By Daniel Friedman
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The New York Islanders went into the 2015 NHL draft, which had been touted as incredibly deep, with no picks in the first two rounds.
It wasn't long before that changed, and before you knew it, the Isles had two first-round selections, which they used to select Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier. That cost the team Griffin Reinhart and some other picks, but if this draft is as deep as the hype suggests, it was well worth the price.
As the start of the draft neared, I'd spoken to a whole bunch of agents and sources – some of which had been in contact with Isles' brass throughout the day. The consensus was that there were a handful of players the Islanders were very high on, and that they were really going to try and move up -- likely into the second round -- to select.
Well, they did even better, jumping into the first round. It had been mentioned as a possibility, but I didn't give it much thought because I felt it was an improbable scenario and that the Islanders didn't really have assets they wanted to part with to acquire a first rounder.
Enter Reinhart, who's been held in high regard by the Edmonton Oilers since his draft year (they were seriously considering trading their top pick that year in order to move down and take him). He hadn't been developing at the rate the Islanders had hoped, and the Oilers were willing to pay a fairly steep price to get him.
It's also important to keep in mind that Islanders general manager Garth Snow already has a working relationship with new Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli, after the two agreed to the Johnny Boychuk trade when Chiarelli was running Boston's front office.
Incredibly, Barzal was passed over by the Bruins at Nos. 13, 14 and 15. Arguably a top-five talent, he was sitting there for the taking and Snow did what he does best -- he took advantage of an opportunity to get something he wanted.
This wasn't about Reinhart becoming a bust. This was about him becoming expendable, given the development of Ryan Pulock and Scott Mayfield, plus the fact that Boychuk and Nick Leddy were signed to long-term contracts.
Even if Reinhart does pan out as the top-four defenseman he's projected to be, I think that Barzal will be better in his role and Beauvillier will be a key asset as well. It's a win-win situation.
Most of the top-tier players who'd been rumored to be potential trade targets were out of reach. The asking price was simply too high -- not just for the Islanders, but for everyone. Sometimes, the best trades are the ones you don't make, and I think that's true in this case.
Ultimately, it was a very successful draft for the Islanders, and their haul was pretty impressive. Let's take a closer look at the new kids on the block:
Mathew Barzal, C/W (1st round, 16th overall)
The Islanders were so shocked that he was still on the board at No. 16, that they couldn't help but make a play to swoop him up. A lot of scouts I spoke too had Barzal in their top 10; one even told me he was the best passer not named Connor McDavid in the entire draft. Barzal's a superb skater, he's got excellent hands, and I like that he's not afraid to get in tight around the crease. By all accounts, this was a fortuitous bounce for the Isles.
Anthony Beauvillier, LW/C/RW (1st round, 28th overall)
I think the best adjective for this kid is "versatile," and even then that's probably an understatement. Beauvillier has played over 20 minutes in some games, largely because he's utilized in so many different situations. He can line up on the power play or penalty kill, he's effective at even strength and he's as proficient without the puck as he is with it. No matter which side he embraces at the NHL level (if not both), his odds of being a roster regular in the pros are very, very good.
Mitchell Vande Sompel, D (3rd round, 82nd overall)
We've seen the Islanders do this before. Back in 2009, they drafted John Tavares first overall, then traded up to snag a teammate of his in Calvin de Haan at No. 12. Ironically, the Isles went back to Oshawa this time around, taking a player that 2014 draftee Michael Dal Colle is very familiar with, and that's Vande Sompel. I don't think there's any question he's primarily an offensive-minded defenseman, one who really likes to carry the puck deep in the offensive zone. He's not afraid to take those chances, which is both a good thing and a concern. Vande Sompel is a very smart hockey player with great anticipation. I don't think he's ever going to be a shutdown-type guy, but a little more balance in his game wouldn't hurt. He's a project.
Parker Wotherspoon, D (4th round, 112th overall)
The fact that Wotherspoon was still available was a bit of a surprise, considering he was projected to go in the second or third round and was ranked higher up (43rd among North American skaters, according to NHL Central Scouting). He's not going to amaze you in any particular way, but what he will do is demonstrate solid ability in just about every aspect of the game. He's a slighty above-average skater, who's calm and collected with the puck and can take it out of his own zone. His poise and positioning in one-on-one situations or when defending against an opposing rush are respectable. Wotherspoon tries to do too much at times, however, and needs to refine his game. It'll be a while but, then again, it often is when it comes to developing blueliners.
Ryan Pilon, D (5th round, 147th overall)
Another player that was taken pretty late considering his ranking (24th among North American skaters, per NHL Central Scouting), Ryan is also a cousin of former Islander defenseman Rich Pilon. McKeen's Hockey had him ranked 75th among all prospects, so no matter how you look at it, the kid dropped down quite a bit. He was Ivan Provorov's (seventh overall pick) defense partner in Brandon and the perfect compliment to him as a mobile rearguard with size. He's not necessarily physical like Rich Pilon, though he's got the frame to be, and he has more offensive upside. His positioning without the puck needs work, and his defensive awareness isn't particularly sharp – which could be a big reason why his stock plummeted the way it did on Saturday. Still, it's a low-risk, potentially high-reward choice, which is what the latter rounds are all about.
Andong Song, D (6th round, 172nd overall)
He made history by becoming the first Chinese-born player selected in an NHL Entry Draft, but there's more to this pick than the publicity that comes with it. Song's two biggest strengths are his skating and hands, both of which can come in handy with the way the game is played these days. You like to see that kind of ability from a defenseman if he can utilize it, though it remains to be seen if Song can do so in the next stages of his career. He's hoping to impress a college hockey program in 2015-16, so that he can enroll the following year and work his way up from there. His talent is evident, but it's very, very raw.
Petter Hansson, D (7th round, 202nd overall)
Hansson went undrafted last year, but a breakout season for Linkoping's junior club in Sweden compelled the Islanders to take a shot at him with their final pick of the draft. He's also had limited playing time in the SHL, lining up against older and more mature talents, so that exposure is a plus. Hansson's got a decent frame (6-foot-1, 187 pounds) and has shown upside at both ends of the ice. He's a no-risk, unclear-reward selection.
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