Islanders 2004 draft preview

By Tom Liodice

Islanders Top 10 Prospects

1. Robert Nilsson, LW
2. Justin Mapletoft, C
3. Evgeny Tunik, RW
4. Dmitri Chernykh, RW
5. Jeremy Colliton, RW
6. Frans Nielsen, C
7. Marcus Paulsson, C
8. Stefan Blaho, RW
9. Arto Tukio, D
10. Alexei Stonkus, D

The 2003-2004 season ended in a somewhat disappointing fashion for the New York Islanders. They were beaten in five games in their playoff series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, scoring five goals in the series. It also marked the third straight year that the Isles took a first-round exit. But while the team was left with a bitter taste in their mouths, they must realize that adjustments will need to be made, and the offseason activities starts with the NHL Entry Draft.

Team Needs:

The New York Islanders are a team made up of mainly skill and speed players. One thing that is lacking, and which has been an issue for the Islanders for the past three years, is size and brute strength. A need for a forward who is not afraid to lay the big hits and make plays happen, as well as a big crease-clearing defenseman is something that could make the Isles a viable contender.

Another unresolved issue that has been plaguing the Isles for the past three seasons is the need for a skilled, consistent scorer on the wing to play beside Alexei Yashin. Yashin has been very inconsistent for the past three seasons and needs a quality winger to play alongside him to compliment his play.

Organizational Strengths:

When head coach Steve Stirling was promoted to the big club last year from its AHL affiliate, Bridgeport Sound Tigers, one thing that was expected out of him was his confidence in his former Tigers. Many of them easily have a shot to make the team next year. Center Justin Mapletoft (130th overall, 1999) saw flashes of NHL action this year, proving his ability to be an excellent two-way player, as he was used in crucial penalty kills throughout the game. One player Stirling has took a liking to, although not a former Tiger, is center Sean Bergenheim (22nd overall, 2002). Bergenheim can be compared to current Islander, Jason Blake, with his flashes of speed and workman-like attitude. Bergenheim shined in the AHL playoffs with Bridgeport, scoring 2 goals and 3 assists in seven games.

The Isles also have many young skilled defensemen in their system. One of the most notable is Bruno Gervais, (182nd overall, 2003) who made a splash last year during training camp, lasting all the way to the final cut. Now with the uncertain status of soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Eric Cairns, the Isles will have an extra slot open on the team, of which he could have an excellent chance to make.

Organizational Weaknesses:

Aside from young goaltenders Rick DiPietro and Wade Dubielewicz, who have been brilliant this season in the Islanders organization, the Isles are really lacking in the goaltending department. Brad Topping (220th overall, 2002) is the lone goaltending prospect left with the Isles, and is in danger of re-entering the draft, as it has been two years without a contract offer.

Another team weakness that the Isles are suffering from is their lack of size and strength and the presence of a big rugged forward. Many of the young former Sound Tigers that have come up through the organization have had relatively small builds. This is a constant theme throughout the organization as 10 players on the final roster at the end of the season were 6’0 and under. This leads to being overpowered and outplayed physically.

Draft Tendencies:

If there has been a constant theme in the past five draft years, it is that GM Mike Milbury has made it a point to draft many skillful Europeans. Thirty out of the last 47 players drafted have come from Europe. Some of these notable Europeans that have made their way into the Isles roster have been Mattias Weinhandl, Radek Martinek, Tomi Pettinen, and Sean Bergenheim.

Islanders General Manager, Mike Milbury has also made it known that he can be very active on draft day. Most of his draft day moves have been questioned by many, thus earning him the nickname “Mad Mike.” No one knows what could be up Milbury’s sleeve this year in Raleigh.

Player most likely to be taken with first round selection (Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result): Kyle Chipchura, C