Islanders’ Pros & Cons of Taking a Goalie in 2023 NHL Draft

The New York Islanders have a few options for the 2023 NHL Entry Draft. Ideally, they target forwards with their second- and fourth-round selections to add a spark to the offense. If a great defense prospect falls to them, they can target defensemen with the hopes of adding a youthful presence to their unit.

Related: 2023 NHL Draft Guide

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The question is if the Islanders should target a goaltender at any point in the draft. It seems like a non-starter for general manager (GM) Lou Lamoriello, especially with Ilya Sorokin, who is coming off a Vezina Trophy-caliber season, being the starter for the foreseeable future. However, there are reasons the Islanders can add a goaltender to their prospect pool and it will be a possibility in the draft as a result. Lamoriello has to weigh the pros and cons of drafting the position especially since this draft is pivotal for the team’s long-term success.

Islanders Could Waste a Draft Pick Selecting a Goaltender

The position of strength for the Islanders is their goaltending. Sorokin established himself as one of the best goaltenders in the NHL this season with a .924 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.34 goals-against average (GAA) on 1,838 shots with 36.0 goals saved above average (GSAA). Additionally, he proved he can take on the majority of the workload, starting 60 of the 82 regular-season games. Whoever the Islanders’ backup will be next year, they will only need to start a maximum of 30 games.

Ilya Sorokin New York Islanders
Ilya Sorokin, New York Islanders (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Islanders, especially with their first two draft selections, must address their other needs. They need a skater on the wing that can open up the offense with speed and a good shot. They need depth in their forward unit and might look to add a checking forward to eventually replace Cal Clutterbuck or Matt Martin, who are both over 33 years old.

Along with strengthening the forward unit, the Islanders need a puck-handling defenseman to help open up the offense. The lack of a scoring presence from the point caused the offense to struggle this year and ultimately cost them in the playoffs as they were eliminated in the first round by the Carolina Hurricanes. If a defenseman with promising scoring skills is available, Lamoriello will take advantage.

Lou Lamoriello New York Islanders
Lou Lamoriello of the New York Islanders attends the 2019 NHL Draft (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Ultimately, a goaltender seems like a squandered pick. While the Islanders can take one late in the draft or sign one that goes undrafted, they’ll address the other positions of need. That said, Lamoreillo must consider adding one late in the draft for a few big reasons.

Islanders Need a Backup Plan For Sorokin

Semyon Varlamov in all likelihood won’t be re-signed with his four-year deal expiring this offseason. He’s 34 years old and will look for one more favorable contract at the end of his career. With Sorokin taking up the majority of the starts, Varlamov might look elsewhere for next season as he can still split starts on a contending team. This creates a need, albeit a small one, for the Islanders. They need a goaltender that can start at least 20 games to both provide stability to the position and give Sorokin the occasional night off.

Semyon Varlamov New York Islanders
Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The direct option if they don’t re-sign Varlamov is calling up Jakub Skarek from the American Hockey League (AHL). In four seasons with the Bridgeport Islanders, he’s improved but is still putting up underwhelming numbers with a .892 SV% and a 3.37 GAA this season. He’s only 23 years old and still developing, making him an intriguing option as a backup in a minimal role. However, if Skarek is called up, the Islanders will once again have a need to add a goaltender, specifically, to the AHL team.

Moreover, if the Islanders draft a goaltender, it will be a long-term investment considering how long goaltenders take to develop. The hope would be that the goaltender selected in this year’s draft would be ready for the NHL in six or seven years. Sorokin is 27 and in his prime but he won’t play at an elite level in six years (as much as the Islanders hope he does). By the time a goaltender drafted this year is ready for the NHL, Sorokin will be at the end of his career, making a selection worthwhile as a long-term plan.

Possible Goaltending Targets For The Islanders

It’s hard to project where goaltenders will be selected in the upcoming draft. The position is hard to evaluate and GMs can often select a goaltender anywhere from the first round to the last one with varying degrees of success. That said, there are a few names to monitor in the upcoming draft.

Scott Ratzlaff helped the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League (WHL) reach the Memorial Cup Final. This season, he had a 2.15 .918 SV% and a 2.15 GAA in 34 games. His instincts and position make him one of the more NHL-ready goaltenders in this draft.

Scott Ratzlaff Seattle Thunderbirds
Scott Ratzlaff, Seattle Thunderbirds (Bob Frid/CHL)

Jacob Fowler stood out in the United States Hockey League (USHL) with the Youngstown Phantoms. At 6-foot-2 and weighing 201 pounds, he’s one of the bigger goaltenders in the draft and his athleticism gives him a high ceiling. This season, he had a .921 SV% and a 2.28 GAA in the USHL and any team that selects him will hope that his strong play continues for Boston College in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) next year.

Some of the goaltenders that are expected to be selected in the final rounds or undrafted include Damian Clara and Max Lundgren. Clara had a .903 SV% and a 2.79 GAA in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) and he struggled to pick up shots but his athleticism makes him an intriguing option. Lundgren, meanwhile, is more established at 21 years old. He put together a strong season for the Des Moines Buccaneers in the USHL with a .913 SV% and a 2.65 GAA, but still has difficulty making saves on the move.

The Islanders can find a goaltender late in the draft and take a chance with the hope that one of the prospects becomes a reliable starter down the road. The question is if it will be worth a draft selection since the team has other options for filling the minor need.

Other Options For The Islanders

The Islanders can re-sign Varlamov to a one-year, team-friendly deal. While he’s 34 and past his prime, he can still put together a strong season and stay with the team where he had his best seasons, notably being a Vezina Trophy finalist after the 2020-21 season.

Semyon Varlamov New York Islanders
Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

There’s also the possibility that Skarek is ready for the NHL. While he’s struggled in the AHL in recent years, in a minimal role on the NHL roster, he can fit in and add stability to the goaltending unit. An impressive training camp in particular can go a long way for Skarek as he can earn a spot on the roster to start next season.

If both options aren’t feasible, the Islanders can sign a goaltender in free agency. Alex Nedeljkovic is coming off a rough tenure with the Detroit Red Wings but is only 27 years old and can be a reliable option as a low-cost backup. Likewise, Collin Delia and Anthony Stolarz can both be acquired in team-friendly deals and thrive in a reduced role on the Islanders.

Alex Nedeljkovic Detroit Red Wings
Alex Nedeljkovic, Detroit Red Wings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Islanders will consider drafting a goaltender with the hope of finding a backup for the future. However, there are other more intriguing options for Lamoreillo as well, which can help the team contend for the Cup this year.

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