Friday, June 25, 2010

Conventional Wisdom - Or Juggling with Dreams?

Everyone's excited - of that there is no doubt!

The blogosphere is booming and chatrooms are going non-stop. It's draft time and it's absolutely amazing the energy and excitement that is generated at this time of year. It represents acquisition, promise, new blood - in essence, hope.

And with pick number five in this year's draft in Los Angeles, Islanderville is very much involved in this high-octane tour. With the past two first rounds not lacking in drama, the most difficult thing going into this draft as a fan is predicting just what the Islanders are going to do. Trade down? Trade up? A bit of both? Or take the most logical pick at five and let the rest fall into place? That would be conventional wisdom, but as we all know, this modus operandi hasn't led to the acquisition of two of the past three first rounders.

For those precious few who may read this before tonight's events, here are some things you can probably safely assume or at least lean towards in gauging what exactly our Islanders with do with the Number 5... and beyond.

Looking at the obvious:
This Islander team has some nice blueliners coming up through the system, but you can never have enough bluechippers and the scouting community currently says that defensemen Gudbranson, Fowler and Gormley are the most logical selections at spots 3-5. You can't lose with one of them. One is really tough, one is really skilled and the latter is your basic jack-of-all-trades, good in every department, outstanding in none (thus far).

Then there are two kids that many fans may see as good options at #5 - if still there. One would be Mr. Winner Jack Campbell. He's a goalie who has QUITE a resume to date. The boy just oozes a winner mentality, and has several gold medals as a result. As the draft approaches, there are more and more scouts mentioning that in 10 year's time, he may be the best player coming out of this draft. That's certainly something to think about.

Then there's Brett Connolly. Coming into the season, he seemed to be in a group consisting of the top 5-7 prospects, third or fourth amongst forwards. Along with Hall and Seguin, he and Kabanov were the kids who had this draft being tabbed as a very strong one. Nonetheless, he's hardly played this year and that lack of play was due to a hip problem that ultimately turned into two hip problems. He returned in time to participate for a prospect-laden Team Canada U18 team that put in a brutal performance in Minsk. Connolly, once believed to be one of the top ten 18 year olds on the planet, scored only one goal in four games, and that was in an 11-3 victory, with the decision having already been made. Although all this usually leads to a huge drop in stock, he's nonetheless still considered by many to be a Top 10 pick, based primarily on the promise shown in a 60 point season as a 16/17 year old in the WHL.

He remains the favorite for a number of Islander fans.

Going behind the scenes:
The Islanders made the easiest 'tough decision' a team can make when they took John Tavares first overal last summer. Still, whether trading down twice to ultimately take Josh Bailey about 4 spots ahead of where he was expected to go or trading up twice to take de Haan about 10 spots before many thought he'd go, the Isles have shown a propensity to pinpoint certain guys they like and move to get them.

As such, it could be considered very safe to read a little bit into the Islanders having hosted a visit from Mikael Granlund, Alex Burmistrov, Nino Niederreiter and Ryan Johansen. Some say it's due diligence, but considering Bailey had only visited the Bruins AND Islanders in his draft year, it should mean little that these four forwards have been ranked somewhere between 6-15 amongst prospects for the bulk of the season.

There are also some defensemen with a good pedigree and great size, namely defensemen Derek Forbort, Dylan McIlrath and Jarred Tinordi. All would seem to be players most teams could make good use of at some point - and every team has Tyler Myers fresh on their minds.

Then one has to account for the 'Character X factor' that the Isles tend to apply to their pick options. If a boy shows the ability to successfully deal with extracurricular problems or adversity, yet can also fit into and successfully execute a team's system, then this kid is probably pretty high on Snow and Jankowski's list. Players like Jaden Schwartz, Austin Watson and Quinton Howden could fit the bill on this front.

But what of Californian Emerson Etem's incredible rise through the ranks in such a short period of time? And what of Jeff Skinner's 50 OHL goals and another 20 in the playoffs, stats that should have every team salivating? In addition, could the Islanders be in line to stump the fear of Russian exodus and snag the immensely talented Vladimir Tarasenko? Kuznetzov or Kitsyn anyone? What of the talented boys dropping for various reasons, namely Kirill Kabanov and John McFarland?

All these guys could be in the equation, but where?

And what happens at five?

Following conventional wisdom:
The Islanders can simply sit back and should feel pretty safe taking whichever of the big three Dmen is available, right?

Who they're most probably not taking at five:
With three goalies they're pretty high on, the team would be hard-pressed to justify the selection of Jack Campbell, especially when there is other talent there that the team could absolutely use. It's of course apples and oranges comparing goalies to skaters though. Snow and Gordon are former goalies, but at this point Jankowski and crew stuck their necks out too far last summer in taking Koskinen and Nilsson successively only to just grab Campbell this year too. There are also some decent goalies later in the draft - where a great majority of NHL goalies come from anyways.

In addition, when you've been ravished by injuries as much as the Islanders have in recent years, can anyone see a rational reason why THIS Islander club would take Brett Connolly, a kid whose hip problems could hamper him at any point in his career and who's one chance to show he's better than others in his age group was anything but successful? There just seems to be too much talent in the top 20 to risk a pick on a kid coming in with such bagage. In addition, can the scouts really claim he's THAT good based on one 60 point junior season with boatloads of ice time for a bad team? I cannot see our very own Jankowski and crew taking that risk.

Based on trends from prior drafts, how spectators could see this thing going down:
Basically, it should be no surprise to see this team trade down within the top 15 to take THEIR favorite. It could be like in 2008, where several trades were made. At the same time, and especially if they take this route, it could also be likely that the package up some of what they get with any combination of the two 2nds and two 3rds they have to get back into the first round. In other words, there are plenty of boys here in round 1 who look to be of interest to the Islanders. Surely Snow and Jankowski would rather have the two of them they are certain about rather than one and then 4 risks in rounds 2-3, right?

Bold prediction for an exciting weekend:
Looking to make a huge splash in this weekend's events, Florida will not only pick 3rd, but will then send the Islanders Stephen Weiss, #15, #33 and #50 for the #5, Bruno Gervais, and Corey Trivino. With Minnesota on the clock and looking for a young NHL winger plus a solid prospect, the Islanders will send them Sean Bergenheim and Minnesota boy Aaron Ness for the #9. For the time being, the Islanders will remain quiet and simply make their first four selections.

The Islanders take the following players:
#9 Mikael Granlund
#15 Dylan McIlrath
#33 Justin Faulk
#35 Kirill Kabanov

Granlund - Having gone 14-32-46 against men in 48 SM Liga games (including playoffs), added another 7 points in an underwhelming WJC (but coming straight off an injury) and dominated the U18 with 14 points in 5 games, the Islanders take the crafty young man who is likely the most intelligent on-ice player available. He's already scored against men and whereas skating & size remain an issue (ahem, both very average), he has excelled at every level and just plain makes his teammates better. The kid has so much that screams of Saku Koivu, who by the way only had 10 points in the SM Liga when he was Granlund's age.

McIlrath - Some Isles fans will surely love this guy for his size and punch (really, he can fight!), and the hulking Dman has been rising up the ranks astronomically, based on a strong 2nd half to his season. Still, where's the connection? Welp, he played with Hamonic the first part of the season, to whom he has publicly given a lot of credit for being his guide and mentor. As such, Islander scouts saw him quite a bit. And like de Haan the year before, who picked up his offensive game after John Tavares had been traded, so too did McIlrath become more of a force with more ice time after - you guessed it - Hamonic was moved. Still raw, he has considerable upside and fills a size void this team doesn't necessarily admit to suffer from.

Faulk - Possesses a well-rounded, strong offensive game and is solid in every zone. Good skater with nice size. Lost in the numbers with Forbort, Tinordi and Merrill usually ahead of him, but the Isles see his upside and his college future and feel he's got the same possibilities as Donovan. They happily snag him at 33.

Kabanov - With a short tenure on Long Island while waiting for the visa necessary to play in the QMJHL, the Islanders have had extra time to see and meet the kid in some capacity. Despite incredible and documented off-ice problems, and a father who'll be a stress-factor one way or the other, the Islanders chance it here with him, having garnered the extra picks in previous moves. They decide to risk it on the terribly skilled winger. As opposed to Petrov a few summers before, he costs a higher pick, but is much more inclined to sticking in North America and would already fight for a spot in the fall camp.

After the 49th pick, two trades are announced:
Trade 1: The Islanders send pick #50, their 2011 5th rounder and Robin Figren to Chicago for Kris Versteeg.

Trade 2: The Islanders send Brendan Witt and pick #160 to Montreal for Roman Hamrlik and pick #147.

The Islanders then proceed to use picks #s 58, 65, 82, 95, 125, 147, 155, and 185.

By Sunday night, the team leaves Los Angeles with the following +/- balance:

NHLers and Prospects:
- Brendan Witt, Sean Bergenheim, Bruno Gervais, Robin Figren, Aaron Ness and Corey Trivino.
+ Stephen Weiss, Kris Versteeg, Roman Hamrlik

Draft picks:
- #5, #160, 2011 5th
+ #9, #15, #33, #147
+/- #50

Come out of the draft with:
Granlund, McIlrath, Faulk, Kabanov, 8 more picks.

Sounds wild, eh?

Later round suggestions:
For me personally, there are a number of players in later rounds who I think are very fascinating. I'd love to think the Isles would grab one or two of them.

Grubauer (15th NA), Conz (3rd EUR), Volden (4th EUR)

Dan Biega (46th NA), Madaisky (57th NA), Silas (60th NA), Aronson (88th NA), Gudas (94th NA), Leach (120th NA), Ramage (131st NA), Abeltshauser (164th NA), Luuko (175th NA), Marincin (10th EUR), Granberg (21st EUR), Krejci (51st EUR), Jensen (84th EUR)

Lindberg (7th EUR), Kuehnhackl (8th EUR), Donskoi (14th EUR), Pulkinnen (17th EUR), Larsson (34th EUR), Raask (82nd EUR), Olden (86th EUR), Noebels (100th EUR), Nelson (25th NA), Martindale (27th NA), Telegin (33rd NA), Shipley (43rd NA), Zucker (51st NA), Culek (52nd NA), Shugg (53rd NA), Brickley (58th NA), McKegg (66th NA), Knight (82nd NA), Gaede (104th NA), Ranford (111th NA), Ferland (146th NA), DeBlois (153rd NA), Daugherty (179th NA), Hrivik (194th NA)

Whatever happens, I hope you at least have fun with this blog, and more importantly, with this weekend's draft. Hopefully, it'll be the last draft in quite some time where the Isles enter with a top 15 pick, much less a top 5.

In just a few short hours, they can go a long way in pushing the rebuild - or youth movement - to the next level!