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Shirman: Getting to know the Islanders’ new draft class

Going into the 2021 Entry Draft without a first-round pick, the Islanders were seeking to draft wisely in later rounds. It appears that they managed to do just that. With quite a few prospects projected to go higher than they did, the Islanders’ 2021 Draft Class holds a well-rounded mix of positions, size, skill, and talent. While there is certainly more to follow along and learn about our newest prospects as they develop, let’s take a look at what we know about them thus far.

Aatu Räty — Round 2, 52 overall

The Islanders’ first pick of the draft experienced a spectacular & shocking fall from grace. I know I wasn’t alone in sitting on the edge of my seat for nearly two rounds watching as the player once projected to go first overall was passed over … again … and again … and again. 

The 6’2, 185lb Finnish center excelled in playing against his own age group for Kärpät’s junior teams, but his performance did not carry over to the pro-Liiga. His showing at the World Juniors Summer Showcase further backs this up — as Aatu Räty led peers of his own age group in points. But Kärpät has been experiencing its own issues which could possibly be contributing to Räty’s game, with a poor outing last season which seems to be continuing in the preseason, and a small COVID outbreak in the 2020-21 season as well. 

Räty’s biggest weapon is his shot — hard and accurate. He bolsters his game by playing physically. He’s not shy about crashing the net or throwing his body around. Räty’s two-way game has also grown exponentially, becoming a dependable force in his own zone. Though his skating is not the most skilled, he does not lack speed when carrying the puck. Räty is a center who can both create plays and finish them, he just needs the confidence to back up his talent and, from word of mouth, needs to regain his joy for hockey. 

 

Tristan Lennox — Round 3, 93 overall

Rated third amongst eligible North American goaltenders, Tristan Lennox is confident and calm. Putting up a .951 SV% for Canada in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, he has the raw talent to be a legitimate NHL goaltender, but needs to be developed — and who is better than the Islanders to help with that? At 6’4” and 190 lbs Lennox has the potential to be a foreboding force in net. His goaltending style is notably aggressive, with an affinity for puck handling and tracking. Lennox excels with rebound control, aided by quick lateral movement and pure athleticism. Though his positioning and technique need to be improved, Lennox has the tools to be a starter in the NHL with proper development.  

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Cameron Berg — Round 4, 125 overall

An average-sized center who excels in transitioning through the neutral zone, Cameron Berg uses speed and aggression to his advantage. Berg is a formidable forechecker and dependable defensively. He has the skill but would benefit from better vision and decision-making to round that out. After scoring 58 points in 51 games (the seventh most in the USHL) with the Muskegon Lumberjacks, Berg’s offensive stock is rising. That being said, his heavy shot and style of play lead some scouts to believe he would be better suited at wing. 

 

Eetu Liukas — Round 5, 157 overall

The second of our vowel abundant picks from the 2021 Entry Draft, Eetu Liukas is a sizeable left-wing. Relishing in a physical game, Liukas throws his body around and matches that with an equally heavy shot. With good hockey sense and decent puck handling, he is able to use both his physicality and skill to gain and maintain possession of the puck. It is not unusual for Liukas to get time on the penalty kill as a result of this and his defensive responsibility. However, his skating could stand to be improved — a lot — and multiple scouts point to that as what will potentially limit any breakout into an NHL career. What’s fascinating is that most rankings had Liukas being picked in the third round, so he could prove to be a hidden gem. 

 

Aleksi Malinen — Round 6, 189 overall

65th on Bob McKenzie’s draft rankings, nearly every draft projection had Malinen going in the third round. A puck-moving defenseman, Malinen’s dynamic skating makes him stand out and points to success in controlled zone entries and exits. While his decision-making is sound, his passing accuracy could stand to improve — something that is mendable with training. Scouts have pointed out his effective stick use to close off passing lanes and good positioning coupled with anticipation in his own zone. With the potential to grow into a more offensive role, especially if he bulks up, Malinen will be an intriguing prospect to follow with Liiga’s JYP this season. 

 

Tomas Machu — Round 7, 221 overall

A big-bodied defenseman who, in his own words, did not expect to be drafted, Tomas Machu plays for HC Vitkovice in the Tipsport Extraliga. A solid two-way player, this was an off-the-board (meaning that available scouting reports on Machu are minimal) low risk, potentially mid reward pick. 

 

 

 

 

 

Follow Nicole on Twitter @nicolefshirman

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