June 28, 2010

NYI FYI's 2010 Islanders Draft Review

Draft weekend has come and gone and teams, fans and analysts all begin to assess which teams made out well and which teams did not. You may even see some people give out grades for the draft. I have never been a fan of doing that, and I won’t be doing that here. It is impossible to grade a draft a few days after the fact when a small percentage of the players could be contributing within the next year or two.

What I will tell you, however, is that looking at it right now based on talent – which is all you can go by at this point – the Islanders had one of the strongest drafts, and are on many lists under the “draft winner” category.

Friday night started with the Islanders landing their guy at 5 as they made Nino Niederreiter the highest drafted Swiss player ever. Niederreiter was seen as a definite top-10 guy after his performance at the World Junior Championships, which included single handedly leading his Swiss team over the Russians. At 17 years old, he was one of the youngest players in the draft and is already listed at 6-2 and 201 lbs. After the pick was made, the boys on TSN praised the Islanders and Garth Snow for how they are rebuilding the team.

As of right now, I would say there is a decent shot that Niederreiter makes the Islanders roster next season. He has an NHL-ready body as of this point, and his well-rounded style of play is one that can be easily integrated on any of the lines, especially with the way the Islanders roll their offensive lines. However, another year playing for the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL would not be a bad thing. Niederreiter will only turn 18 in September and despite his big size, could use a little more seasoning playing against players who are overall slightly older than he is. The Islanders certainly made a good pick here, and it will be interesting to see how they proceed with him and how he would fit in with any potential free agent deals or trades the Islanders could make over the summer.

The Islanders had made it clear in the first round that size and high-end skill up front was a key weakness that they wanted to address in this draft. The Islanders had two picks in the 2nd round; 35th and 58th overall. They packaged both picks and moved them to the Chicago Blackhawks for the 30th and final pick in the 1st round and took big center Brock Nelson. Nelson, at 6-3 and 205 lbs, was one of the top high school players in the country last year, playing at Warrod High School in Minnesota. Nelson certainly looked a little lighter than 205 lbs, but there is no doubt that he has some filling out to do and can potentially be a big shutdown center in the future.

The Islanders have slightly higher hopes for Nelson and believe that he is a top 6 talent. The general consensus out there is that he could be a sleeper pick, and it appears to be good value for the end of the 1st round. There were a number of teams interested in Nelson at the beginning of the second round, so the Islanders felt he would not be there at 35 and jumped up to grab him. Nelson was ranked as the 25th best North American skater by NHL Central Scouting, and 26th by the International Scouting Service.

Nelson will attend the University of North Dakota in the fall.

Many fans were happy to see the Islanders move back into the first round, but had hopes that the team would take a chance on the very talented yet very troubled winger Kirill Kabanov. With no picks in the 2nd round, it appeared that another team would benefit from this talented player falling so far.

Kabanov fell, and fell and just when you thought his time had come, he fell some more. The Islanders turn came up and Kabanov was still sitting there. They selected him with the 65th overall pick, and captured the headlines for day two.

When people have asked me what I thought about the Islanders draft, I tell them how much I loved it and rave about this pick. I usually get the question “Why are you so excited about a 3rd round pick?”

For those of you who don’t already know, let me explain to you the riddle wrapped in a mystery wrapped in an enigma that is Kirill Kabanov.

In the summer of 2009, Kabanov was said to be a top-3 pick, only behind Taylor Hall (who did stay at the top) and Cam Fowler (who was still ranked in the top 5 but fell to 12th for whatever reason). By the time mid-term rankings came out, Central Scouting had him as the 15th North American skater, and by the finals rankings Kabanov dropped all the way to 31st. ISS had him at 4th in November, only to see him fall all the way to 45 by their final rankings.

So what’s the deal? Many people look at his name and say “ah, Russian factor.” But it’s slightly different and much more complex than that.

Kabanov played only 22 games this season with the Moncton Wildcats, having injured his wrist early in the season. One rumor going around was that with his time off, he was constantly getting tattoos. Another rumor going around is that his teammates in Moncton didn't care for him too much. After he came back from his injury, he saw his ice time dwindle, and when he was a healthy scratch in the playoffs he requested to be transferred back to Russia for the U-18 World Championships. Shortly after that, he was kicked off the team because of “behavioral issues.” Kabanov couldn’t play in the KHL, since he is currently banned from the league stemming from a contract dispute there.

Now, after all of that, two different teams and four different agents, Kabanov is an Islander. One of those former agents said that Kabanov’s father sticks his nose where it doesn’t belong, and is a big reason why the youngster is the way he is.

He showed us a different side during his press conferences after getting picked, and reiterated his stance that he does not want to return to Russia. He went as far as to seek out a TSN camera that was filming his presser, looked into the lens and told Islanders fans that he wanted to tear out pages from his passport and send it to them to show them he was serious about not going back, if that’s what it took. He did this same thing at the NHL draft combine in late May during his interview with Chris Botta.

Kabanov tried to dispel all of the other rumors surrounding him as well. “That I’m drinking, that I'm a rock-and-roller, that all my body is covered in tattoos. That’s not true, just a couple. People say I'm bad like the devil, but I'm good like an angel.”

It remains to be seen what happens, but the Islanders got a top 5 talent in the draft here at this spot. There is a slight chance he can make the big club, depending on what happens in training camp. He has said he is open to returning to Moncton, but no one knows for sure if they would welcome him back. Moncton’s head coach, Danny Flynn, was one of Ted Nolan’s assistants during the playoff season of 2006-2007 before he left to take that head coaching job. So there is a connection there which could make it easy for Moncton to welcome him back. Garth Snow has made it clear that they are going to talk to Kabanov about rules and guidelines of being an Islander, so here’s hoping that he can turn it around and start a new book rather than a new chapter, as Kabanov himself put it.

The Islanders picked another physical forward, Jason Clark with their other 3rd rounder, 82nd overall. Clark spent last season at Shattuck-St. Mary’s High School, an excellent one for hockey. There he scored 23 goals and 23 assists for 46 points. I immediately liked this pick as soon as I saw he had attended that school. Upon further review, he seems to have the makeup as someone who can be another physical forward on one of the checking lines. He has decent size at 6-1, 180 lbs, but obviously needs to and will put on weight as he continues to develop.

Clark has committed to the University of Wisconsin.

The Islanders traded away their 4th round pick, but with their 5th pick, 125th overall, they selected defenseman Tony DeHart. This pick is a bit interesting, as DeHart is viewed as an over-ager. He turned 20 in March, and even played in the AHL this past season, albeit for two games with the Springfield Falcons.

DeHart started the year with the Oshawa Generals. There, the 6-2, 187 pound blueliner was partnered with 2009 Islanders 1st round draft pick Calvin de Haan up until de Haan suffered a shoulder injury. From that point, DeHart elevated his game and really proved to be a force. He finished with 10 goals and 30 assists, and provided some excellent defensive play all year round for the Generals.

Since it was the 5th round, I like the fact the Islanders targeted someone who looks like he is a late bloomer. The fact that he has playing experience with one of the Islanders top defensive prospects factored into this decision a bit as I’m sure the Islanders had a good look at him while scouting de Haan. The fact he played in the AHL on a tryout last season helped his cause as well.

The Islanders will most likely extend a contract to DeHart to play for Bridgeport for the upcoming season, just as they did with defenseman Anton Klementyev last season, who they also selected in the 5th round. Klementyev eventually got into one game with the Isles last season.

The Islanders finished off their draft by selecting small, yet quick goalie Cody Rosen in the 7th round, 185th overall. Rosen was a freshman at Clarkson University last season, and has not played much. For a 7th round pick, it’s not that big of a deal. He will continue to develop at school and the Islanders will see where he is three years from now. Perhaps he turns into a decent prospect and a fallback should one of Poulin or Koskinen fail. Other than that, there’s not much out there on this guy. We’ll see down the road what the Islanders found, or didn’t find here.

The Islanders have said that this is the last time they hope they will have a high draft pick. It appears that as of this moment, the prospect cupboard is deep and has some good talent mixed in as well.

In just a few short days, the free agency period will open. If the team mixes in a couple of solid free agents, they can easily make the playoffs at the very least next season. As I mentioned earlier, it remains to be seen if any of the players from this draft will be on the roster, but they certainly shouldn’t be holding a spot for any of them. It should be a wild next couple of days as rumors heat up.


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