About that Islanders Rebuild

posted in: NHL | 6

I decided to go back in time, thanks to hockeydb.com. I decided this because while I, and every other Islander fan expected to see this team take another step this season, and expected to see some of these young guys really take the “next step”, it clearly hasn’t happened.

So, I wanted to see what the Isles plan of building through the draft had gotten them so far, and compare it to other teams who’ve been very successful through building through the draft. As I looked back at the past a couple of things jumped out at me, however first I have to define when the “rebuild” really began.

In 2006-007, the Isles finished with 92 points and made the playoffs. During that summer, they bought out Yashin, had Ryan Smythe,  Jason Blake, Sean Hill, Tom Poti and Viktor Kozlov walk away, and enjoyed what was really the last effective Mike Sillinger season. All due respect to Bill Guerin and Mike Comrie, who were added for the 2007-2008 season, this is when things began to bottom out.

Unfortunately, the 2007 draft has nothing to show for it (unless you ant to count the 11 game career of Mark Katic), but I’d almost give Garth Snow a pass for that, since he didn’t have a first or second round pick.

It’s 2008 where we really start to see the effects of the draft on the Islanders current roster. In 2008, the Isles had 13 picks, including one first round (9th overall), 2 second and 3 third round picks. This would have been a great place to make some hay on retooling the prospect pipeline and the roster of 2010 and forward. Here’s what we have from that draft:

Josh Bailey (1st round)

Aaron Ness and Travis Hamonic (2nd round)

Matt Donovan (4th round)

Kevin Poulin and Matt Martin (5th round)

So in a year where the GM and scouts really needed to jumpstart the rebuild, and stock the pipeline with some serious talent and prospects, the Islanders found themselves 1 top 6 forward (Bailey, who is really probably not a top 6 forward on most other teams, so let’s go with a top 9 forward), 2 still borderline NHL defensemen (Ness and Donovan), a 4th liner (Martin) a top 4 defenseman (Hamonic) and a borderline backup goalie. (Poulin)

That’s not exactly talent you can build around. BTW, for the sake of argument, let’s look at some other players the Isles could have taken:

1st round: Erik Karlsson, Jordan Eberle, Tyler Myers, Tyler Ennis, Michael Del Zotto, Jake Gardiner, John Carlson

2nd round: Patrick Wiercioch, Justin Schultz, Derek Stepan

Still, the draft is a crap shoot. We all know this, and getting that many guys who are playing for you every day, isn’t bad.

2009, of course, was the year of John Tavares. No complaints there, however the Isles also had the 12 and 31st picks that year, and have 9 games of Calvin de Haan and a goalie currently in the KHL to show for those picks. (On the bright side, Casey Cizikas in round 3, and Anders Lee in the 6th)

2010. The doomed El Nino project. Also, Brock Nelson with the 30th pick, which may still prove some value here.

2011 – The Ryan Strome era has just begun, with 2011 and 2012 # 1 picks also still out in juniors. So, no judgement on any of those years.

So, overall not too bad, but let’s compare this to what we want to become, a Stanley Cup championship team. Over the same time period (the 2008-2009 season until today), the Cup has been won by  Pittsburgh, Chicago, Boston, LA and Chicago again. Let’s see who they drafted in the years leading up to their Cup wins:

Pittsburgh- We all know the story here, assisted greatly by the lockout year, and thus “finishing” with the worst record two years in a row, the Pens drew the winning card and wound up with Sydney Crosby. But, they also had first round picks, Fleury, Brooks Orpik, Malkin, Jordan Staal, Colby Armstrong and Ryan Whitney on that team. Add in third round pick Kris Letang, and foruth round pick Tyler Kennedy and you have the makings of a pretty fine team, even before you start adding in other pieces.

Chicago – Thew back to back picks of Towes and Kane are the icing, but the cake also has previous draft picks like Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Troy Brouwer, Bryan Bickell, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Dave Bolland, and Dustin Byfuglien.

Boston– Again, on the home grown talent front you have Bergeron, Lucic, Krejci, Marchand, and Seguin, but also the draft skill to have Phil Kessel and turn him into so many picks that are then used to continue building out the core of the team.

LA Kings – Truly, the one team in this group where you look at the top of their scoring list and see guys they didn’t draft, however good drafting put them in a position to make the deals for Carter and Richards, and left them well stocked with Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Quick, Doughty, etc.

Look at those teams again. What do you see? Not just one good draft, not just one “down” year of getting the first overall selection and then righting the ship, you see a number of homerun type picks. Guys drafted high who are elite players, guys drafted later who are quality top 6 forwards, top 4 defensemen, top goailes, and on and on. With the Islanders since 2008, we have John Tavares, a handful of bottom six or third pair defensemen and a whole bunch of “maybe”. We don’t see the 2009 homerun surrounded by other home run picks from the previous years, or from the next year. We certainly hope that Nelson, Strome, Reinhart, etc. become those players, but it’s the ones we drafted from 2005-2010 who either haven’t lived up to their billing yet, (Bailey, Ness, Nilsson, de Hann, Lee, Kabanov) or the ones who are flat out gone (Joensuu, Figren, Rakhshani, Trivino, Ullstrom, Petrov, Toews, O’Marra, Nokelainen, Comeau, etc.) that have slowed down this rebuild. Those championship teams? They continue to draft well and find players who become a big part of winning teams, or they make shrewd deals to bring in players when they can’t draft them. The Islanders? They shoot some craps and occasionally come up seven. That’s not good enough, and it’s no way to rebuild through the draft.

Let’s hope the 2011-2013 draft classes provide more of that top level talent!


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