When it comes to a draft in any sport, the quality of the picks is much more important than the quantity of the picks. The New York Islanders’ five picks from the 2019 NHL Entry Draft are impressing in their first season after being drafted.
Of those five picks, two were in the first two rounds of the draft and the other three were in rounds five, six and seven. Looking strictly at the placement of the picks, it looked like the Islanders only had two shots to get true NHL talent.
At the 23rd selection in the first round, there were strong prospects on the board in Philip Tomasino, Ryan Suzuki and Arthur Kaliyev. However, general manager Lou Lamoriello and the scouting team went with their gut.
Swedish forward Simon Holmstrom was a bit of a reach and surprised fans when the Islanders took him at 23rd overall. Holmstrom played at various levels with the Swedish Hockey League’s club HV71 and grew through its ranks succeeding at the U16, J18 and J20 levels. The impressive part about Holmstrom’s game is that he found success at every level quicker than expected. At 18 years old, he played in the SuperElit playoffs (the second-best level in the SHL) and had three points in three games. Unfortunately, his draft year was derailed slightly due to hip and thumb injuries.
Holmstrom signed a contract in the summer and made it through most of the preseason before being demoted to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the American Hockey League (from ‘Islanders, Simon Holmstrom agree to entry-level contract,’ Newsday, 07/15/2019). He currently has five points (three goals, two assists) in 25 games with Bridgeport.
Take those numbers with a grain of salt due to the Sound Tigers having an atrocious season. Bridgeport currently sits last in both the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference. Part of that is because some Bridgeport talent is in the NHL and also because the Sound Tigers are injured as well. Considering Holmstrom is a rookie in a men’s league and this is his first season in North America, he’s adjusting and there’s definitely still work to be done.
This is a pick New York fans should be excited about. In the second round, the Islanders decided to bolster their blueline by choosing defenseman Samuel Bolduc. This pick was acquired by the Islanders in the Travis Hamonic trade with the Calgary Flames in June 2017. Ironically, Bolduc plays a similar style of game to Hamonic where he uses his size and muscle to his advantage.
The 6-foot-4, 212-pound defenseman can skate, shoot and pass while also staying committed to defense. Despite being a versatile defenseman, he wasn’t ranked high among scouts.
This season, Bolduc had 16 points in 32 games for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Blainville-Boisbriand Armada before being traded to the Sherbrooke Phoenix. Since being traded, the Laval, Quebec native has seven points in eight games. With both teams, Bolduc has a combined plus-10 in his plus/minus category showing he is defensively responsible in even-strength situations.
After Bolduc, 90 picks went by before the Islanders returned to the draft board. When they did, they chose Portland Winterhawks center Reece Newkirk out of the Western Hockey League. When he first arrived in Portland in the 2018 season, Newkirk did not play well and only tallied 11 points in 58 games. However, the Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan native turned heads when he set a new career-high in the 2019 season with 59 points in 68 games. The Hockey Writers‘ very own Ryan Pike had Newkirk ranked in the top 100 of last year’s final edition of pre-draft rankings.
This season looks to be Newkirk’s best yet if he remains healthy. He currently has 49 points in 39 games. Newkirk is currently on a 16-game point streak, collecting 21 points in that time. He likes to dish the puck and is more of a playmaker, considering he has 19 goals and 30 assists this season. He’s also a smaller forward that isn’t afraid to get to the dirty areas. That’s important to have on any team and if he continues that style of play, he should eventually find his way to an NHL roster.
Felix Bibeau is a very interesting pick. He was an overager at 20 years old and taken in the sixth round of the draft at 178th overall. His draft positioning makes him a low-risk high-reward selection. At 20 years old, there’s a chance he can make the NHL sooner than some other developing players due to his physical maturity.
It’s worth noting that he doesn’t have a contract but he is still Islanders property and with the way he’s playing, there’s no reason for the Islanders to not sign him. This season, Bibeau had 17 goals and 18 assists as captain of the QMJHL’s Quebec Ramparts before being traded to the Chicoutimi Sagueneens for two first-round picks. Since joining, he has nine points in 10 games and is a plus-six in plus/minus.
For their final pick, the Islanders drafted Saginaw Spirit right-winger Cole Coskey in the seventh round of the draft. The forward has the least impressive track record of the bunch, but his biggest strides are more recent. He, like Bibeau, is another overager and is already 20 years old. His best season was the 2019 season where he reached 63 points in 52 games. Coskey piled up 31 goals along the way.
Coskey has continued his recent success and is on pace for his best season in the Ontario Hockey League yet. He currently has 54 points in 41 games and already has 25 goals on the year. He has a knack for finding the back of the net, with 25 goals or more in each of the last three seasons.
All of these prospects have impressed for one reason or another, which is a very good thing for the Islanders. When it comes to drafting, you hope the first three or so picks have NHL potential. If any of the others do, then you had a good draft. It appears that the 2019 Draft for the Islanders was a strong one, despite being made up of only five picks. Even if some of them don’t find their way into an Islanders uniform, they can help Bridgeport or can be pieces in a bigger trade.