling quite a few of these picks to move up twice in the first round from 26 to 16, then to 12. He later moved a second round pick to get back third and fourth-round picks he had traded to Columbus during the moving up process. He also traded the last pick in the third round to Phoenix for their third-round selection in 2010.
When all was said and done, the Islanders took seven players in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. The players were spread out over all positions with three forwards, two defensemen, and two goaltenders. The OHL was well represented with three players including both first round selections. The Islanders also drafted three European players. They were from Finland, Sweden, and Russia. One high school player from Minnesota was selected by the Islanders.
The Islanders should be happy with this draft as they acquired the best goal scorer available and were able to move up to select puck-moving defenseman Calvin de Haan. They selected two big Scandinavian goaltenders to stock their near empty goaltending cupboard and were able to pick up some later round prospects that have some upside. Snow turned 11 draft picks into seven draft picks this year, including two in the top dozen, and a third round pick in 2010.
John Tavares, C – London Knights (OHL)
Drafted: 1st Round, 1st Overall
Height: 6’0 Weight: 198 lbs
Tavares will be the player that the New York Islanders build their team around. He was the best goal scoring prospect available and a team can’t have too much of that. He is excited and confident about his future.
“I want to be successful at the highest level. I can’t wait to get started and it’s a great opportunity for me,” he said.
Tavares is also looking forward to growing with his young team.
“You have the opportunity there to start with a young core of guys and grow into the future,” he said.
He will be playing for the Islanders this coming season because he is good enough and has nothing left to prove after a stellar junior hockey career.
Due to being granted “exceptional player status” as a 14-year-old, Tavares has already played four seasons in the OHL. He broke Wayne Gretzky’s OHL scoring record in his second season while scoring 72 goals in 62 games. He helped Canada win back to back World Junior gold medals and was named tournament MVP in 2009. He is the OHL’s all time leading goal scorer and lead the league in points this past season. Tavares will bring offense with him to the NHL.
Tavares will likely be the offensive catalyst on the Islanders for many years to come. There are some concerns about his skating, but he knows what to do from the opposition blue line down. His defense has continued to improve but he has rarely been asked to focus on that aspect of his game in junior and will be challenged in the NHL to play a steady defensive game while still producing his offense. He has met or exceeded expectations at every level he has played and he will continue to strive for excellence. Tavares was drafted to score goals and he intends to do that and more.
“I just want to be productive every single night and contribute as much as I can,” he said.
Calvin de Haan, D – Oshawa Generals (OHL)
Drafted: 1st Round, 12th Overall
Height: 6’0 Weight: 170 lbs
The Islanders moved up twice so they could chose Oshawa Generals defenseman Calvin de Haan. He spent part of the year playing with Tavares in Oshawa before Tavares was traded to London. De Haan was ranked 25th among North American skaters by CSS so his selection this early was a shock even to him.
“I was surprised and I was not ranked in the teens at all this year. It was a very big surprise for me,” he said.
However, he was the second best draft eligible defenseman in the OHL after Ryan Ellis, who was picked one spot earlier at 11. His familiarity with Tavares may not have hurt his stock with the Islanders, but the scouts chose him for his hockey sense and puck moving ability.
De Haan is an offensive defenseman who will be counted on to run his team’s power play and start the transition game with his excellent first passes out of the defensive zone. Although his passing and hockey sense are well above average, de Haan’s strength is his skating. He moves smoothly all over the ice and his quick feet help him play steady defense and recover from mistakes when they are made. Physicality is de Haan’s weakness but as he matures and fills out hopefully he can add more contact to his game.
“I think I could be a power player for the Islanders, a puck moving type of guy, a guy like Mark Streit," de Haan said. "That’s probably a pretty good guy to model my game after. He’s pretty successful. And also try to play like a guy like Scott Niedermayer, he’s been my idol since they went on a Cup run a few years ago.”
He has been invited to Canada’s world junior evaluation camp this summer and hopes to impress enough to garner an invite to the selection camp and then tournament this winter. He played for Canada at the recent U18 World Championship and had six assists in six games while being rated plus six. De Haan recorded 63 points in 68 games this past season with Oshawa. He should be able to improve on those numbers this coming year as he will be the go-to guy on defense in Oshawa.
The first selection on day two of the draft was also the first goaltender taken in the 2009 entry draft. Koskinen is an intriguingly tall, overage goaltender who posted an impressive .931 save percentage during 33 games in Finland’s top league. He was ranked second among European goaltenders by CSS in what was considered a poor year for goalies. He is almost 21 years old which may have been a plus due to the Islanders need for some immediate help in their goaltending prospect pipeline, but he will still need more time to develop.
Koskinen has size and that is his best asset right now. He can make the net look very small using his big frame and butterfly style. He is on an upward trajectory as he seems to be improving his numbers and play over the last three seasons. He reads the game well and can move his frame into position to limit scoring chances. He is also well liked by his teammates.
There are some concerns about Koskinen, however. He needs to improve his foot speed and quickness so he can take better advantage of his size. He has also not played a lot of games at a high level of competition.
The Islanders might have been a little early picking up a goaltender in this draft but they had all night to decide on this pick so they must feel he will develop into at least a legitimate backup for franchise goaltender Rick Dipietro, if not more as Koskinen’s upside is high.
Snow picked his second large Scandinavian goaltender with the first pick of the third round after moving down six spots to pick up a fourth-round pick to go along with this one. Nilsson, also 6’5, is younger than Koskinen and will most like stay in Europe for another couple of seasons. He posted a .927 save percentage and 2.05 GAA in 37 games with Lulea Jr. this past season.
Nilsson uses his huge presence in the net to his advantage. He is a technically sound goaltender who challenges shooters. He is very consistent with almost identical numbers the past two seasons. This is accentuated by him being mentally strong and leads to him seldom having bad stretches. He has good hockey smarts.
He will look to make a smooth transition to the Swedish Elite League where he will have to try and continue his consistent play. This is his biggest and maybe only question mark. Will he be able to play at the next level?
Nilsson was rated fifth among European goaltenders by CSS. However, it is hard to get a good read on goaltending at this age. He is a long-term prospect.
Casey Cizikas, C – Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors
Drafted: 4th Round, 92nd Overall
Height: 5’10 Weight: 190 lbs.
With the fourth-round pick (that Snow re-acquired after previously trading away) the Islanders chose Casey Cizikas. He is a talented center but somewhat small and had an off year after a promising rookie season in the OHL. He had decent playoff production with five goals and four assists in 11 games. Those five goals tied him for the lead on his team and the nine points tied him for fourth on his team in scoring.
Cizikas has the ability to score goals and produce offense. He was on Canada’s 2008 gold medal team at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament. He had a couple fights last year which showed some feistiness to his game as well.
But Cizikas is inconsistent and has an uphill battle to become an NHL player. He has the skills to be a good pick-up in the fourth round. Swing for the fences in the fourth round, fly ball or home run?
Anton Klementyev, D – Yaroslavl 2 (Russia 3)
Drafted: 5th Round, 122nd Overall
Height: 6’1 Weight: 198 lbs
Somewhere in Russia, Anton Klementyev is a happy defenseman. This pick was surprising as it was off the board. He is a defensive defenseman who plays a simple style and tries to play uneventful games. His best attribute is his work in the defensive zone fighting for pucks as he is strong along the boards with his good balance and stability. He makes good reads in the defensive zone and will make the smart but not spectacular pass out of his own end.
As with all fifth-round selections, there are some things for Klementyev to work on. He does not have a strong shot. His speed and agility needs improvement. He will not bring offense to the game but he should limit the other team’s offense. Klementyev could be more consistent with his physicality. It also can be difficult to get Russia players over to North America, so it’s a risky pick.
Anders Lee, C – Edina High (Minnesota High School)
Drafted: 6th Round, 152nd Overall
Height: 6’2 Weight: 209 lbs
Lee is a two-sport athlete who excels in both hockey and football at his high school. Lee scored 32 goals and 22 assists in 31 games with his high school team where he played alongside Zach Budish in 2007-08. He is a big player and his appearance alone can be intimidating. Lee has carried a near 4.0 GPA at Edina to supplement his success in sports which has attracted interest from Division-I schools.
Lee is very well rounded for a sixth-round pick. He has excellent balance on his skates and enough speed for a big man. He excelled in the face off dot and is extremely hard to knock off the puck as he uses his long reach and size to his advantage. He can hit and fight his way through opposition checks. He has a hard shot which he can release quickly. He sees the ice well and is defensively responsible.
The one knock on Lee is his passing game. Not his football one, but his puck movement is considered his weak point. His passing skills are average but should improve if chooses to pursue a career in hockey.
Lee is a very interesting sixth-round choice and could be a steal if he invests his considerable talents into a hockey career. It is another pick where the scouts seem to think the upside outweighs the risk at this point in the draft. He could be a reliable center with size, smarts, and skill or he could be a football player. The Islanders will have to do their best to persuade him that a life in hockey is the right choice.