Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Islanders roll the dice with Kabanov, Niederreiter

Steals? Risks? Gambles? We won't know for some time whether the moves the New York Islanders made at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft will help or hurt the team, but we do know one thing for sure:

They lead the league in guys named 'Kirill.'

Two years after taking Kirill Petrov in the third round of the 2008 draft, the Isles went to Russia again in the third round and selected Kirill Kabanov in what could be the steal of the draft, considering Kabanov had been ranked as high as the top three in the draft class within the past year, and 15th at the midterm.

So what happened to the 17-year-old scorer? Rumors of drinking, getting dropped by the Russian national team as well as his agent, problems with his team in Moncton, and an injured wrist conspired to sink his reputation as well as his draft standing. The Isles grabbed him at 65th overall, figuring they had to take a player with that kind of talent.

And he has talent, in spades. He also has moxie, as shown in his post-draft interview when he promised that he wouldn't let the Isles or their fans down. We'll see. The kid's 17. But the draft is a crapshoot, and you can't leave skills like Kabanov's on the table at No. 65.

As for first-round pick Nino Niederreiter, I had a feeling the Islanders would go for a forward. Can't say I saw Nino coming.

The day before the draft, I re-Tweeted something my man B.D. Gallof said about what the Isles would do at No. 5. B.D. predicted that the Islanders would go with a forward with their first pick, adding, "As Ricky Roma once said: "If everyone thinks one thing, then I say, bet the other way."

Hey, anyone who drops a "Glengarry Glen Ross" reference in a tweet is aces in my book. And I agreed that even though the Isles lack size on defense, they have some young, talented blueliners in Travis Hamonic and Calvin de Haan. Why not get some more help up front and give John Tavares some players to work with?

But instead of Brett Connolly (who went one pick later to Tampa Bay — you wonder if Stevie Y was rubbing his hands together with glee), the Islanders went with Niederreiter, who shined for Switzerland at the World Junior Championships, as well as with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League, scoring 36 goals in his rookie season. The 18-year-old center has mad skills (witness his one-handed goal) and let's face it, the Isles need more juice on offense.

Trading two picks to move up and take Brock Nelson at No. 30 was bold, but Garth Snow has shown that he'll make the move to get the guy he wants. Nelson is big and will get bigger at North Dakota. The Islanders added more size with Jason Clark later in the third round, and finally got a defenseman with Tony DeHart in the fifth round. DeHart paired with de Haan at Oshawa.

I refuse to give out a draft grade. These are 17- and 18-year-olds. Who knows how they'll pan out? But it certainly looks like the Islanders came away with some talented and potentially exciting players, who could give us fans plenty to cheer about in the coming seasons.

What about this season? With the July 1 free agent period just days away, the Isles will be in a position to fill some of their more immediate holes. One request — can we get UFA Eric Nystrom on this team? I'm sure his dad will allow him to wear No. 23.

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