Now is the time to dream. Now is the time to hope. Especially for fans of teams that did not make the playoffs and are starved for young, cheap talent, today is your Hockey Christmas. Today is the NHL Entry Draft. The cast of 17-year-olds are projected, quizzed, and fawned over. Some will work out, others will flame out. But, this is the day where franchise turning points are made, for better or worse.
Until tonight, a draft pick is an unknown asset, possibly flipped for an actual name. If the draft pick is made, the player is given the hyperbolic treatment with comments such as "he hits like Dion Phaneuf" or "he has the hands of a John Tavares". The players have a few years to fill out and find their place in their organizations, but fans acquaint themselves to the newbie from Day One. One message to the fans, though: Don't fall in love. No matter how many capsules you read or YouTube highlights you watch, that player you think would make a perfect first-line center or top-pair defenseman might just go to your rival. The truth is no one really knows whether the talent will ever be realized. I must admit, as an Islanders fan, I had sleepless nights over Dan Blackburn and Hugh Jessiman. I'm just sayin'.
The 2012 NHL Entry Draft (Round 1: Friday 7pm, NBC Sports Network; Rounds 2-7: Saturday 10am, NHL Network) has a few aces at the top of the draft list and is supposed to be a relatively shallow pool of talent. But, they always say that. This is what scouts are paid for: to find the diamonds in the rough. The fifth-round pick who turns into an All-Star. The seventh-round pick who ends up carving out a 10-year NHL career. They are out there in every draft.
Locally, the Islanders are the first of the five local teams we cover (three New York-area teams plus Boston and Philadelphia) to select and they will go fourth, barring a trade, which is not out of the realm of possibility. There could be two types of trades with the Isles this year. One we have seen from GM Garth Snow and one we have not. If Snow and his scouting department are targeting a below-the-radar type like Josh Bailey was in 2008, Snow could move down and stockpile picks. But, in 2008, the reason for stockpiling the picks was to kick off the rebuild and fertilize the farm system with talented players. That is already done. Bridgeport is looking strong.
So, my guess is that the more likely scenario is to package that pick with a player or two to get a name with years left on a contract. During Snow's tenure, it has been proven time and time again that Type A free agents do not list Long Island as a potential destination. The only way to get a proven top-six forward or top-four defenseman in 2012-13 is through a trade. Snow has not done this at the draft, a draft parodied by former GM Mike Milbury in past years with his fire sales at the draft table. I have confidence Snow will take higher percentage gambles, if he gambles at all. Snow has only pulled off a star-for-asset deal once and while the Ryan Smyth trade did not bring Smyth to Long Island long-term, it did not hurt the franchise as Ryan O'Marra, the key prospect that went to Edmonton in that deadline deal, is an AHL journeyman.
Any star-for-asset trades would include a player starving for a fresh start and someone who more than a year to go on his deal. The re-signing of Evgeni Nabokov is huge because it shows a veteran may like it on the Island. The young talent is also a selling point the Islanders did not have to woo Smyth. But, the higher percentage play is to get a hungry late 20's, early 30's sniper in a deal with at least three years to go on the contract. In three seasons, the Coliseum deal will be up and the Islanders will move into a new building, be it Brooklyn or somewhere else inside or outside the New York metro. They will be good then and ready to pop, so a player would be more likely to re-sign.
The other four teams pick in the final ten picks of the first round, unless a team moves up or down. The biggest possibility of moving up belongs to the New Jersey Devils, who have the #29 pick in the first round, mainly because the Devils have to pay the NHL back with a draft pick in the next couple of years as reparations for the obscene contract they gave to star Ilya Kovalchuk. Ironically enough, that same contract may make it tough to sign Zach Parise and keep him in the Garden State. GM Lou Lamoriello decided against giving this pick away, which is the second-lowest pick you can get in the top round. So, the prevailing thinking is either Lamoriello will package the pick for a player or move up.
Assuming the teams stay where they are, here are my picks for the top 10 picks of the 1st round and the local 1st round picks:
- Edmonton - RW Nail Yakupov - Sarnia
- Columbus - RW Filip Forsberg - Leksand
- Montreal - D Ryan Murray - Everett
- N.Y. Islanders - D Matthew Dumba - Red Deer
- Toronto - D Morgan Rielly - Moose Jaw
- Anaheim - F Mikhail Grigorenko - Quebec
- Minnesota - F Alex Galchenyuk - Sarnia
- Carolina - D Cody Ceci - Ottawa
- Winnipeg - D Griffin Reinhart - Edmonton
- Tampa Bay - F Radek Faksa - Kitchener
- Philadelphia - F Thomas Wilson - Plymouth
- Boston - D Dalton Thrower - Saskatoon
- N.Y. Rangers - F Stefan Matteau - U.S. NTDP
- New Jersey - G Malcolm Subban - Belleville