Garth Snow became the general manager of the New York Islanders after Neil Smith was let go just over a month into his tenure in July 2006. It was a surprise to many people considering Snow was named GM immediately following his retirement from the NHL. While his tenure was a mixed bag, he was fairly successful on the draft floor, especially later in his career.
2007 NHL Draft
As you may have expected, the rookie GM’s first draft did not go very well. Snow only had five picks in 2007, and his first selection wasn’t until the third round. After making major deadline deals to acquire veteran forward Ryan Smyth from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for their 2007 first-round pick and two prospects, and Richard Zednik from the Washington Capitals, who was traded for their 2007 second-round pick, not only did Snow have to wait until the third round to make a selection but neither of those players re-signed with the Islanders after they were bounced from the playoffs in five games by the Buffalo Sabres.
Mark Katic, selected 62nd overall and the only Islanders draft pick from that year to make it to the NHL, played 11 career games. However, there weren’t any huge misses in that draft outside of Jamie Benn, who was picked 129th overall and was passed over a number of times before being drafted by the Dallas Stars, so it’s difficult to place too much blame on Snow.
Snow did redeem himself by picking up Thomas Hickey on waivers in January 2013 from the Los Angeles Kings. Hickey was drafted fourth overall by the Kings in 2007 but never cracked the NHL. Hickey played an important role in the Islanders’ rise since his arrival during the shortened 2012-13 season. However, injuries, coupled with a logjam on defense, kept him in the AHL for the 2019-20 season
2008 NHL Draft
In what many consider to be the first honest year of the team’s rebuild following Mike Milbury’s disastrous tenure with the team, the Islanders had 13 picks in this draft. Snow made waves by trading down twice from the fifth overall spot and acquiring extra picks before selecting Josh Bailey with the ninth overall selection. As such a high draft pick, Bailey has been a lightning rod for critics, only cracking the 40 point plateau once in 2014-15. Since the 2016-17 season, however, his production, including three straight seasons of 40 assists or more, has helped to silence the crowd.
One of the other picks Snow acquired by trading down turned into Travis Hamonic (53rd overall) in the second round. He was an important part of the Islanders’ defensive core for seven seasons after making his debut during the 2010-11 campaign. Hamonic was traded following the 2016-17 season for a first-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft and two second-round picks.
The Islanders took a chance on Russian forward Kirill Petrov in the third round, though he never played in the NHL. He eventually came to North America, suiting up in 13 games for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers during the 2015-16 season. Goaltender Kevin Poulin, chosen 126th overall, had a tough start to his career, battling injuries and never really gaining a solid footing in the professional ranks.
Matt Donovan was picked in the fourth round (96th overall) and didn’t sign with the Islanders until 2011 as he continued to play for the University of Denver for two seasons following the draft. After two great seasons in the AHL – he was a 2013 AHL All-Star and finished the season tied for the most points among AHL defensemen – he finally got a shot with the Islanders during the 2013-14 season, playing 52 games. The following season, however, he was healthy scratched for all but 12 games.
Matt Martin was selected in the fifth round (148th overall) and has made an enormous impact on the Islanders organization, including his role in what many consider to be the best fourth line in hockey alongside Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas. This draft didn’t have very many big misses, though Snow could have picked Erik Karlsson (15th) instead of Bailey.
2009 NHL Draft
New York had seven picks in the 2009 Draft after wheeling and dealing on draft day. Snow had the first overall pick, which helped take their rebuild to the next level. It remained relatively unknown if Snow would choose John Tavares, Victor Hedman, or Matt Duchene until the pick was made. In the end, Snow chose Tavares, which proved to be a great pick, though he signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent in the summer of 2018.
Snow also selected Calvin De Haan in the first round (12th overall) after trading up twice to do so. While De Haan was a serviceable defender for the team, Nick Leddy, who was chosen 16th overall and Snow traded for five years later, would have been a better pick in hindsight. De Haan’s time with the team ended after the 2017-18 season when he signed with the Carolina Hurricanes as a free agent.
Other picks include mainstays Cizikas in the fourth round (92nd overall) and current captain, Anders Lee, in the sixth round (152nd overall). Snow, a former goaltender, had two huge miss in this draft choosing goalies. The first was Mikko Koskinen (31st overall), who had a short NHL career and only played four games with the Islanders. This pick is even harder to swallow when you see who the Colorado Avalanche chose two picks later: 2019 Conn Smythe winner Ryan O’Reilly. Snow’s second miss between the pipes was Anders Nilsson (62nd overall). Nillson played 23 games with the Islanders before being sent to Chicago in the Leddy trade. He’s pieced together a mediocre career with stops in Edmonton, St. Louis, Buffalo, Vancouver, and Ottawa.
2010 NHL Draft
The Islanders had six picks in the 2010 NHL Draft including the fifth overall selection, where they selected Nino Niederreiter. El Nino and New York never gelled. He was consistently put on the fourth line with Jon Sim and Zenon Konopka and never truly had the chance to develop.
In January 2013, Niederreiter and his camp requested a trade from Long Island as he racked up points in the AHL – 50 points in 74 games – after not making the team out of camp. That summer, Niederreiter was moved to the Minnesota Wild for Clutterbuck, who has proved his worth to the Islanders despite not having the same offensive numbers as he did with the Wild.
Brock Nelson, chosen 30th overall after Snow traded the Islanders’ 35th and 58th picks to the Chicago Blackhawks to move up, has panned out really well. A consistent 20-25 goal scorer, Nelson is one of the most important pieces on an Islanders roster that is starved for scoring.
2011 NHL Draft
New York had eight picks in 2011, though only the first two, Ryan Strome (5th overall) and Scott Mayfield (34th overall), have carved out NHL careers. While that’s great, this draft had some misses by Snow in that first round.
The picks after Strome include Mika Zibanejad (Ottawa), Mark Scheifele (Winnipeg), and Sean Couturier (Philadelphia). So far, Strome has played the least amount of games of the four with the lowest points-per-game. Eventually, Snow traded Strome for Jordan Eberle in June 2017. Eberle has meshed well with the team and was a top performer during the Islanders 2019 Stanley Cup Playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. This draft also included Nikita Kucherov at 58th overall, a miss from the first round by every team.
2012 NHL Draft
This was an unusual draft and one that many fans look back on as a dud. The Islanders had seven selections and used them all on defensemen. Even though they needed to restock their defensive talent for the future, this was still a head-scratching move. New York selected Griffin Reinhart 4th overall, – he played 37 games in his NHL career – ahead of Morgan Rielly (Toronto), Jacob Trouba (Winnipeg), and Filip Forsberg (Washington).
They also added Ville Pokka (34th overall) in the second round and Adam Pelech (65th overall). Pelech has become an integral piece of the Islanders’ blue line and, by the way of trade, Pokka was important as well. Though he’s never played in the NHL, he was a key piece in the trade that brought Leddy to the Islanders.
2013 NHL Draft
Coming off a playoff season, the team’s first since the 2006-07 season, the Islanders’ first pick in the draft was deeper into the first round – 15th overall – than the previous few years. However, Snow made it count when he added defenseman Ryan Pulock. He’s become one of the team’s top defenders and part of a crop of homegrown talent leading the way for the team.
Out of the remaining picks from that draft, which include Eamon McAdam (70th overall), Taylor Cammarata (76th overall), Stephon Williams (106th overall), Victor Crus Rydberg (136th overall), Alan Quine (166th), and Kyle Burroughs (196th overall), only Quine has played in the NHL. Quine was also drafted two years earlier by the Detroit Red Wings (85th overall) and reentered in 2013 after not signing with the Wings. While his NHL career has been up and down, he’ll forever be linked to the Islanders for his game-winning goal in game five during the 2016 Playoffs against the Florida Panthers.
2014 NHL Draft
Coming off a very disappointing season, Snow needed to make this draft count. During the season, Snow traded away one of his first-round picks to acquire Thomas Vanek from the Buffalo Sabres, seen at the time as a bad deal for the Islanders. However, he ensured the pick he sent to Buffalo was top-five protected, which pushed that first-round pick at 5th overall to 2015 due to the Islanders’ poor performance during the 2013-14 season. Snow used that 5th overall pick to select winger Michael Dal Colle.
He hasn’t panned out the way Snow, or anyone, would have expected – he was the consensus pick at number 5 – but there’s still time for him to turn into a decent middle-six player. However, it’s tough to look back at the picks that followed Dal Colle, which include William Nylander at 8th overall (Toronto) and Nikolaj Ehlers at 9th overall (Winnipeg).
Snow, once again, traded up from the second round to a late first-round pick and snagged talented forward Josh Ho-Sang at 28th overall. After years of off-ice issues, Ho-Sang was reassigned to the St. Louis Blues‘ affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage, during the 2019-20 season. He likely won’t be back in the orange and blue and his future in the NHL is unknown.
Snow also added two good goalie prospects in the third and fourth rounds, Ilya Sorokin (78th overall) and Linus Soderstrom (95th overall). Sorokin signed with the Islanders on July 13th, 2020, and, a day later, signed a deal for the 2020-21 season. His future was largely unknown since he was drafted, driving Islander fans crazy as he consistently put up amazing numbers in the KHL without signs of coming to North America. Now, with Sorokin signed through the 2020-21 season and a restricted free agent at its conclusion, he is poised to be the Islanders’ goalie of the future.
2015 NHL Draft
As a result of the Vanek trade, Snow hit the draft floor in 2015 without a first or second-round pick. Yet, he managed to walk away with two great players, Mathew Barzal (16th overall) and Anthony Beauvillier (28th overall). As of the 2019-20 season, Barzal and Beauvillier have put together great careers; the former won the Calder Trophy in 2018 and the latter has become one of the Islanders’ top forwards.
How did Snow pull this off? After just eight games with the Islanders and 59 with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Snow shipped Reinhart (his 2012 4th overall pick) to the Oilers for the 16th and 33rd picks. He then sent the 33rd and 72nd picks to the Tampa Bay Lightning for the late 1st-round pick (28th overall).
Later picks, Mitchell Vande Sompel (82nd overall) and Parker Wotherspoon (112th overall) have had decent starts to their pro careers with the Sound Tigers. With a bit of a logjam on defense for the time being – a decent problem for any organization – it may be some time before we see either of them in an Islanders sweater.
2016 NHL Draft
Snow went into this draft with six picks and, so far, two of them should become Islanders in the near future. Kieffer Bellows (19th overall) and Otto Koivula, (120th overall) have spent two seasons playing pro mainly with the Sound Tigers, though both got call-ups during the 2019-20 season.
In his limited time with the Islanders so far, Bellows has shown he isn’t afraid to go to the dirty areas and can really shoot the puck. Koivula, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound winger, could prove to be a more than serviceable player over the next few seasons, especially as the Islanders, and teams around the league, search for young talent on cheap contracts to contribute.
This draft, Snow’s last as Islanders GM before Lou Lamoriello took over following the 2017-18 season, doesn’t look great on the surface. The Islanders didn’t have a first-round pick, having sent the 15th overall pick to the Vegas Golden Knights as part of a deal, along with Mikhail Grabovski and defenseman Jake Bischoff, to ensure the Knights would choose Jean-Francois Berube in the expansion draft.
Sebastian Aho, chosen with the 139th overall pick, has developed nicely since arriving in North America. He’s only played 22 NHL games so far, all in 2017-18, and has put together three solid seasons in the AHL, hitting the 46-point mark in 67 games in 2018-19. He remains high on the Islanders’ depth chart, waiting for his chance to stick with the big club.
With a number of Snow’s recent picks still developing, it’s hard to put together a definitive opinion on his work at the draft. However, from what talent has made it to the pro level to this point and the impact they’ve made on the team – many of them are core players for the Islanders – it’s safe to say Snow did a decent job. There were definitely some misses, nearly every GM has them, but he made up for it with savvy trades and, at times, a little bit of luck on the draft floor.
Jon Zella is a 30-year-old Long Island native currently living in Syracuse, NY. Outside of hockey, he enjoys motorcycles, beer, coffee, and his dog Olive.