Islanders Draft History: Missing Out on First-Round Selections

*This article was originally published in July 2021

The 2021 Entry Draft will occur on July 23 and 24th live from the NHL studios in New Jersey. This year’s edition will be the second straight season that the draft will occur virtually as the league continues to find its way back from the global pandemic.

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The upcoming draft will mark the fifth time in team history that the New York Islanders will not select a player in the first round. This article will examine those five drafts in great detail, including the trades involving players and picks and the impact of how not selecting in the opening rounds of the draft can affect a franchise.

2001 Entry Draft

At the 2001 draft, the Islanders held the second overall selection but traded it away to the Ottawa Senators for Alexei Yashin. There were two other players included in the deal, Bill Muckalt and Zdeno Chara.

Related: Alexei Yashin Trade Revisited

Avid fans of the game know that Chara will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer thanks to a resume that includes 1608 games, a Norris Trophy, and a Stanley Cup title. Muckalt meanwhile played 256 career games with just 70 in one season in Ottawa. 

The Senators used their selection in the first round to draft Jason Spezza, who has played 1,177 games with three franchises and is 30 points away from 1,000 for his career. The centerpiece in the deal, Yashin, played just five years in Long Island collecting 290 points in 346 games. He finished his career with 781 points in 850 games. 

Alexei Yashin
Alexei Yashin was captain of the New York Islanders for two seasons (2005-07). (Photo by Mike Stobe /Getty Images)

Regarding their second-round pick (31st overall), the Islanders swapped their spot and a handful of players with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa sent Raffi Torres (635 NHL games), Vladimir Gorbunov (zero games), and Ryan Caldwell (four games) to New York in exchange for Kevin Weekes (348 games) and the rights to Kristian Kudroc (26 games). 

The Lightning then swapped the pick to the Phoenix Coyotes. That deal involved Stan Neckar (510 games) and the rights to Nikolai Khabibulin (799 games) in exchange for Mike Johnson (661 games), Paul Mara (734 games), and Ruslan Zainullin (zero games). With the 31st selection, the Coyotes selected Matthew Spiller, who only played 68 games in the NHL, collecting two points and 74 penalty minutes. 

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In the third round, the Islanders gave up their spot in a deal with the Florida Panthers. The Isles received the Panther’s fourth-round pick in the 2001 draft and a third-round pick, Gregory Campbell (803 games), in the 2002 draft for their 64th overall pick. With that selection, Florida drafted Tomas Malec, who played a total of 46 NHL games. 

When the Islanders first selected the 2001 draft (fourth round, 101st overall), they drafted Cory Stillman, who never played a game in the NHL. 

2007 Entry Draft

The Islanders secured the 15th overall selection in the 2007 draft, yet they traded away their position in a deal with the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers traded away the heart and soul of their franchise, Ryan Smyth, to the Isles in exchange for Robert Nilsson (252 games), Ryan O’Mara (33 games), and the first-round pick. The Oilers then selected Alex Plante, who collected two points in 10 career games. 

Scheduled to pick 46th overall in the second round, the Islanders cut a deal with the Washington Capitals for Richard Zednik. A veteran of 745 games, Zednik only suited up for ten games as a member of the Islanders. The Capitals meanwhile selected defenseman Theo Ruth, who never played a game in the NHL.

The Philadelphia Flyers gave up the 62nd overall selection in a deal with the Islanders to start the third round. In the exchange, the Isles sent Alexei Zhitnik (1085 games) to Philadelphia for Freddy Meyer (281 games) and the 62nd pick in that year’s draft. New York drafted Mark Katic with their first selection, a defenseman who played in 11 NHL games, collecting one point and four penalty minutes. 

2017 Entry Draft

The Islanders held the 15th overall selection in the 2017 draft; however, the team orchestrated a deal with the Vegas Golden Knights that involved the Golden Knights’ Expansion Draft selection. 

The Knights agreed to select Jean-Francois Berube (34 games) from the Islanders in exchange for Mikhail Grabovski (534 games), Jake Biscoff (four games), a 2017 first-round pick, and a 2019 second-round pick – Robert Mastrosimone (0 games). 

With the 15th overall pick, the Golden Knights drafted Erik Brännström, who became one of their top prospects. In 2019, Vegas swapped Brännström (63 games) and Oscar Lindberg (252 games) with the Senators in exchange for Tobias Lindberg (six games) and their future captain, Mark Stone (504 games). 

Erik Brannstrom Ottawa Senators
Erik Brannstrom, Ottawa Senators (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Islander’s first pick in the 2017 draft was in the second round, 46th overall, and that selection was Robin Salo. As of the end of 2020-21, Salo has yet to play a professional game outside of Europe. 

2020 Entry Draft

During the spring of 2020, New York lost in the Eastern Conference Final, dropping the team to the 28th overall selection in the opening round of that summer’s draft. In another deal with the Senators, the Isles acquired Jean-Gabriel Pageau in exchange for a boatload of future draft picks. 

In the deal, the Senators received the Islander’s first-round and second-round picks in 2020 and a conditional 2022 third-round pick if the Isles had won the 2020 Stanley Cup. Since the third part of the deal didn’t happen, the final details of the trade ended up being Pageau for two draft picks. 

With the 28th overall pick, the Senators selected Ridley Greig, who just finished his career in the Western Hockey League with the Brandon Wheat Kings during the 2020-21 season. Greig also played seven games in the American Hockey League with the Belleville Senators. He currently ranks amongst the franchise’s top 25 prospects. 

The Senators secured the 58th overall pick in the deal but flipped it in a transaction with their cross-province rivals, the Toronto Maple Leafs. That deal involved Toronto’s 2020 second-round pick (Tyler Kleven) for the Sens 2020 second-round pick and a third-round pick (Topi Niemela). Toronto used their newly acquired position in the draft to select Roni Hirvonen. He is currently playing in the SM-liiga (Finnish Elite League) and is the franchise’s 12th ranked prospect. 

The Islanders used their first pick in the 2020 draft (third round, 90th overall) to select Alexander Ljunkrantz. He is currently playing in the Swedish Hockey League’s (SHL) top tier and is the fourth-best prospect in the system. 

2021 Entry Draft

The Islanders lost in the Semi-Final for the second straight season, guaranteeing another late first-round selection in the 2021 Entry Draft. When the league finalized the selection order, the Isles ended up with the 28th overall selection. However, they will not be picking in this spot because of a trade with the New Jersey Devils at this season’s trading deadline. 

On July 18, 2021, veteran defensemen Nick Leddy (776 games) was traded to the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for Richard Panik (517 games) and the Red Wings’ second-round pick in this year’s draft. Then to clear Andrew Ladd’s (950 games) contract off the books, the Islanders sent their former player along with a 2021 second-round pick (acquired in the Toews trade), a 2020 second-round pick, and a conditional 2023 third-round pick to Arizona to free up some cap space. These latest moves mean the Islanders will not make their first selection in the entry draft until the second round, 52nd overall.

Related: 2021 NHL Draft Guide

After some deals, The Islanders had the 59th overall selection thanks to the Colorado Avalanche. The Isles sent Devon Toews (169 games) to Denver during the 2019-20 season for two second-round draft picks, one in the 2021 and one in the 2022 Entry Drafts. Then, in the week leading up to this year’s draft, New York sent the second-round pick to the Coyotes in a trade.

To clear Ladd’s (950 games) contract off the books, the Islanders sent their former player along with a 2021 second-round pick, a 2022 second-round pick, and a conditional 2023 third-round pick to Arizona to free up some cap space. This latest deal means the Islanders will not make their first selection in the entry draft until the third round, 92nd overall.

Final Analysis

In hindsight, we can look back at some of these drafts and the players involved to understand better how things played out. The 2001 draft will always be a sore topic for Islanders fans because most of them never warmed up to Yashin. He didn’t produce on the same level as he did in the early part of his career in Ottawa, and the package the team gave up for him left a sour taste in many people’s mouths. Today it appears that the Islanders lost one of the league’s most lopsided trades in history.

Surprisingly the other four drafts do not even compare. When we examine the pieces associated with the 2007 Entry Draft, the Islanders didn’t miss out on any future Hall of Fame players. However, they did trade away two players who had a combined 1700 NHL games on their resumes. Given the state of the franchise at that point, the moves made sense. Some people could argue that missing out on some early draft picks prolonged the misery on Long Island, but as we said, these moves do not appear to be as bad as the ones from 2001.

Kyle Palmieri New York Islanders
Kyle Palmieri played 34 games for the New York Islanders in the 2020-21 season. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

The 2017 draft was a unique situation as the Vegas Expansion Draft complicated matters for everyone. The Islanders were building a core that would eventually make back-to-back appearances in the final four, so they were willing to make a deal to protect their assets. It is safe to say, just a few seasons after the fact, the Islanders came out as winners by surrendering their first-round pick that season.

We are only one year removed from the 2020 entry draft, which means it is almost impossible to dissect the hits and misses from that particular draft class. The only aspect of all the wheeling and dealing before the draft was the Islanders found a player they felt was a missing piece in Pageau. He was the sparkplug the team needed to get through the first few rounds of the playoffs and give the Lightning all they could handle in the consecutive semi-final matchups.

Finally, when we look into the upcoming 2021 draft, the jury is still out regarding the long-term effects on the franchise. Right now, Palmieri and Zajac are free agents, and if they depart, the price of a first-round pick for a combined 60 games from two rental players may inflect buyer’s remorse.

Teams use the entry draft for two reasons, either the up and coming stars are building blocks for the future, or teams swap those picks to acquire the missing pieces to make a run for the Cup. Outside of one horrific draft year, the Islanders have been fortunate to escape the negative consequences of not selecting any first-round players in specific draft years. Will these recent decisions have complications in five or ten seasons? There is no way to tell just yet.