June 26, 2010

Isles take Niederreiter 5th, Nelson 30th

The fans that attended the Islanders draft party were filled with so much anticipation yesterday, waiting to see who the next top young player would be as the team continues along with their rebuild. While there were a number of good players, there was one player that most fans had their eyes on, and that was defenseman Erik Gudbranson.

"I want Gudbranson," said Islanders fan Matt Fernando. The three fans that he was with, Carey Haber, Brett Schneider and Adam Cohen all agreed. "But I'd be fine with anyone, as long as they don't take (Vladimir) Tarasenko...and they have to stay at five," Haber added.

All four wanted the Islanders to trade up to add a player later in the 1st round. At the very least, those wishes did end up coming true. But more on that a little later.

The draft party was full of things to do, with games, balloon animals, locker room tours and an obstacle course. About five minutes before the draft began, they showed pictures of their new road jerseys on the score board, and they introduced Trevor Gillies, Matt Moulson and John Tavares who were all sporting the jerseys, which were later raffled off. All three received loud standing ovations from the 2,000 fans in attendance. "It almost brought tears to my eyes," Gillies said about the support from the fans that he got, keeping in mind he came up relatively late in the season and got chance to be a regular in the NHL at 31.

The players love the new jerseys, and talked about how it brings the team back to the late 80's and early 90's. This is something that a majority of fans have been clamoring for since the team originally changed their uniforms in the late 90's.

The top three went as expected, with Hall and Seguin going one and two, while the Panthers proved the rumors to be true with them taking Gudbranson 3rd overall. It was at this point that Islanders fans stopped what they were doing to focus on the Blue Jackets. When GM Scott Howson announced the pick as center Ryan Johansen, there was a considerable rise from the Coliseum faithful with many thinking Cam Fowler was on the way. Some fans began to chant his name as the NHL Draft feed went into a commercial break.

When they returned and showed the Isles draft table, the fans began to cheer again up until the time Garth Snow went up to the podium. Expecting Cam Fowler, there was definitely a deflated feel when the GM announced the selection of winger Nino Niederreiter, which you can see in the video.

I want to make some things clear here with this pick. It is in no way a bad pick. Sure, many mock drafts had Niederreiter (I have the spelling down already!) going later in the top 10, but this was a player that was generally in the 6-8 area. Niederreiter would not have lasted past the Lightning at 6, so trading back would have been bad here.

The rumor going around the Coliseum last night was that the Islanders wanted Gudbranson. That's believable as many teams were interested. However, as Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch reported, Johansen was the Islanders other target.  I would imagine that the plan was to trade down and take Johansen or Niederreiter. Once Johansen was taken, I think Snow realized that all bets were off and rather than risking trading back and loosing out on Niederreiter to Tampa, Carolina or whoever took that 5th pick, they went with the guy they wanted. Tampa GM Steve Yzerman was going to take a forward regardless, and ended up with winger Brett Connolly, who's ranking has been clouded because of injury issues.

As the draft went on, and Fowler and Brandon Gormley continued to fall, people became more accepting of the Islanders decision. "I was a little surprised at first, I thought we would take a defenseman. But (Niederreiter) is big and can score, and we need scoring. We need defenseman too, so we'll see what happens," said long time Islanders fan Steve Smith.

Dave, another long time Islanders fan said that the Islanders did very well with Gudbranson no longer on the board. "I thought we would trade down like we did in 2008 to take (Josh Bailey). But we got a forward who's big and can score, and that is a desperate need. Those two other defensemen haven't even been picked yet."

Fowler fell to Anaheim at 12th, while Gormley was taken 13th by the Coyotes. There's a reason that both of these highly regarded blueliners fell so far past many different GMs; what that reason is remains to be seen. There is no reason to think that the Islanders made a bad pick here.

Chicago had the last pick in the first round, 30th overall. The Islanders traded both the 35th and 58th picks to take big center Brock Nelson, who was a top high school player in Minnesota last year. He is someone who could end up being a big shutdown center a few years down the road. While the Islanders do have many centers in the organization, size is definitely an issue down the middle and they addressed that with this pick.

Both John Tavares and Matt Moulson were excited about the pick. Tavares never played against Niederreiter, but did watch him in the world juniors and took note of his performance. It will be nice down the road when Nino does come up that Tavares will have someone with size to be on one side of him. That has been an organizational need for quite some time, and it's good that the Islanders finally addressed it. I respect the fact that to fill that need, they used their judgement and took their guy at that spot as he wasn't far from getting selected. Kudos to Snow and assistant GM Ryan Jankowski for that.

Here's the Tavares interview in it's entirety after the Islanders made their pick. He had some good things to say, and seems to really like Niederreiters style of play. It should be fun to see him develop.

The teams will go through rounds 2-7 today. I'll wait until that is all over with to come out with the recap for the rest of the Islanders draft picks. Hopefully they can do what they have been pretty good at thus far - finding gems in the later rounds.


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