New York Islanders reaping rewards for astute drafting in 2006

By Kyle West
Photo: Jesse Joensuu is among several of the Islanders’ 13 draft picks in 2006 to already see time in the NHL. (Photo courtesy of

The 2006 Entry Draft saw the Islanders with a new GM and a new head coach, as Neil Smith and Ted Nolan were newly appointed to their respective positions, and also saw the most draft picks by the organization since 1999. Entering the draft with eight picks, the Islanders traded down twice and left the building with 13 selections in hand.

Five years later, the evidence shows that the quantity of picks the Islanders made did not necessarily add up to quality, as only one of their plethora of late round picks can be called an NHL player. That player, Andrew MacDonald, had just gone to the Memorial Cup with Ted Nolan so there is at least one lasting benefit of Nolan’s short stint with the Islanders.

Three of their 2006 selections are playing with the Islanders now, a number which would have been four had star winger Kyle Okposo not been injured in the pre-season, a decent enough return for a giant draft day haul.

Kyle Okposo, F, Des Moines (USHL) – 1st round, 7th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 154

At seventh overall, new Islanders GM Neil Smith landed a star forward in the Buccaneers USHL Rookie of the Year Kyle Okposo, bound for the Golden Gophers after leading Des Moines to the Clark Cup as league champions. The pride of St. Paul, Minnesota scored at a point per game pace in his one full season with the University of Minnesota and prompted the Islanders to sign him to a pro contract halfway through his sophomore season. Fast tracked to the AHL, Okposo was in the NHL by the end of 2008, scoring two goals in his first nine games in the NHL and serving notice that he was going to be a force on the wing for the Islanders for a long time to come.

Limited to just 65 games in the 2008-09 season due to injury, Okposo nonetheless led the Islanders with 18 goals and was a serious candidate for the Calder Trophy before his injury. Using his speed to play an assertive, physical game Okposo was a key performer alongside first overall selection John Tavares in 2009-10, scoring 19 goals in 80 games and playing provider more often with 33 assists.

Expectations for the Tavares-Okposo duo to lead the Islanders back to respectability took a hit in pre-season, literally, when Okposo was run into the boards and suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. One of many disappointments for Islanders fans in 2010, the Okposo injury has proven to be a major blow to the team’s hopes and his absence has been keenly felt. A complete player with speed, skill and hockey sense, Kyle Okposo is a vital building block for the NY Islanders future.

Jesse Joensuu, F, Assat Pori (Finland) – 2nd round, 60th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 41

Drafted as a project player, Jesse Joensuu was a lanky winger with an almost plodding skating style. Five years later, the big Finn has filled out his 6’4 frame and seen all the hard work he put into improving his skating stride pay off with a regular spot on the Islanders.

Ranked as the 18th best European skater by NHL’s Central Scouting going into the draft, what made the Islanders reach for him at the end of the second round was his size and his enthusiasm for throwing his weight around. Playing two more seasons with his hometown team of Assat in Pori, Joensuu was a 20 goal scorer his first year in the AHL and scored his first NHL goal during a brief seven game call-up in the spring of 2009.

Scoring another goal for the Islanders during an 11 game stint last year, Joensuu secured a spot in the NHL this season thanks in part due to injuries, but mainly due to his consistent improvement and willingness to play a physical, well-rounded game. Driving to the net and finishing his checks, Joensuu has three more NHL goals to his credit in 22 games and is making it very difficult for the Islanders to send him back to the AHL.

Robin Figren, F, Frolunda Jr (Swe Jr) – 3rd round, 70th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Ten picks after selecting Joensuu, the Islanders went for another project winger from Scandinavia. The slow-footed but physical Finn Joensuu is a stark contrast to the nimble and slightly built Swede Robin Figren, rated 29th amongst European skaters by NHL’s Central Scouting.

Encouraged to play junior in North America, Figren played 62 games with the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL in 2006-07, scoring just 10 times, and then suited up for another 35 WHL games the following year with the Edmonton Oil Kings, scoring 18 goals for one of the league’s worst teams. Figren then returned to Sweden to play in the SEL with Djurgardens for a year before joining the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the AHL.

Figren’s first year in the AHL was a massive disappointment, netting just three goals in 62 games. A player who needs room on the outside to use his speed, Figren’s inability to fight past the bigger defenseman on the smaller ice made it seem unlikely he was going to adapt to the North American game. Before anyone can pronounce the word "bust" however, Figren has belatedly started to find the net with more regularity this year and has 11 goals in 42 games. Still on the fringe of the Islander’s deep prospect pool, Figren has shown there is still some potential he can adapt his game and earn some consideration for a spot on the Islanders.

Rhett Rakhshani, F, U.S. NTDP – 4th round, 100th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 2

Erik Johnson was the first name called at the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, however his teammate on the US National U-18 team Rhett Rakhshani, who had his name called 99 places later, may yet eclipse the Hurricanes Jamie McBain as the second-most productive member of that team drafted in 2006. Rak, as he has been known since his early days in the game, scored 13 times in just 16 games with the U-18s that year and after a full four years at the University of Denver has made the jump to the NHL in his first season as a pro.

Rakhshani currently leads the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in scoring, with 10 goals and 22 assists in 39 games and is a strong candidate for the AHL rookie of the year award. Having made his NHL debut, Rak has shown his speed and rel
entless desire to compete at both ends of the rink could be of immense benefit to the Islanders as they rebuild. An undersized winger at 5’10, Rakhshani has worked extremely hard to prove the doubters wrong and will be unlikely to stop now.

Jase Weslosky, G, Sherwood Park (AJHL) – 4th round, 108th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

With four selections in the fourth round of 2006, the Islanders began drafting for organizational needs and selected goaltender Jase Weslosky. The lanky netminder out of the Alberta Junior Hockey League duly joined St. Cloud State University for three seasons and posted strong numbers throughout his college career, particularly as a sophomore when his goals against average was 2.12 and his save percentage a sparkling .931. Those numbers were amongst the best ever for St. Cloud and although his junior year saw a slight dip, the Huskies were anticipating a strong senior year from their number one goalie.

Unfortunately, Weslosky failed to maintain his grades and was expelled. Now with the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL, Weslosky has decent enough stats but has slipped down the depth chart behind more recently drafted goaltenders.

Tomas Marcinko, C, Kosice (Slovakia) – 4th round, 115th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

The Islanders picked a big pivot with promise with their third selection in the fourth round, a player who dominated the Slovak junior league and had committed to coming over to the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts the following season. Ranked 26th amongst Europeans by Central Scouting, Marcinko seemed like a solid two-way player with some offensive upside. Two strong years with the Colts, where he scored at a point per game pace, seemed to bear out the projections but in the AHL Marcinko has barely made an impact.

Now in his third year with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Marcinko is on pace to match his previous two years goal-scoring totals of four goals. A consistent effort to be sure, but even the most defensively-minded NHL center has to have some offensive upside to his game. In the final year of his entry-level contract, Marcinko seems likely to seek employment elsewhere after this season.

Doug Rogers, C, St. Sebastian’s (USHSE) – 4th round, 119th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

The Harvard-bound Rogers had scored 24 goals and amassed 62 points in total with St. Sebastian’s in his draft season. A solid all-around player who did everything well without excelling at anything, Rogers followed through on his plan to play all four years at Harvard and finish his degree.

Given the modest returns Rogers has posted after turning pro, 10 points in 20 games with the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL, it is a good thing he has his Harvard degree to fall back on.

Shane Sims, D, Des Moines (USHL) – 5th round, 126th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

With their first of two fifth-round picks, the Islanders picked up Okposo’s Des Moines teammate Shane Sims. A smooth skater, able to move the puck accurately, with good mobility and a good shot, Sims scored 10 goals and 12 assists in 59 games in his draft season and followed it up with 10 goals and 29 points in the USHL the following year.
Now in his senior year with Ohio State University, the native of East Amherst, New York is the leader from the back for the Buckeyes and will hopefully look to match his puck-moving game at the pro level next season. Undersized at 5’11, the game has changed enough for Sims to remain an intriguing prospect, although the Islanders will need to decide to offer him a contract this summer in order to see what he can do at the next level.

Kim Johansson, F, Malmo Jr (Swe Jr) – 5th round, 141st overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

New York went back overseas for their second pick in the fifth round, selecting a Swedish forward known to be a strong penalty killer. Although he did notch 15 points in 39 games during the Swedish league’s regular season in 2005-06, Johansson was known for his willingness to be responsible in the "box play" and played a solid defensive game in the World Junior Championships.

Five years removed from the pick, Johansson remains in Sweden as a defensive forward with almost no offensive upside and no perceived interest in coming over to North America.

Andrew MacDonald, D, Moncton (QMJHL) – 6th round, 160th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 77

The Islanders’ sixth-round pick was a member of the QMJHL franchise that Ted Nolan, recently appointed as the Islanders new head coach at the time of the 2006 draft, coached to the Memorial Cup finals. MacDonald had joined the Moncton Wildcats as a free agent and worked his way up into the team’s top-three rearguards.

The pride of Judique, Nova Scotia has shown a stubborn streak throughout his development, a trait that enabled him to overcome the obstacles strewn in his path. Staying with the Wildcats as an overager, MacDonald showed an ability to lead from the back and generate offense as well as play a solid defensive game. Assigned to the ECHL for a time after signing a pro contract, MacDonald has persevered through hard work and self-belief to become a top-four pairing in the NHL. Currently partnered with top-prospect Travis Hamonic, MacDonald has 14 assists in 29 games this season and his work ethic and sense of responsibility can only be a positive influence for any young defender who plays alongside him.

Brian Day, F, Governor Dummer, (USHSE) – 6th round, 171st overall,
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Unranked by Central Scouting, the Islanders snapped up the big winger with their second pick in the sixth round. Day would spend one more season at Governor Dummer before heading off to Colgate to compete at the NCAA level. Off the radar in his draft year due to a knee injury incurred while playing football, Day has proven to be a long-shot with upside during his ECAC career.

With 21 goals and 36 points in 34 games as a junior, Day is a budding power forward with an education. Now in his senior with Colgate, the 22-year-old has the benefit of top-notch schooling to fall back on if the Islanders fail to sign him to a professional contract this summer.

Stefan Ridderwall, G, Djurgarden Jr (Swe Jr) – 6th round, 173rd overall,
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

The second goalie and the third Swede taken by the Islanders in 2006, Ridderwall’s father once backstoppe
d the Swedish National Team. While his bloodlines can’t be faulted, Ridderwall’s loyalty to his Djurgarden club has prevented him from coming over to North America. Still with the same team he was five years ago, Ridderwall is a Djurgarden stalwart and will likely remain so until he retires.

Troy Mattila, F, Springfield (NAHL) – 7th round, 190th overall,
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

The big winger from Rockford, Illinois spent two years in the USHL after being drafted from the Springfield Blues and eventually made his way to Dartmouth College in the ECAC. Unable to generate enough offense to justify significant playing time, or perhaps unable to get enough playing time to generate offence, Mattila has scored just three goals in three seasons with the Big Green.