With the NHL offseason in full swing, all eyes are locked in on what’s to come this Friday night at the NHL Draft.
It’s always an exciting time for teams, players and fans as they get a chance to see the next crop of future stars live out their dream of hearing their name called. In the New York Islanders case, this year’s version of the draft comes with many question marks.
Heading into Friday, the organization currently holds picks five picks — 23, 57, 147, 178, and 209. That’s a decrease from last year’s haul where they had eight picks — two in both rounds one and two — and came away with three potential studs in left-wing Oliver Wahlstrom and defensemen Noah Dobson and Bode Wilde.
Having that number 23 selection though, and that lower first-round picks have become quite valuable in recent years, the Isles are in a prime position at possibly finding a hidden gem. Don’t think so? This year’s host city, Vancouver, they found their sniper and franchise cornerstone Brock Boeser with the 23rd selection in 2015. One year earlier, the reigning Eastern Conference champions, the Boston Bruins, plucked a Czech scoring machine who has turned into one of the game’s premier scorers, David Pastrnak.
OPTION 1: KEEP THE PICK AND SELECT A CENTER OR WING
Now with the defensive part of the organization solidified, the Isles would be foolish not to focus on the two areas where they’re the thinnest: center and wing.
There are a ton of centers that Lou Lamoriello and his scouting staff could have their eyes on. Ryan Suzuki, Jakob Pelletier, Bobby Brink, Phil Tomasino, Egor Afanasyev and Johnny Beecher all come to mind.
Suzuki, ranked 15th by Corey Pronman of The Athletic and 18th by NHL Central Scouting, had a wonderful season where he totaled 75 points in 65 games for the Barrie Colts. He is a good skater with excellent vision and finds a way to put himself in position to score. Pelletier, who’s a bit on the smaller side at 5’9, is highly skilled and creative with the puck on his stick. Ranked 32nd by ISS Hockey, he notched a whopping 89 points in 65 games this past season for the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL. Brink, a USHL product, has an attacking mentality. He scored 35 goals in 43 games for the Sioux City Musketeers and added another 33 assists. Eliteprospects.com has Brink ranked as the 15th best player in the draft. Tomasino, 17, plays the game with a fearless attitude and has very good hands. Positioned number 14 by NHL Central Scouting, he racked up 72 points last year for the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs. Afanasyev and Beecher are both in the 6’3-6’4 range and are projected to be around by the time the Islanders are on the clock.
Moving away from down the middle, a few possible wingers Lamoriello could get his hands on are Arthur Kaliyev, Samuel Poulin and Brett Leason.
Kaliyev has good size for a left winger at 6’2 and does an excellent job at putting himself in prime scoring areas. He’s got an NHL-caliber shot and it was on full display his last two seasons with the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs where he tallied 82 goals in 135 games. NHL Central Scouting sits Kaliyev as the seventh best out of all North American skaters; McKeen’s Hockey puts him 21st. Poulin, the Laval, QC native, also stands at 6’2 and really broke out this past year with Sherbrook Phoenix of the QMJHL — 76 points in 67 contests. The offensive upside is there with Poulin, who, is ranked 24th overall by hockeyprospect.com. Leason is the biggest winger of the three. Slated at 6’4, the 20-year-old Calgary, AB product could be closer to being NHL-ready than his counterparts. Leason’s definitely got the size and he used it effectively to produce an outstanding 89-point campaign last season for the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders. ISS Hockey places Leason as the 29th best player in the draft.
OPTION TWO: TRADE THE PICK TO MOVE DOWN
Realizing that he only has one other pick in the first four rounds, Lamoriello could use that #23 selection to make his way down the draft board. He’s done it before and it led to success.
Back at the draft in 1990, Lamoriello traded the Devils 11th pick and two other picks to the Calgary Flames for the 20th selection, which he used on Brodeur; Brodeur would go on to a Hall-of-Fame career and won three Stanley Cups.
Because of how deep this draft class is at the center position, trading down doesn’t seem like the worst idea. Teams that are desperate to either get back into the first round, add another first round pick, or want to move up to get the player they covet will be looking at that Isles pick and possibly foaming at the mouth.
Another reason why trading down sounds like a very realistic possibility, the Islanders would have a chance at gaining multiple picks that they could use to their expense either in the following rounds or sometime in the future. The possibility of having multiple picks can also provide Lamoriello and the organization a chance to fill their needs at the center and wing position.
OPTION THREE: TRADE THE PICK IN A PACKAGE FOR A GOAL-SCORING FORWARD
Everyone and their mother are fully aware that the Islanders are in search of upgrading at forward. Known for being shifty with his picks, especially first rounders, Lamoriello is not afraid to pay a price to give his team an instant jolt. It worked when he traded the ninth pick overall in 2013 to the Canucks for number one goalie Cory Schneider.
There is no question teams will want that pick as collateral for the same reasons that were mentioned above. Using that 23rd pick as an asset could be the key to the Isles getting the offensive help that head coach Barry Trotz warranted when the season came to an end.
The Isles have been lacking a big-time sniper for years now. Finding a player to match with up-and-coming superstar Mathew Barzal and adding another vital piece to the core of the team makes trading the pick that much more viable. The free agency class has a few players worth taking a shot at if you’re Lamoriello, but it’s on the draft floor where he can probably get the most bang for his buck.
Besides it’s hard to think many around the Island would be upset if Lamoriello used his wizardry to acquire someone ala Florida’s Mike Hoffman, Minnesota’s Jason Zucker, or even for old time sake a former asset of Lamoriello’s, Toronto’s Nazem Kadri. All three would be welcomed additions and instantly make the offense deeper and the team much more lethal.
OPTION FOUR: TRADE UP
This seems like the most likely of the scenarios that could take place, but with Lamoriello, never say never.
In 2003, his Devils were locked in with the 22nd pick. Somehow, Lamoriello got then-Oilers g.m. Kevin Lowe to agree to a deal for the pick in exchange for the #17 and #68 picks. With that pick, Lamoriello took a kid out of the University of North Dakota named Zach Parise. Parise would go on to become the face of the Devils for over half a decade; the two picks the Oilers received, Marc-Antoine Pouliot and Jean-Francois Jacques, only combined for 358 NHL games overall.
Lamoriello also traded up a year later, this time selecting another kid who became a cornerstone of the Devils during his reign, Travis Zajac. Lou took his #22 pick and #88 pick and dealt it to the Dallas Stars for the #20 spot with Zajac still on the board.
Some of Lamoriello’s other notable draft day transactions where he moved up didn’t work out as planned. But even in his misses, it shows that he is willing to take initiative and do whatever it takes to get his man.
So, based on these four scenarios, the draft should make for some interesting times for the natives.
One way or another, Lamoriello is going to have his chance to add to this team. And whether that means strengthening an area that the organization is lacking, or finding hopefully a franchise pillar, both options will be on the table.
You never know what’s gonna go down on the day of the draft. It’s as unpredictable as it can be.
For the spot the Islanders find themselves in, the same theory definitely applies.
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