While the New York Islanders have struggled with first-round picks in the past, they have found a way to turn late-round picks into pretty good NHL players. For much of the past 10 years, they have been selecting early in the first round. However, many of those picks haven’t turned out the way they would have hoped. They seem to do a lot better when the pressure is off.
Here are the five best late-round picks for the Islanders in the past decade.
5. Adam Pelech
While Pelech may not be a guy that many fans around the league know about, he has found a way to stick with the Islanders. Considering that they may have both Johnny Boychuk and Thomas Hickey as healthy scratches to begin the season, Pelech has cemented himself as a regular NHL defenseman and earned himself a four-year contract during the summer of 2017.
The Islanders selected Pelech with the 65th pick in the third round of the 2012 Draft. As do many later draft picks, he worked his way through the system, playing in the AHL for parts of three seasons with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers before being called up. While playing with the NHL, Pelech has an impressive plus-23 rating in his young career.
He tied for 25th in the league with a plus-22 rating last season and has increased his offense through the years. He scored 5 goals and had 21 points in 2019-20 and can be used on the penalty kill. Hopefully, Pelech and Ryan Pulock can build on their strong season as a defensive pair and take it to the next level.
4. Devon Toews
A defenseman for the Islanders who has no relation to the great Chicago Blackhawks center, Jonathan Toews, Devon Toews is blossoming into a top defender in the league. Selected 108th overall in the 2014 NHL Draft, he has been nagged with injuries much of his professional career, limiting him to 48 regular season games in the NHL.
With that being said, the Islanders were more than impressed with his ability. He was called up from Bridgeport on Dec. 23 to replace an injured Hickey, but never came out of the lineup afterwards. He scored his first career goal during a nationally-televised game versus the Blackhawks in overtime at the Nassau Coliseum. In his first 14 games, the team went 11-3, helping the Islanders finish second in the Metropolitan Division standings.
Toews is a quick skater that isn’t afraid to join the rush. He is used on either one of the team’s power play units and possesses a strong shot from the blue line. Islanders fans can expect to see him play top minutes in his second season.
3. Ilya Sorokin
While Sorokin could easily go down as one of the greatest third-round steals in NHL history, he has yet to play an NHL game in his career, keeping him off one of the top spots for now.
Despite that, Sorokin has been one of the greatest goaltenders ever to play in the KHL. Just looking back last season, the Russian allowed 1.16 goals per game with a .940 save percentage. He then went on to the playoffs and won the Gagarin Cup and MVP, as he won 16 of 20 games with 5 shutouts. So far this season, he has allowed 6 goals on 121 shots with three wins in five starts.
Sorokin is 6-foot-2, 176 pounds and is 24 years old. He is an aggressive goalie playing at the top of his crease and shows extreme flexibility to make jaw-dropping saves. He is in the final year of his contract overseas and the Islanders are hoping they can convince him to make the transition to the NHL for the 2020-21 season.
2. Casey Cizikas
Where would the Islanders be without their first pick in the fourth round of the 2009 Draft? They selected Cizikas and have produced perhaps the top fourth-line center in all of the NHL. His numbers a season ago looked like he played on one of the top two lines after scoring a career-high 20 goals.
Not only that, Cizikas, along with Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck, are routinely on the ice against Sidney Crosby and all the top centers in the league. He is the Islanders’ number one penalty killer for each of the past few seasons and plays close to 15 minutes per night.
Like Pelech, Cizikas earned himself a long-term contract for five years at $16.75 million in 2016. While that seemed to be a lot of money at the time for a fourth-line center, it seems like a bargain in 2019. He is always willing to sacrifice his body for his team and always seems to be head coach Barry Trotz’s starting center to begin games.
1. Anders Lee
Little did the Islanders know that their next captain after John Tavares would be a sixth-round pick in the 2009 NHL Draft. Selected 150 picks after the former captain was selected, Lee replaced him following the 2017-18 season when Tavares signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Lee became the first Islander to score 40 goals in 2018 since Jason Blake and has 152 of them in 425 games. Standing at 6-foot-4, nearly all of his goals come from right in front of the net. He scored his first career goal in his first game and has been a fan-favorite ever since.
Lee was a free agent heading into the 2019-20 season, but decided to come back to Long Island until the 2025-26 season at $7 million per season. He will hopefully continue his incredible career with Mat Barzal and Jordan Eberle on the Islanders’ first line for years to come.
While the Islanders made a huge blunder selecting Griffin Reinhart with the fourth pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, they more than made up for it with a trade they made. They sent Reinhart to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for the 16th pick in the draft as well as the 33rd pick. They later traded the 33rd pick to the Tampa Bay Lightning for the 28th pick in the draft.
They used those picks on Barzal (16th) and Anthony Beauvillier. Both play on the top two lines for the Islanders and are a main reason why they made the second round of the playoffs a season ago.
Matt Rothman is a 2018 graduate from Florida Gulf Coast University receiving his bachelor degree in journalism. Originally from Long Island, he moved to Parkland shortly after high school. Matt worked as the assistant sports editor for his school paper, eaglenews.com in college becoming just one of nine students in his graduation class to serve over 1,000 community service hours. His goal is to travel to every Major League Baseball stadium, and has been to multiple US Open finals.