After picking John Tavares in the first round in the 2009 Draft, the New York Islanders went through many years of unsuccessful picks. Names like Nino Niederreiter, Griffin Reinhart and Ryan Strome come to mind. While some of these players found later success with other teams, the Islanders never put them in a position to succeed. However, the team had some great steals with Mat Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier and Brock Nelson in subsequent first rounds.
With head coach Barry Trotz and general manager Lou Lamoriello in their second season and a new system in place, the Islanders development of younger players has worked out. Several former Islanders have joined player development, including Eric Cairns, Ken Morrow, Eric Boulton and most recently Dennis Seidenberg. With 2019 coming to an end, it is a perfect opportunity to look at some young prospects that Trotz and Lamoriello have selected from the past two drafts.
The Islanders have had some exciting prospects on the backline. Many of them have turned out to be great NHL defensemen, specifically Ryan Pulock, Devon Toews, Adam Pelech and Scott Mayfield. They may have another in Bode Wilde. The American is just 19 years of age and is already playing with the American Hockey League’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
Drafted 41st overall in 2018, Wilde played a season in the Ontario Hockey League with the Saginaw Spirit. He scored 19 goals and had 51 assists to go along with a plus-28 to earn him an entry-level contract last December. So far this season with the Sound Tigers, he has been playing with veteran defenseman Seth Helgeson and has yet to register a point in eight games. Wilde has missed the last couple of games, but it was labeled it as just precautionary. He injured himself after the door was left open on the Syracuse Crunch bench, similar to the way Matt Martin was hurt earlier this season.
Wilde was eligible to compete in the World Juniors this season for Team USA but was a notable omission to the team. He has played for the U17 and U18 National Team and showed the potential to be a top-four defenseman in the NHL. Wilde is a terrific passer and possesses a strong shot. The biggest area of improvement for him is in the defensive zone. With any young player, it is hard to project when they will make it to the NHL. The Islanders already have one 19-year old defenseman in Noah Dobson rotating in as the Islanders’ seventh defenseman and also have some veterans in Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy under contract until 2023.
The Islanders went a little off the board with their first-round pick in 2019. While Simon Holmstrom has the potential to be a strong NHL player, he has suffered three injuries early in his career with the HV71 J20 in Sweden’s SuperElit. It started with a hip injury prior to the 2018-19 season and he later suffered a concussion, as well as a broken thumb. As a result, Holmstrom was limited to 21 games, but he still scored seven goals and had 20 points. This season, he suffered another injury, but has not missed significant time off and played in 23 games with the Sound Tigers.
Holmstrom also has had to make an adjustment to North American hockey. He played for the U-18 Swedish National team and won a gold medal. While he was left off the World Juniors roster this season, he will almost certainly be a lock next season when he turns 19.
Despite all his setbacks, Holmstrom has scored three goals this season, playing with Islander prospects Oliver Wahlstrom, Kiefer Bellows and recently, Josh Ho-Sang. Offensively, his stickhandling ability is similar to Barzal. He doesn’t necessarily have a powerful shot but can pick his corners. One of his greatest strengths is his passing and ability to move the puck quickly. He definitely needs some time in the AHL to develop.
The Islanders have had issues earlier this decade with former first-round picks and can’t let another slip away. Holmstrom has the potential to be a top-six forward and hopefully can help the Sound Tigers this season. They currently sit in last place in the Atlantic Division. It’s imperative that Holmstrom can get some playoff experience with all the success the Islanders have had the past year and a half.
The Islanders have a pair of first-rounders from the 2018 NHL Draft who have contributed to the team this season. Third-round draft pick Jakub Skarek has quickly risen through the organization’s goalie ranks. He was originally playing this season in the ECHL, but after an injury to Sound Tigers starter Christopher Gibson, Skarek’s opportunity came quicker than expected.
Skarek struggled a bit in the ECHL with the Worcester Raiders. He won his first two games this season, but his numbers dropped heavily before he was called up. Skarek has faired a bit better in the AHL with Bridgeport. He registered his first career shutout on Saturday versus the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
The Islanders have always had high hopes for their young netminder signing him to a three-year entry-level deal in 2018. Skarek had much better numbers playing in the Czech Republic at the international level, representing his country at the World Juniors. He was a late addition to the Islanders’ mini-camp roster this summer but did not seem out of place. At 6-foot-3, Skarek uses the butterfly technique to protect the lower part of the net. He is also extremely flexible for someone his size.
While he is still extremely young, the Islanders are hoping they can catch some magic with Skarek. With the uncertainty surrounding goaltending prospect Ilya Sorokin, Skarek’s time with New York could be sooner than expected. The Islanders have Semyon Varlamov signed for the next three seasons, however, Thomas Greiss will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. Gibson has yet to show he can play at the NHL level, and Jared Coreau has struggled with the Sound Tigers this season.
In the second round of 2019 Draft, the Islanders went with defenseman Samuel Bolduc. He has played in 32 games for the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League where he has been the past four seasons but was traded earlier this month to the Sherbrooke Phoenix. Trades like that are not that rare, as Dobson was traded last season and went on to win a Memorial Cup.
At 6-foot-4, Bolduc brings size to the Islanders. He has scored seven goals and is just two shy of his career-high of nine. He did have 28 assists last year but has improved his plus/minus by 39 this season. Bolduc is a two-way defender and like many other draft picks, is a great skater. He has the potential to be a solid penalty killer with his ability to block shots and protect the net.
Bolduc played in one preseason game this season before being an early cut. He should get much more of an opportunity next year during training camp. He is continuing to grow into his body and could make a nice pairing on the left side with Dobson in the future.
In recent years, the Islanders have had success finding steals late in drafts. Casey Cizikas, Adam Pelech and Anders Lee were all picked in the third round or later, and Blade Jenkins would like to be added to that list. Drafted in the sixth round in 2018, Jenkins was a teammate of Wilde with the Spirit along with seventh-round pick in 2019, Cole Coskey. Jenkins has played there for a little over two and seasons and has scored 50 goals.
Originally committed to play at the University of Michigan, Jenkins hoped to take a quicker path to the NHL through the OHL. He also switched from center to right wing which contributed to a bit of a slow start with the Spirit. Jenkins has the potential to be a big-time scorer and can be a play-maker. His biggest weakness is his play away from the puck. However, the more experience he gets, the better he will become at it.
He had a chance to play at rookie camp this season. As it is for any late-round pick, it is a challenge to make it to the NHL. The Islanders have shown though they will bring up their best players. Cole Bardreau, who had not even been on the radar for Islander fans, already had an opportunity to play in the NHL this season after injuries and scored his first NHL goal. If Jenkins could continue to put up big numbers in the OHL, he will eventually get his chance with the Islanders.
Other Draft Picks
While their names may not be as big, the Islanders drafted some other players that hope to make an impact with the Islanders. A couple of the draft picks have gone on to play collegiate hockey. Ruslan Iskhakov was a second-round draft pick in 2018 and is playing at the University of Connecticut. He is only the fifth Russian this decade to be selected by the Islanders. Jake Pivonka is attending the University of Notre Dame and their final selection in 2018 was defenseman Christian Krygier, who plays at Michigan State University.
The Islanders went without a third and fourth-round pick this past summer and selected Reece Newkirk, Felix Bibeau, and Cole Coskey in rounds five through seven, respectively. Bibeau is playing in the Western Hockey League with the Portland Winterhawks, and Newkirk is playing for his second team this season in the QMJHL with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens.
The Islanders are hoping for a late first-round pick this season, as they compete for a Stanley Cup. They are currently tied for fourth in the league with 49 points and hope to build off their playoff series win from last season. The draft will take place from June 26-27 in Montreal.