The New York Islanders have a big offseason ahead of them, looking to bounce back and reach the playoffs after taking a step back this season. The offseason has already seen general manager (GM) Lou Lamoriello replace head coach Barry Trotz with assistant coach Lane Lambert, and now the pressure shifts to assembling a Stanley Cup-caliber roster, starting with the NHL Entry Draft.
The Islanders have the 13th overall pick in the first round, and with the selection, Lamoriello has options. He could use the draft pick to acquire a player like Alex DeBrincat to immediately help out the forward unit. Moreover, the Islanders could add the pick to a potential blockbuster trade if they hope to acquire a star player like Patrick Kane or Jakob Chychrun.
However, despite the intrigue to add talent to a veteran roster looking to win now, the Islanders will likely draft one of the talented prospects with the selection. The team has one of the worst prospect pools in the league, and adding young talent will help out the farm system and potentially the NHL roster in the process. The Islanders have a handful of prospects they will look to select that will boost the forward unit and defensive unit alike.
Islanders Dream Picks
The Islanders’ draft selection is outside of the top 10, but that doesn’t mean they can’t find elite talent or a potential draft steal with their pick. Mathew Barzal was drafted with the 16th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, while Oliver Wahlstrom and Noah Dobson were selected with the 11th and 12th picks, respectively, in the 2018 draft. If a prospect falls in the draft, the Islanders will quickly snatch one of them, and in the upcoming draft, a handful of players could fall to the 13th selection.
Brad Lambert, Forward
Brad Lambert seems like the ideal pick for the Islanders. With the team’s head coach being his uncle, he could fit right into the team, and if he becomes an elite player, it makes for a great family storyline.
On the ice, however, is where the Finland-native prospect stands out the most. Lambert is a great skater, helping him impact the game in all three zones. He particularly excels in the North-South game, where he can skate on the rush and create scoring chances as a puck handler. As a great skating forward, he would potentially thrive on a Barzal-led line where he can beat opponents with his speed and take advantage of space.
Lambert would be a great selection, but the Islanders will have to face two obstacles to select him. The first issue is his production, as he only scored two goals and two assists in nine games with the Pelicans in the Liiga (Finland), a team he joined midway through the 2021-22 season. While the goal-scoring and overall offensive production were down last season, teams are still excited about his potential, leading to the second issue the Islanders will face. Lambert is likely going to be selected in the top 10 of the upcoming draft as one of the prospects with high upside, and while he could fall to the 13th pick, it’s unlikely with many teams hoping to acquire the talented forward.
Kevin Korchinski, Defenseman
Playing for the Seattle Thunderbirds in the Western Hockey League (WHL), Kevin Korchinski has everything teams want in a modern game defenseman. He’s a playmaker from the point and a great puck-handling defenseman that helps turn defense into instant scoring chances. Additionally, he also plays the left side of the defense, a position the Islanders are looking to fill in the offseason and for the foreseeable future with the hope of finding a perfect pairing for Dobson, who is coming off a breakout season.
While Korchinski is a promising defenseman and could become a force from the point, he needs to work on his defensive game. The Thunderbirds’ defenseman struggled at the defensive end of the ice and defending opponents on the rush, oftentimes playing in the wrong position as opponents found open passing lanes or shots on the net. As a result, any team that selects him will still need to develop him before they see an impact at the NHL level. However, despite some of the struggles, the talented defenseman will still be selected in the top 10, with many teams looking to add a two-way defenseman to their farm system.
If the Islanders see Korchinski fall to them, they will have to wait a season, if not more, before he impacts the NHL roster. However, considering his talent, the team will love the selection, potentially landing one of the best picks in the draft.
Islanders Projected Picks
By the time the Islanders make their pick, both Lambert and Korchinski will likely be off the board, making both players ideal but unlikely to join the team. However, there will still be talented prospects available, some of whom could be high-ceiling top-of-the-class players.
Cutter Gauthier, Forward
Cutter Gauthier is a power forward that provides an edge off of the wing and impressed many scouts at the draft combine. The large frame (6-foot-3, 194 pounds) allows him to remove players from the puck on the defensive end of the ice while also giving the offensive a different look. In addition to his power forward play, Gauthier also has a great shot in the offensive zone, and his versatility allows him to impact the game in a multitude of ways, making him an ideal forward for the Islanders to select.
Lamoriello would love to select a forward like Gauthier, who not only provides a scoring presence but can help the team at the defensive end of the ice. The question will be how long it takes for him to develop and work on the other aspects of his game as he prepares for the NHL. Likewise, Gauthier isn’t a great skater. Rather, it takes time for him to accelerate and keep up with the players around him. As a result, he could become a liability in transition and hinder the Islanders defensively, as opponents easily skate past him.
Conor Geekie, Forward
The Islanders are searching for offense, and a player with great offensive zone instincts like Conor Geekie could be a great fit. As an instinctive forward, Geekie, whose brother plays for the Seattle Kraken, can find the back of the net with a quick shot while also finding open skaters near the net with great vision. While the Islanders already have forwards who can finish scoring chances in Brock Nelson, Anders Lee, and Kyle Palmieri, a young skater with high intelligence for the game will not only add depth to the forward unit but help add another dimension to the offense.
The problem with Geekie is that he might be a trap selection and might get over-drafted, especially at the 13th pick. He plays the center position, which not only overvalues him but also creates a difficult avenue to reach the NHL. This is a significant problem for the Islanders, who not only have four reliable centers on their roster in Barzal, Nelson, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and Casey Cizikas, but one of their top prospects plays center in 2021 second-round pick, Aatu Raty.
Other Options for the Islanders
If the Islanders are looking to draft a defenseman, it’s possible that Pavel Mintyukov could fall to them in the first round. Like Korchinski, Mintyukov still needs room for improvement but could ultimately play the left side of the defense at the NHL level, making him another potential player to pair with Dobson. It’s also possible that Lamoriello trades the pick to acquire more assets and move back in the draft.
The Islanders have plenty of options with the 13th pick. While the team is preparing for a big offseason, one where they can acquire a pending free agent like Johnny Gaudreau or Filip Forsberg, the draft will be telling how the front office plans to improve the roster and add prospects to the farm system.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink writes about the NHL at large and contributes as a weekly guest to The Hockey Writers Podcast. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.