New York Islanders 2011 draft preview

By Kyle West

Photo: The MVP at the Memorial Cup, Jonathan Huberdeau brings a much needed offensive punch to the Islanders organization. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

Top 10 prospects:

1. Nino Niederreiter, LW
2. Travis Hamonic, D
3. Calvin de Haan, D
4. Kirill Petrov, RW
5. Ty Wishart, D
6. Matt Donovan, D
7. Anders Lee, C
8. Brock Nelson, C
9. Rhett Rakhshani, RW
10. Casey Cizikas, C

Team Needs

Brimming with young talent, the Islanders prospect pool has benefitted from a string of top draft picks. John Tavares, taken first overall in 2009, has begun to take this team on his back and show signs of being the franchise player the Islanders hoped he would be. The challenge now is for the Islanders to surround him with the talent that will enable him to succeed. They took a big step toward doing that last year with the selection of powerful winger Nino Niederreiter at fifth overall. “El Nino” and Kyle Okposo, selected seventh overall in 2006, give Tavares linemates who can create space and finish chances and the Islanders will be able to add another elite talent with the fifth overall selection in the 2011 draft.

Luckily for the Islanders, the 2011 draft is widely thought to have five elite level forward talents available; Memorial Cup MVP Jonathan Huberdeau, QMJHL star Sean Couturier, Kitchener Rangers captain Gabriel Landeskog, Red Deer Rebels swift and elusive center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Niagara’s Ryan Strome. If the Islanders want a top-line forward, all Isles GM Garth Snow need do is choose the best one that falls to him at fifth overall.

There are also three defenseman to be considered early in the first round; Swedish workhorse Adam Larsson, Niagara’s tower of two-way strength Dougie Hamilton, and the undersized but highly productive Ryan Murphy of the Kitchener Rangers. Although forwards are thought to be the priority, the quality of these three blueliners should make for a delightful dilemma on draft day, especially if Larsson falls past the first four picks. All three would spark the Islanders moribund power play and give them some depth on the right side of the defense corps.

Organizational Strengths

The Islanders have developed depth at forward, especially at the center position, through recent drafts and have added some decent wingers to complement them.

Amongst the forwards, the pleasant surprises have been 30 goal-scorers Matt Moulson, who has developed a potential long-term partnership with Tavares, and Michael Grabner, the speedy Austrian sniper claimed off waivers from Florida in the pre-season. PA Parenteau and Blake Comeau have chipped in 20 goals and combative Franz Nielsen is a vital performer at center in a two-way role.

Josh Bailey, selected ninth overall in 2008, was thrown in over his head by necessity, however the Islanders can now afford to bring along the next wave of forward prospects more slowly. Rangy center David Ullstrom and sharp-shooter Rhett Rakshani had impressive rookie seasons in the AHL and will benefit from at least another full year in the minors. College star Anders Lee was a dominating freshman power forward at Notre Dame, and while Brock Nelson was not nearly as impactful at powerhouse North Dakota, the Islanders can allow both to continue to flourish in the college greenhouse for at least another season. Center Casey Cizikas shouldered the captain’s workload with Mississauga in the OHL with strength and honor and he will further prove his mettle in the AHL next year.

Organizational Weaknesses

A trade for Ty Wishart and the rapid emergence of Travis Hamonic, greatly aided by the partnership with 24 year-old Andy MacDonald, has helped to strengthen the organizational depth at defense but it remains an area in need of improvement. The decision of Matt Donovan and Aaron Ness to quit college and turn pro gives the Islanders access to two skilled, puck-moving defenseman who can strengthen the power play but the great hope for the future is Calvin de Haan, the first round selection from 2009, taken 12th overall.

The smooth-skating Oshawa General will join the Islanders AHL affiliate next season and begin to adapt to the professional game. Still in need of additional muscle bulk and conditioning, de Haan has had injury problems over the past two years but when healthy is a heady mix of smarts and skill that can quarterback the man advantage with style. With all the talented forwards available in the draft, if a right-sided workhorse like Adam Larsson was on the board at the Islander’s pick then it would be hard to pass on a player that will address a weakness so effectively.

Draft Tendencies

Addressing specific needs and moving picks to secure specific players have been two of the consistent draft tendencies under GM Garth Snow, now in his fifth draft. In 2008, Snow traded down twice and selected Josh Bailey, in 2009 he traded up twice to secure Calvin De Haan and in 2010 he traded up for the final pick of the first round to nab center Brock Nelson. At the time Bailey addressed the need for a skilled center and de Haan for a puck moving defenseman who could run the power play while Nelson projects as a two-way skilled center with size. In 2009 Snow also attempted to address the goaltending depth issues with the aggressive selection of Mikko Koskinen and Anders Nilsson in the second and third rounds.

With two picks in the second round, the 34th and the 50th overall acquired from Montreal for James Wisniewski, and another two picks early in the third round, Snow might again use that surplus to acquire another first rounder if he sees a player that addresses a need still available. If he does stand pat the two picks in the second round could yield some strong two-way defenders.

Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result:

No. 5: Jonathan Huberdeau, LW/C

The MVP of the 2011 Memorial Cup tournament, Huberdeau has been the top riser amongst the 2011 Draft prospects. He is gifted with exceptionally quick hands in close and the vision and creativity to set up scoring plays at high speed. Able to play provider for Tavares on a top line, a combination of Huberdeau’s playmaking vision and Niederreiter’s power game would be the ideal trio for the Islander’s man advantage for many years to come.