New York Hockey: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

Devils 'win' NHL draft lotto, Isles pick fifth

April, 12, 2011
Well, it turns out the Devils’ late-season tear up the standings didn’t hurt their draft position much at all. New Jersey “won” the NHL’s draft lottery Tuesday night, moving up from the No. 8 pick to the No. 4 pick, leapfrogging the New York Islanders in the process.

Under the league’s rules teams can only move up a maximum up five draft spots and fall just one slot. Thus, the Islanders, the odds-on favorite to pick fourth, will fall back to the No. 5 spot. And, depending on who you ask, that could end up being a very big difference.

To this point in the talent evaluation process, NHL scouts have consistently ear marked four prospects as the cream of the crop: C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, LW Gabriel Landeskog, D Adam Larsson and C Sean Couturier. Those four have been thought of very highly and often fall into the can’t-miss category with few-to-no questions about their future development. After those four, there are still a number of highly talented players, but also a number of question marks.

For example, Saint John C Jonathan Huberdeau has been gaining momentum throughout the season and in fact blew past Sean Couturier and up to No. 3 in the most recent prospect rankings of North American skaters issued by the NHL Central Scouting Service. However, Huberdeau’s team is utterly and completely stacked with talent while Couturier’s squad is far from flush. So is Huberdeau a standalone talent or a product of the players around him?

While Huberdeau could certainly be the real deal, some scouts aren’t buying the Couturier falloff, so if he were to fall to No. 4 or 5, the Devils or Islanders could have a very nice steal.

Here's another positive for both clubs. Both the Devils and the Islanders could use a boost to their blueline. And there should be a number of top D prospects available by the time both teams pick. Ds Dougie Hamilton and Nathan Beaulieu rank No. 4 and 5 in the CSS North American rankings, though some scouts polled by the NHL Draft Blog have some reservations (Insider) and earlier this season Draft Blog writer Alvin Chang questioned the wisdom (Insider) of taking a top defenseman high in the draft.

Just some food for thought before the June 24 draft date in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The Isles' 'Win or Lose?' verdict

March, 11, 2011
Thanks for the great comments to yesterday's blog post on whether the Islanders should play to win or play for a better draft pick. The overwhelming majority of posters said they should play to win the game. You now have Herm Edwards' approval. Well done.

Here's my two cents: You have to play to win. Period. Even if you're rebuilding, the second you start treating games like they don't matter I believe your players will start treating the team like it doesn't matter. That's a behavior you'd never want to encourage.

The Islanders' drafted talent is deep, though I think some folks might be overrating it slightly. Hockey's Future currently ranks the Isles' organization 17th overall. If they can ever get Kirill Petrov to come over, that's another step in the right direction. Or if Kirill Kabanov finally gets hit with the sanity stick and comes back (to Earth, not just the Island) that gamble of a pick could pay off.

Still there are at least two up-and-coming studs. Nino Niederreiter is certainly projected to be a star and of the players who have yet to have more than a cup of coffee in the NHL, Calvin de Haan gets into that conversation as well. Could the Islanders use a center like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins? Absolutely. But as one commenter pointed out, Ryan Strome out of Niagara in the OHL isn't too shabby either. And if Adam Larsson slips out of reach, then they may even be able to trade down and hulking Jamieson Oleksiak might provide the Isles a shot at another Zdeno Chara-type defenseman.

Bottom line: the Islanders aren't that far away from being a playoff team. Injuries to Kyle Okposo and Mark Streit probably killed that hope instantly this season. But next season? Hey, as far as I'm concerned, the Isles' 2011-12 season starts now and runs all through this summer as they continue to shape their roster.

To win, or not to win?

March, 10, 2011
The Islanders are playing some very solid hockey these days, a fact many attribute to head coach Jack Capuano and his simplified game style registering with this young team. In his blog the other day, ESPN’s E.J. Hradek stated he believes Capuano has done enough to merit the coaching gig on a permanent basis.

If that’s the case, then the Islanders are starting to take shape for the 2011-12 season ... and their current winning ways might be setting them back.

First, let's agree that the only thing that's holding the Islanders back from the Eastern Conference playoffs right now is talent. Recently, and for whatever reason, the Isles have only been able to acquire truly elite talent through the draft. The last truly established point producer they were able to bring in through free agency was probably Mark Streit. Whether it's antiquated facilities, the preference of players to join recent playoff teams or the unwillingness of ownership to spend money, the Islanders simply aren't getting talent rich by inking free agents. That makes the draft doubly important.

This season’s NHL draft is believed to be about four-deep with future all-stars -- centers Sean Couturier and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, defenseman Adam Larsson and winger Gabriel Landeskog. All four project to be future greats according to scouts and rate as the top four prospects according to ESPN’s rankings of the Top 50 prospects of 2011, published Tuesday.

Only trouble for the Islanders there is that, with Colorado and Florida in a free fall, the upswinging Isles may end up picking fifth. So it’s time for that classic question: Do you hope to lose to get a better draft pick? Or do you go Herm Edwards and play to win the game? Feel free to comment below.