The NHL Entry Draft is this week starting, with the first round on Thursday in Montreal. The New York Islanders have the 13th overall pick and enter the draft with multiple avenues for success. General manager (GM) Lou Lamoriello is looking to make a splash this offseason and notably, help the Islanders rebound after missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season.
The draft will be a pivotal part of the Islanders’ offseason that has already been a busy one, to say the least. Lamoriello fired head coach Barry Trotz and promoted assistant coach Lane Lambert behind the bench and is betting on himself for the team’s success this offseason.
What should the Islanders and the fanbase alike look out for during the draft? A lot can happen both leading up to the draft and during the draft itself, especially with a front office looking to make an aggressive move.
Does Lamoriello Make a Move?
With the 13th pick, the Islanders have plenty of options, and most notably, can use the pick as part of a package to acquire a talented player. Alex DeBrincat, J.T. Miller, and even Patrick Kane can be traded ahead of the draft at the right price, and after Kevin Fiala was traded to the Los Angeles Kings, more star players look poised to be on the move.
The question for the Islanders is if they are willing to trade their first-round selection for a star-caliber player. Yes, the team is built to win now with a veteran-heavy roster that has playoff experience, and adding to either the forward or defensive unit is a priority this offseason. However, with one of the worst farm systems in the league, the Islanders have to take advantage of the high draft pick and refuel the prospect pool.
Ultimately, Lamoriello is going to look for the best offer. The Chicago Blackhawks don’t have a first-round pick in this year’s draft and will be eager to acquire one, and as a result, could be the team to watch. Furthermore, if the Islanders include Anthony Beauvillier in a trade, they can make a strong offer that could return one of the elite players that are on the trade block.
Can the Islanders Land an Elite Forward?
In all likelihood, the Islanders will keep the 13th overall pick and select the best player available. This year’s draft, however, is shaping up to be one of the more unpredictable ones in recent years. Shane Wright is the consensus number one overall pick, but many experts have Juraj Slafkovsky or Logan Cooley ranked ahead of him. Moreover, by the 13th selection, a handful of talented prospects can slide on the first night of the draft, giving Lamoriello a prime opportunity to land a steal of the draft.
The forward prospects, in particular, can be available for the Islanders at the 13th pick. Cutter Gauthier is a power forward that has a great shot from the wing, but teams might avoid drafting him because of his skating ability and inability to accelerate. Conor Geekie has great offensive zone instincts and can find the back of the net or an open skater with great vision, making him a great selection with the 13th pick if he is available. The Islanders can select the best forward available, and in this draft, a lot of the prospects available have the potential to become stars in the NHL.
When Do the Islanders Select Defense?
The Islanders are hoping to address both the forward and defensive unit in the upcoming draft and free agency. The question is, what need will the team address first?
If the Islanders choose to select a defenseman with the 13th overall pick, they will have plenty of viable options. Pavel Mintyukov, Kevin Korchinski, and Denton Mateychuk could all be available, and all are reliable two-way defensemen that can handle the puck and turn defense into instant scoring chances. If Lamoriello chooses to address the forward position, the options are limited by the second round, where the Islanders will pick 65th overall, a selection the team acquired in the Devon Toews trade.
The Islanders can hope for Owen Pickering or Mattias Havelid to fall to the 65th selection. Both Pickering and Havelid look poised to become reliable second or third-pair defensemen but will likely get drafted before at the end of the first round or early in the second round. The Islanders will likely have to take a chance at the end of the second round, drafting a defenseman like Noah Warren or Maveric Lamoureux. However, the team must address the defensive need, and if Lamoriello chooses to draft a forward early on, it will be the risk he has to take.
Brad Lambert & Other Possible Draft Steals
In last year’s draft, the Islanders saw Aatu Raty slide to the 52nd overall pick in the draft. The selection was not only a steal for the team, but Raty is one of the top prospects in the farm system that could potentially impact the NHL roster in the upcoming season. In the upcoming draft, Lamoriello has to keep a close eye on which prospects not only fall but slide to the 65th pick.
In the draft, a polarizing player that could fall out of the first round is Brad Lambert. The nephew of head coach Lane, Lambert’s ceiling is unquestioned, as he’s a great skater and plays a remarkable North-South type of game. However, the prospect struggled in the Liiga (Finland) with the Pelicans, where he failed to find the back of the net and contribute offensively. If he continues to fall in the draft and is still available midway through the second round, Lamoriello might take advantage and make a move to acquire him. Similarly, Lamoriello could wait at the 65th pick for the Finland-native prospect to be available if he doesn’t get drafted beforehand.
Lambert falling to the 65th pick would be a dramatic slide and one that would take many draft experts by surprise. However, the Islanders can still find a handful of prospects by the 65th selection that are first-round talents. Owen Beck and Luca Del Bel Belluz are both forward prospects from the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) Mississauga Steelheads that could be available by the end of the second round, and Lamoriello should be eager to select them. The second round will be a crucial one for the Islanders, largely because of which prospects will be available by the time they are on the clock.
Will the Islanders Select a Goaltender?
The Islanders have one of the best goaltending duos in the league. While Semyon Varlamov is in the final year of his contract, Ilya Sorokin is an elite young goaltender that looks to carry the Islanders in the net for years to come. However, the farm system isn’t as promising at the goaltender position. Jakub Skarek had strong starts with the American Hockey League (AHL) Bridgeport Islanders, but it’s unclear if he can impact the NHL team. Furthermore, there aren’t many promising goaltending prospects in the system. Lamoriello might not draft the position until the third round, if not later, but in this draft, he should look to address the need at some point.
Other Things to Watch During the Draft
One of the intriguing options for the Islanders in the first round is to trade back. Lamoriello can find a team looking to leapfrog the Winnipeg Jets, Vancouver Canucks, and Buffalo Sabres and receive a strong return in the process. Conversely, the Islanders can also use their first-round pick to make a surprising selection. The move would put more pressure on Lamoriello, who has already made a few questionable decisions, but if the prospect develops into a star, the decision will pay off.
The Islanders can make a big leap next season and have a strong roster in place for first-year head coach Lambert. While prospects take time to develop, the draft will only continue to kickstart the busy offseason and, most importantly, help the team rebound.
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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.