UPDATE - In Comments is my reaction at 11:00 am and 12:45 pm to yours and we will continue throughout the day. Please be mindful of the Guidelines so everyone has their say. Thanks…CB
The Islanders currently have only two home-grown youngsters in their lineup considered to have the potential to become top forwards on a future contender. They, of course, are Kyle Okposo (first round, 2006) and Josh Bailey (first round, 2008).
Otherwise, as the Islanders enter Year 2 of their complete overhaul in 2009-2010, there should no confusion about the state of the organizational depth chart.
- There is not a single player on the current Bridgeport roster that will magically develop into a scoring forward or top-5 defenseman in next season’s Islanders lineup. (Our Sound Tigers top prospects list arrives later this week).
- There is not one top-9 forward or top-5 defenseman joining the Islanders’ opening night lineup next season directly from Europe or the college or junior ranks. That is, unless they sign an upstart European or collegiate (Matt Gilroy?) free agent.
- The season after that, and the season after that, the Islanders could have plenty of skilled players emerge from the AHL and elsewhere.
The wild card, naturally, is the Islanders’ first round pick in 2009, but it is pointless today to put an 18-year old’s name on the GM’s dry-erase board. Not with 30% of this season still remaining. Not with Scott Gordon still coaching an aggressive style, but lining up the left wing next to two defensemen in the neutral zone. Not with the Islanders subsequently winning more games lately than they did in December and January.
Why is the well so dry? More than any other reasons, look no further than a horrendous run of four consecutive first round picks.
2002 – Sean Bergenheim (22nd overall): Love the kid, but let’s be real. After yet another season of stops and starts and chipping away at the hairlines of his coaching staff, Bergenheim does not seem destined to be a front-line NHL forward. At least not with the Islanders.
2003 – Robert Nilsson (15th overall): First round tools, sixth round drive and determination now driving Craig MacTavish nuts in Edmonton after becoming an Oiler in the Ryan Smyth trade. In related news, J.P.’s kid scored his 33rd and 34th against the Islanders last night.
2004 – Petteri Nokelainen (16th overall): More than a year of knee tendinitis has hurt his career, projected by most teams to max out as a third-liner. This season, he has 0 goals as a fourth-line forward and sometimes healthy scratch with the dynamo Bruins.
2005 – Ryan O’Marra (15th overall): The miss of all misses. Garth Snow didn’t think twice about including him in the Smyth trade. Four years later, he is a grinder in Springfield (AHL), his career already on shaky ground.
That is an almost impossible-to-fathom string of failures by a scouting staff directed by former general manager Mike Milbury. Four consecutive first round picks, not even a second-line forward in the group 4-7 years later. Bergenheim and Nilsson could figure it out and have a love connection with their coaches down the road, but it’s getting late early.
We can waste a lot of space listing the dozens of players missed with these picks, but that would really be missing the point. All you need to know is that Milbury and company had four swings at the best hockey talent in the world in the first round four years in a row. They whiffed.
And from those four drafts between 2002-2005 they have a mere six players as possible pieces to the rebuild: Frans Nielsen, forgotten Jeremy Colliton, Bruno Gervais, Blake Comeau, Chris Campoli and Dustin Kohn. Of that group, only Nielsen (ceiling: No. 2 center) and Campoli (No. 4 dman) appear to have a chance to develop into more than just good soldiers.
This is why the painful art of scouting has beaten down good hockey men in every organization. It’s why there is turnover in the scouting community all over the league every year. This, in part, is why only Ryan Jankowski (now assistant GM) and Anders Kallur (a bird-dog in Europe who fought for Frans Nielsen) remain from the Islanders’ staff that was there for the quartet of stud-less first round picks. It’s why the Islanders in 2006 stepped up their investment in scouting resources and player development and revamped how they analyze draft prospects, and why the process needs to continue.
And this, more than anything else, is why the rebuild is going to take more than just this season and next. For perspective, Washington – with Alexander Ovechkin – took three years.