The New York Islanders are a storied franchise. Coming into the league in 1972, they wasted no time at all. Within eight seasons of coming into the NHL, they would go on to become one of the best dynasties in NHL history. They went on to win four Stanley Cups – straight – from 1979-80 to 1982-83. A large part of how they did that was the NHL Entry Draft.
Since the lead up to that historic run, the Islanders haven’t had as much success in the draft. They’ve drafted excellent players, current and future Hall-of-Famers, but looking at their entire draft, there’s been some clear misses.
This list will look at the entire draft classes and pick the five best in Islanders’ history. They are listed in order of the year, rather than being ranked.
1972 Islanders Entry and Expansion Draft
The Islanders, along with the Atlanta Flames, became the 13th and 14th teams in the NHL, as mentioned, in 1972. The expansion draft was held just before the entry draft. Among their expansion selections were goaltender Billy Smith, and forward Ed Westfall.
Believe it or not, Smith was the fourth goaltender selected in the draft. He wound up having the best career out of the four, winning 304 games in 17 seasons on the Island. “Battlin’ Billy” helped lead the team to their four Stanley Cups and won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1983. He also won the Vezina Trophy as the top goaltender in the league in 1982. The star goaltender was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1993.
Westfall was named the first captain in team history. He scored the first goal in team history, ironically enough in their first game against their fellow new club, the Flames. Westfall played seven seasons with the Islanders before retiring following the 1978-79 season.
The team did quite well in the entry draft that season, as well. New York held the top overall selection and went with winger Billy Harris. The Toronto native started his career with six-straight 20-goal seasons, with a career-high 32 in 1975-76, when he was named to the All-Star team. Harris was not a part of the Cup-winning teams as he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings for Butch Goring on March 10, 1980.
Lorne Henning, taken in the second round, 17th overall, played his entire, nine-year career with the Islanders. The center was a player/coach for the team in the 1980-81 season, becoming the last player/coach on a Stanley Cup-winning team. He became the head coach following Al Arbour’s retirement after the 1993-94 season.
Bob Nystrom was selected in the third round, 33rd overall. “Mr. Islander” scored arguably the most memorable goal in team history, the Cup-clinching goal in Game 6 of the 1980 Final against the Philadelphia Flyers. Henning assisted on the goal. Nystrom played 900 games on the Island, collecting 235 goals, 278 assists and 513 points. He had 20-plus goals seven times. The team retired his No. 23 in 1995.
Related: Top 5 Islanders Goals of All Time
Further in the draft, Garry Howatt was selected in the 10th round, 144th overall. He scored a career-high 21 goals in the 1975-76 season. Known for their scrappy and energetic style of play, Howatt and Nystrom formed the ‘Dynamic Duo”. He was a member of the 1980 and 1981 Stanley Cup Champions. When he was traded prior to the start of the 1981-82 season, Howatt held the Islanders’ career penalty-minutes record (1,466) and career playoffs penalty-minutes record (279).
1973 Islanders Draft Class
The Islanders’ second draft was just as impactful as the first. Once again, it started at the top. The team had the first-overall selection again, this time choosing defenseman Denis Potvin. He played his entire 15-year career with the Islanders, winning the Calder Trophy, three Norris Trophies, a seven-time All-Star, and was regularly in the conversation for the Hart Trophy.
Potvin was a part of all four Stanley Cups and was a regular contributor on the team. He finished his career with 310 goals, 742 assists and 1,052 assists – in 1,060 games. His goal total broke Bobby Orr’s record for most by a defenseman. He still sits fifth on that list. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1991 and his number was retired a year later.
The Islanders’ second pick didn’t come until the third round, 33rd overall. Dave Lewis was another defender drafted, and yet another to play over 1,000 games in the NHL. Of his 1,008 games, 514 of them came with the Islanders.
The 49th pick of the draft, in the fourth round, was Andre St. Laurent. He played five seasons with the Islanders, but 11 overall, playing in 644 games. Not exactly a household name, but St. Laurent’s longevity in the NHL proved why he was a worthwhile pick in the 1973 draft.
Skipping down to the ninth round, 129th overall, the Islanders selected Bob Lormier. Lormier was a part of the first two Stanley Cup championships for the Islanders, before being traded to the Colorado Rockies in 1981 for their 1983 first-round pick (which just so happened to be Pat LaFontaine). If his 529 games and 112 points aren’t enough, getting the Isles LaFontaine is a pretty big plus.
1974 Islanders Draft Class
Third draft in a row – all filled with incredible talent. Few teams can boast that they drafted two future Hall of Famers in the same draft. The Islanders selected Clark Gillies fourth overall and Bryan Trottier 22nd overall. Gillies provided the Isles with an offensive and literal punch. Gillies had six 30-goal seasons for New York. The 2002 Hall-of-Fame inductee played 872 games, scoring 304 goals and 359 assists with the Islanders. His No. 9 was retired in 1996.
Trottier’s impact was felt immediately as he won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league top rookie. He scored a then rookie-record 95 points. He became the only Islander to win both the Art Ross Trophy as league’s top scorer and the Hart Memorial Trophy as NHL MVP. He won the Conn Smythe in 1980 scoring 29 points in the playoffs. In fact, Trottier scored 29 points in three straight postseasons. The seven-time All-Star’s 1,353 points still rank first in team history. His 500 goals are second only to Mike Bossy. Trottier was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1997.
Related: New York Islanders’ 50-Goal Scorers
Dave Langevin was selected in the seventh round, 112th overall. ‘Bam Bam” was strictly a stay-at-home defenseman. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound defender was named to the 1983 All-Star Team. A member of all four Stanley Cup-winning teams, Langevin was named to the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 1993.
Stefan Persson was selected in the 14th round, 214th overall. The Swedish defenseman scored the game-tying goal late in the third period in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. He scored five goals and 10 assists during the team’s first Cup run. Also a member of all four Cup teams, Persson ranks in the top 20 in games played by a Swedish defenseman with 622.
1977 Islanders Draft Class
It was not the quantity but the quality here. Mike Bossy was selected 15th overall and is arguably the best pure goal scorer in NHL history. Bossy had nine straight 50-plus goal seasons. His first earned him the Calder Trophy.
Bossy became the second player in NHL history to score 50 goals in 50 games, doing so by scoring two goals late in the third period of the 50th game. The seven-time All-Star scored a career-high 147 points in 1981-82, finishing third behind Wayne Gretzky and Trottier for the Hart Trophy. Back injuries ended his career at age 30. Despite the injury, Bossy managed to score 38 goals in 63 games in 1986-87. He finished his career scoring 573 goals in 752 games, averaging over 50 goals per season. Bossy was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1991 and his No. 22 was retired by the Islanders in 1992.
John Tonelli was selected 33rd overall in this draft class. One of the better two-way forwards in Islanders history, Tonelli had eight 20-goal seasons, including two 30-goal seasons and one 40-goal season. He assisted on Nystrom’s Cup-winning goal in 1980. Tonelli’s goal late in the third period in 1982 against the Colorado Rockies extended the Isles’ win streak to 15-straight games, a then-NHL record. He played eight seasons on the Island scoring 206 goals.
2009 Islanders Draft Class
Yes, it took 32 years for our next draft class. Despite drafting players like LaFontaine, Duane and Brent Sutter, Ziggy Palffy, Todd Bertuzzi, Roberto Luongo, Zdeno Chara, and Wade Redden, the rest of their respective drafts mainly left some to be desired.
In 2009, the Islander finally had another win. Every player that the Islanders selected played at least one NHL game – alright, fifth-round pick defenseman Anton Klementyev literally played one game.
John Tavares was selected first overall. The centreman played nine seasons for the Islanders, collecting 272 goals, 349 assists and 621 points in 669 games. Over that time, he finished top-five in Calder voting, as well as three times finishing top-three in Hart Trophy voting. In the 2018 offseason, Tavares signed with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs, but there’s no questioning his impact on the Islanders while he was there.
Calvin de Haan was selected 12th overall. While he hasn’t exactly lived up to that selection, he’s become a steady NHLer. He played six seasons with the Islanders, scoring 12 goals and 81 points. Along with Tavares, de Haan left in free agency in 2018.
A pair of goaltenders were taken in the third and fourth rounds: Mikko Koskinen and Anders Nilsson. While both took some time before solidifying their spots in the NHL Koskinen the AHL, ECHL, and Finnish leagues before impressing the Edmonton Oilers enough tho give him a contract. As of the 2019-20 season, he’s continuing to impress. Also as of the 2019-20 season, Nilsson has played for six NHL teams, before settling with the Ottawa Senators.
Casey Cizikas was selected in the fourth round, 92nd overall. The centreman is one of two players in this draft still with the Islanders and has become a fixture of the team’s lineup. He put up a career season in 2018-19, scoring 20 goals, 13 assists and 33 points. Not exactly game-breaking skill, but definitely a contributor.
Anders Lee was selected in the sixth round, 152nd overall. That’s right, the Islanders drafted two future captains of the team in one draft. He scored his first NHL goal on his first shot, and while he hasn’t had the easiest route to where he is now, he ended up being a 40-goal scorer in 2017-18 and had three straight 50-point seasons starting in 2016-17.
While many of the players from this draft class moved on from the Islanders, there’s no questioning their impact on the NHL, and for the most part – the Islanders. It all started with the 2009 draft class.
Starting out as an Ottawa Senators contributor for The Hockey Writers, Josh is now an editor and at-large contributor, focusing on prospects, the NHL Draft, hockey history, and breaking news stories.