First, let’s address what some might be thinking; No, the New York Islanders should not tank at a chance for the first-overall pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. Their goal should be to win the Stanley Cup. Glad we got that out of the way.
As if 2020 couldn’t get any weirder, on June 26, the first Draft Lottery determined that the first-overall selection in the draft would go to one of the losing teams in the Stanley Cup Playoff qualifying round determined in a second lottery.
These aren’t normal circumstances that a playoff team has an opportunity to take the best player on the board, but this season has been anything but normal.
It’s expected that Alexis Lafreniere will be selected by whichever team obtains that pick. Although losing the play-in round is not what we want, he would solve a few issues for the Islanders should they be lucky enough to win the lottery.
It’s no secret that the Islanders are considered an older team. The average age of the roster is about 30 years old and they entered the 2019-20 season as the third oldest team in the NHL. Factor in Lafreniere who would immediately make the team younger, as he is expected to be ready for the NHL at the ripe age of 18.
There’s a reason Lafreniere is the consensus first-overall pick. He knows how to put the puck in the net. “Lafreniere attacks the net, has some physicality in his game and gets a lot of goals in the dirty areas,” (from ‘Pronman: Top prospects for the 2020 NHL Draft.,’ The Athletic, 06/24/2019).
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The skilled winger is known for his ability to make defenders look silly with his skill, vision, and high Hockey IQ. Over three seasons playing in the QMJHL for the Rimouski Océanic, Lafreniere compiled 114 goals and saw his point totals increase each year in the CHL. Aside from Mathew Barzal, the Islanders have lacked a true skilled forward who can change the polarity of a game.
The Islanders have been searching for a top-end talent to ride shotgun on Barzal’s wing. They have lacked a strong 1-2 punch since John Tavares left for the Toronto Maple Leafs after the 2017-18 season. Lafreniere would slide in seamlessly, making the tandem an offensive threat for many years.
Islanders Cap Space
The Islanders are in a salary cap crisis. This offseason, the team needs to figure out how to sign all three of their pending RFAs in Barzal, Ryan Pulock, and Devon Toews.
General manager Lou Lamoriello has stated time and again that he is confident he will work out a deal with all three players. “The best-case scenario for the young Canadian is to sign a deal similar to that of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Mitch Marner, who inked a six-year, $65 million contract as a restricted free agent in 2019.”
If Barzal is going to command Marner money, the Islanders are going to need cap relief. Given the state of the NHL due to the global pandemic, there are mutters that the league will grant a compliance buyout or two. However, nothing is set in stone and they could also end up with none.
Without a buyout, the Islanders have $14.6 million to lock up all three. This leaves little to no room to make any improvements to the offense via free agency and wishlist scorers like Taylor Hall, Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov will be out of the equation, as they’ll demand too much money.
The beauty of rookie contracts is that they are worth under $1 million. Lafreniere would likely sign a three-year, $925,000 contract, the maximum a rookie can sign for. Lamoriello would then have the opportunity to take his time to shed some ugly contracts, such as Andrew Ladd’s or Leo Komarov’s.
As mentioned, Lafreniere is expected to make the leap to the NHL right away, and his prospect status will end once he eclipses nine games. The Islanders’ prospect pool is sub-par, and the Quebec native would be a huge boost of young talent.
With Lafreniere, young players such as Oliver Wahlstrom and Kieffer Bellows could take their time to develop their games further, and hopefully, become solid second-line scorers or a possible complement to the Lafreniere-Barzal tandem.
The Islanders’ only goal should be to win the Cup. However, should the team flop in the play-in round, Lafreniere would fix many issues the team faces moving forward. The chance to select first-overall for the first time since 2009 would mean the organization gets a chance at a star in the making.
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James is a THW New York Islanders writer and podcast host of Nassaumen Hockey Podcast. A trusted source for Islanders content for many years at THW, James is passionate about keeping Islander fans up to date on the latest in Islanders news. Other content contributions also include his Co-Editor-in-Chief status for NYIslesBlog.com. For interview requests or to provide content info, follow James on Twitter.