With eight points separating the New York Islanders from the eighth and final playoff spot, no one is ready to concede the season just yet. Still, looking ahead to next season is part of the fun for any franchise and with the draft creeping closer, it appears the Islanders might be able to find a very helpful player come June 2012 ... even if they don't have a top pick.
Former NHL scout and current ESPN Insider contributor Grant Sonier released his first mock draft of the year Thursday, and more telling than where the Islanders were selecting (No. 5, based on Monday's standings) was who they might be targeting.
Sonier slots D Ryan Murray of the Everett Silvertips (WHL) to the Isles at No. 5. Here's the write-up:
"This is a franchise that is in need of a steady, smart, puck-moving D-man to accent the fine young talent it has up front. Murray is a little bit of a jack of all trades from the blue line -- albeit a highly skilled jack -- for a smaller sized D-man."
Murray skated with the Canadian U-20 team at the World Juniors this season, a notable achievement for a player in his draft year. Here's what Sonier wrote about Murray in his Top 50 prospect rankings:
"An excellent showing at the WJC, where the maturity and composure he displayed earlier this season continued to shine. Many will have him higher on their list [Sonier ranked him No. 6], but I think he lacks the offensive dimension of [Mathew] Dumba and [Morgan] Rielly. His defensive hockey sense separates him from most in this draft, though."
While the Islanders do have some young D prospects (Calvin de Haan, Scott Mayfield) outside of the NHL roster, after spending top picks on Nino Niederreiter and Ryan Strome it figures that Garth Snow and Co. could target an able-bodied blueliner in this year's first round. Good news there: One of this draft's strengths is a deep selection of solid defensemen.
In addition to Murray, Mathew Dumba, Morgan Rielly and Griffin Reinhart all fall in Sonier's Top 10 prospects. Even if the Islanders do make a late push, it seems like they should still be able to pick up a good building block come June.