Islanders’ Roster Decisions Hinge on 13th Overall Pick at NHL Draft

The New York Islanders need to make a splash this summer. General manager Lou Lamoriello has made it known that he’s interested in improving his team through hockey trades, but some of that hinges on what he decides to do with the 13th overall pick at the 2022 NHL Draft on Thursday. The two scenarios are slightly different but could tip his hand as far as what direction he’s choosing to go to fill the needs on his roster.

Islanders Choose 13th Overall

It’s no secret – the Islanders’ prospect pool is considered to be one of the worst in the NHL, as their last first-round pick was in 2018 when Lamoriello, on the job for just over a month, chose forward Oliver Wahlstrom and defenseman Noah Dobson 11th and 12th overall. Heading into 2022-23, those picks seemed to be working out pretty well, so maybe not enough credit is given to him and the Islanders as a franchise for having these prospects move up into the NHL so quickly and out of “prospect” territory, though there will surely be detractors of that statement. Wahlstrom still has a lot to prove, and Dobson, coming off a fantastic year, needs to prove he can do it again, a tough task for both players after a difficult year as a team.

Oliver Wahlstrom New York Islanders
Oliver Wahlstrom, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

All of that is to say the Islanders need to beef up their prospect pool, and there are certainly some options to do that in the first round. While William Dufour, Robin Salo, and Aatu Räty provide glimmers of hope, along with many other good prospects, there just isn’t enough to fill the pipeline on a veteran roster over the next handful of years. Not everyone can make an impact equal to that of their expectations coming into the NHL, so while Dufour is coming off an incredible year and Räty has grown dramatically over the last 12 months, their fates – much like any other draft pick – are uncertain until it isn’t.

So what does that mean for Lamoriello? Picking at 13th overall won’t just be him recognizing a need for the Islanders to replenish their prospect pool, it could also be a nod to what his plans are this offseason and how he thinks he can get there. If he makes that first-round draft pick, it could be an indication that he’s comfortable with his options on the trade market and free agency, and doesn’t feel he needs to use that pick in a trade. This could make some nervous, and understandably so, as it will appear as inaction, but it’s important to try and get into his head the best we can, however difficult that may be.

Islanders Trade 13th Overall Pick

On the contrary, Lamoriello has been clear about improving his team any way he can, citing a “hockey deal” numerous times late in the 2021-22 season to both the press and season ticket holders as early as March. Whether that means trading his 2022 first-round pick is another discussion. Regardless, it’s a moveable asset for the Islanders to leverage at a time when they need to make noticeable improvements to their roster.

Related: Islanders’ Options to Upgrade Offense

“We’d like to improve our defense if we can, as far as offensively,” Lamoriello said on May 9. “And if there’s a way of making a hockey deal, certainly with our forwards, we would do that.” (From “Islanders’ first-round draft pick also their most moveable asset,” NY Post, 7/5/22)

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

There’s a new head coach in Lane Lambert (who was hired in May after Barry Trotz was let go just a week earlier), a new arena, dedicated owners willing to spend money and there’s a good core of players with experience who play hard for one another. Now, the pressure is on Lamoriello to take the Islanders to the next level and return the team to contention after a poor 2021-22 season. Trading the 13th overall pick to enhance the forward group or defense would give fans some hope that he means business and he’s doing everything he can to improve the roster. So far, he’s saying all the right things leading up to the draft in Montreal, though he hasn’t tipped his cap in either direction, as you would expect at this time of the year.

“Like everything else, you’re open to anything,” Lamoriello said Wednesday, moments after the annual NHL general managers meeting concluded. “When you draft 13, you’re open to anything that’s going to make you better, whether it’s today, tomorrow — but you’re not going to do something foolish. But you have to be open. There’s always conversations.”

From, “Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello readies his offseason wish list for NHL Draft, free agency,” The Athletic, 7/6/2022

We can certainly argue which side of the ice needs to be his focus, but in all honesty, adding a star winger to play next to Mathew Barzal and a defender to complement the rising star in Dobson are priority 1A/1B. Regardless, if Lamoriello does trade the Islanders’ first-round pick, it’s a good indication he wasn’t liking what he was seeing on the trade or free-agent market for whichever player and position he decides to bring in, and that’s fair. Free agency is uncertain, and if you can make a deal to make your team better and you have control over that, it’s a good bet to take, at least in the short term.

This year’s NHL Draft may be a tense one for Islanders fans as they await Lamoriello’s decision in the first round. Both scenarios make a lot of sense, but until one of them starts taking shape and actually occurs, we’ll all be guessing together. The needs, however, are no secret, and his relationship with the faithful could turn sour by late on Thursday night. Buckle up everyone, it should be a fun ride.

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