Islanders 2002 Draft Preview

By Bill Bennett

This is a very important draft for the Islanders next Saturday and with that we look ahead at where the Isles will be picking and what they need to fill within the organization. This is no longer a team rated with the highest prospect depth.

This years draft kind of opens new ground for Mike Milbury and his staff. He has an established team that had ninety six points and is going to be a hard act to follow.

And now the fans expect more.

That said the 2001-02 Isles were a flawed team and some tweaking from some places are required because four months of 500. hockey goes beyond something that can be fixed by bringing back the exact same team next fall.

But this was also a team that went on a run at the end of the season to get to fourteen games over.

So you do not want to bring in ten new players and start all over again. Players like Dave Scatchard and Czerkawski have contracts that are very friendly for their age and potential, despite not having good years.

And the Yashin, Peca contracts go up in year two, as will the money asked for by Aucoin, Parrish and what the teams other restricted free agents will want.

A decision has to be made on unrestricted Kip Miller and considering the teams depth at right wing in Bridgeport and the teams need to find Yashin a prime wing, something may have to change on that front because the market is all on the right side.

Next year:

Already there is a gaping hole left by the injury to Michael Peca. Coming back by December-January and being the player he was before are two different things. And last season his shoulder injury (which he had surgery on) explains why we did not see Captain Crunch very often.

Also the Islanders cannot be put into a position where an injury to Jonsson, Aucoin or Hamrlik puts this team in a position where the drop off in defense is so dramatic, Ray Schultz is the only player capable of taking a shift in a game seven who the coach was able to use. Nor can those three players be asked to play thirty minute games or higher because it will get someone injured and all three have had injury problems thru their careers.

To say nothing of the fact we are taking Kenny Jonsson’s return next season for granted. He stayed healthy for over two full years outside of one minor concussion this season (on a jaw hit) but does Jonsson want to come back despite his opinion the hit that gave him the concussion would have given any player a concussion ? Considering how hard and illegal he was run into the boards means nothing now, he is going to take huge hits like that from time to time, some are part of the game and some are not, but to play means to take that risk.

Van Impe played well, but Laviolette did not use Eric Cairns in his top two pairings until the end when he was paired with Hamrlik. Van Impe and Cairns have to be resigned.

Clearly the Isles system failed in terms of it’s defensive prospects. Evgeny Korolev sat too long on the Isles bench before the playoffs. Dick Tarnstrom was injured after SLC, but looked lost in his time in the playoffs.

The Sound Tigers roster was available to Peter Laviolette and Branislav Mezei, Ken Sutton, Ray Giroux, Chris Armstrong were available several times in season and during the Isles-Leafs series, but were not the answer or not considered. Next year the Isles need an answer when the time comes that a defender goes down.

The Draft:

The Islanders picks in this draft are as follows:

22nd overall, first pick.
No second pick (Aucoin trade)
63rd pick (Florida’s pick) from 2001 swap of picks.
82nd pick
112th pick
Fifth rd pick belong to Kings from Jason Blake trade.
172nd pick 6th round
202nd 7th round
232nd 8th round
262nd 9th round

Everyone who has read about the draft next week knows outside of maybe the top six to seven picks, it’s a draft that’s very hard to say who is going to be a solid NHL player, a star, or someone who never makes it to the next step.

So what does the Isles staff look to do ?

Like any draft an organization should be looking for the best available player. But there are circumstances here that may change that thinking and one of those is the need to get a solid defensive prospect.

Clearly the Isles fan favorite is Bobby Nystrom’s son, Eric, from the University of Michigan. No doubt it would be a fine pick because he is predicted to go between 10-20 and has some speed and skills to go with a game that is familiar to those who remember his father.

And the Isles did draft Lorne Henning’s son a few years ago with a late pick.

With that said a quick look thru the Islanders system has them well stocked at the forward position with Trent Hunter, who will get a look in camp along with several other forwards, and that includes fifth overall pick Raffi Torres, Justin Mapletoft, perhaps another shot for Jason Krog (26) and a player who had a fine camp last season is entering his final contract year in Juraj Kolnik.

Combine that with an Islanders team that is very young at the forward position already, and rumors that Kristofer Ottoson (26) may be coming to camp, along with a Swedish report recently that Mattias Weinhandl would be signed to a two year deal and that he will play on the Islanders or in Bridgeport.

Switching to the defensive picture for the organization is clearly not as bright a proposition.

Kevin Haller is still listed in the picture, as is Ken Sutton, and the team will have Radek Martinek in camp.

Dick Tarnstrom will be back at this point and maybe play the solid two-way game he showed before the break that had him in the teams top four pairing. Kiprusoff is unrestricted and not likely to return.

Bottom line is this team needs reliable depth and a deeper prospect base on defense.

Defensive prospects:

Branislav Mezei is a tenth overall pick, and the fact he did not make a good impression in very limited minutes with the Islanders should not diminish what he did with that Sound Tigers in their run to the Calder Cup finals and his team winning the regular season point title. He played big minutes and with the same nasty edge he showed here a few seasons ago and could show up in camp and become exactly what Eric Brewer became in Edmonton. He does not have the offensive game at this time. But anyone who remembers Brewer’s final year in the organization were not impressed, as he was injured and did not produce at either the AHL or NHL level.

The problem:

After Mezei is where Islander staff should have some concerns because the prosepct base is made up of later rd picks with no indication they have the potential of making an NHL roster. It’s fair to say at this point Schultz, Armstrong, and Ray Giroux are not young prospects and it’s unlikely they are going to become Islanders. Tomi Pettinen came over from Ives (Finland) for the Sound Tigers playoffs, but is he going to sign a contract and stay ?

And at such a young age Korolev (23) has been here a long time. He was drafted twice by Mike Milbury.

Arto Tukio Ives (Finland) will be in Europe next season and will be switching teams.

And some other names in the system:
Jan Holub Liberce (Cze)
Ryan Caldwell (College)
Johan Halvardsson HV-71 (Swe)
Adam Johnson (College)
Scott Tyler (College)
Roman Kukhtinov-rumored to be coming for camp but twenty six years old.

Best available or best defender ?

Unless someone drops who is a sure fire prospect at forward, the Isles need to get defensive, they do not have a second rounder in a draft where it’s almost worth trading a late first rounder for two second rounders.

That said here is my list for defenders the Isles should be looking toward with the twenty second pick if by chance they are available:

Bouwmeester and Pikanen will be gone for sure.

Anton Babchuk
Steve Eminger
Ryan Whitney
Denis Grebeshkov
Johnny Boychuk
Martin Vagner
Kirill Koltsov
Ondrej Nemec

Granted I am rating Boychuk higher than most and in some cases he is a second rd pick. Boychuk, Koltsov and Vagner are the three above I think will remain from my list if the Isles go for defense when their pick comes. I also think the Islanders need a hitter in case Mezei does not continue his progress and they need someone with a shot, something Boychuk has.

Boychuk also comes with a risk because he plays with the Calgary Hitman and that means he must be signed within two years, his biggest drawback from what has been written is that his coaching staff is not sure where they want his game to go, but the talent is clearly there and I found myself comparing him with Mike Komisarek in some ways.

Wagner (Hull) also has fine skills and would be a good fit but again he must be signed by a cetain point or re-enter the draft.

Koltsov (Russia) who is considered by some to be the most talented defender in some circles and there is no rush to sign him but again this team needs young defenders in North America for both the parent club and the AHL team.

And for those hoping for a splash Mike Milbury was one of seven teams as of last week who interviewed Jay Bouwmeester.

The full picture:

When this draft is complete the Isles should have improved the prospect base on defense and stock up a new class of forwards and add one goalie to go with Andy Chiodo (St Michael’s Majors) David St.Germain (Trenton) because within the next year or sooner the status of Rick DiPietro may change.

Not confirmed, but Juha Peka-Ketola, drafted last summer will be re-entering the draft. Ketola drafted last summer was part of the CHL’s import draft, a few days after the NHL draft. Mike Bray may also be re-entering the draft next weekend.


Bryan Trottier for finally getting a well-earned chance of coaching an NHL team. My take on his hiring is that he will always be an Islander and never wear the Ranger sweater or score a goal. He has been a huge part of Islanders tradition and given so much to this teams great past that this is something as fans we owe him for all the great games and championships he gave our team for so long. It does not mean to root for Trotts to win a cup for the Rangers, but live and let live and respect his decision. In the end it has no bearing on the 2002-03 Islanders.