James Nichols The Hockey Writers
Islanders Have Long Struggled With Prospect Development
The New York Islanders have plenty of handpicked talent through the NHL draft in their line-up today. Mathew Barzal, Brock Nelson, Ryan Pulock are a few stand-out names that have found success at the NHL level, and are a core of this Islanders group.
However, dating back to 2011, there have been some major swings and misses in drafting and developing “high-end” prospects. And unfortunately, some of those players have moved on from Long Island, and have found success with other NHL organizations. Bridgeport Sound Tigers head coach Brent Thompson made the cut when general manager Lou Lamoriello took over the Islanders’ front office.
With the slow progress of some players drafted in recent years, it begs the question, what’s with the lack of development?
Ryan Strome was selected by the Islanders fifth overall in the 2011 NHL Draft. The former Niagara IceDog was drafted with the intent to give the Islanders a solid No. 2 center behind John Tavares, who they drafted first overall two years prior. In his draft year, the centerman scored 33 goals, and added a whopping 73 helpers for a total of 106 points in the OHL. It seemed as though the Islanders had their one-two punch solidified for years to come in the NHL down the middle at the center position.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. Strome was returned to Niagara for more seasoning, as he wasn’t quite ready for the NHL, which is normal for a player with raw talent from ages 18 to 21. After his final season concluded with the IceDogs in the 2012-13 season, Strome went to Bridgeport for a taste of professional hockey.
The small stint was seen as a success, as he accrued seven points in 10 games. The following season, the Ontario native started the year in Bridgeport with 49 points in 37 games, which was exciting for what the Islanders had hoped he would contribute. It was a matter of time before a call-up was in order, and the Islanders did just that mid-December, and he played the final 37 games of the season.
Through the rest of the year, Strome contributed 18 points for the Islanders, and got his feet wet in the NHL. It seemed as though things were trending in the right direction when, in his sophomore year, Strome contributed 50 points in 81 games during the 2014-15 season, but in the following seasons to come, the point totals were not where the Islanders had hoped they would be.
Garth Snow and the Islanders mismanaged the development of their potential stud No. 2 center. Strome was seeing success at the AHL level, and was unfortunately rushed to the NHL level. It’s true that in his sophomore year, Strome seemed to have figured it out, yet he lacked the line-mates to help him continue his success and build his confidence for the years to come.
It’s likely had the former fifth overall pick needed more seasoning at the AHL level to help him adjust to the speed and size of the professional game. Strome was later traded to the Edmonton Oilers in the offseason before the 2017-18 season, in exchange for winger Jordan Eberle, and saw the same struggles in Edmonton, and was once again traded, this time to the New York Rangers.
Now playing on the other side of New York, Strome has found a home (‘Ryan Strome on Islanders rock bottom, trade deadline, all things Rangers,’ New York Post, 01/24/2020). The centerman is having a career year with the Rangers, and has made name for himself on Broadway, centering the second line featuring Artemi Panarin. It’s ironic that at the moment, the Islanders could use a center of Strome’s caliber, and they would probably still have him had Snow and company developed him right.
Just like Strome, Nino Niederreiter was drafted fifth overall by the Islanders, this time in the 2010 NHL Draft.
What is it about the Islanders not developing their fifth overall picks?
The Switzerland native was drafted to score goals for the Islanders, as he potted 36 in his rookie year with the Portland Winterhawks, and 41 the year after, right after he was drafted. Niederreiter got a nine-game look in the NHL the fall after he was drafted, but only contributed two points and was sent back to Portland to develop.
Niederreiter was never even given a chance to succeed on Long Island. He was called up mid November of the 2011-12 season, and rode the entire year out on the fourth line. He was slotted next to Marty Reasoner and Jay Pandolfo, both at the back ends of their careers, but with not much left in the tank. It really showed too, as the rookie was only able to tally one point in his first NHL season, 55 games.
The Islanders were nothing to write home about in the 2011-12 season. Aside from Tavares, their top players were Matt Moulson, P.A. Parenteau, Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen. Josh Bailey (another player who was misdeveloped, however found his way with the Isles) hadn’t broken out yet, and there was simply no one to match Niederreiter up with, anyway. Another season in the AHL would have probably have helped the development of Niederreiter, but instead, he was stowed away in the bottom six.
In the following offseason, Niederreiter’s agent requested he be traded, and the Minnesota Wild jumped at the opportunity – they sent the Islanders Cal Clutterbuck and a third-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft. Niederreiter found success in his second full season in the NHL with the Wild, scoring 14 goals in the 2013-14 season, and moving on to have multiple 20-plus goal seasons with the Wild.
Plugging the winger into a top six role brought the best out of the young player, and the Islanders once again watched as one of their draft picks found success with another organization in the NHL. Just as we mentioned earlier with Strome, the Islanders sure could use a player like Nino with their current scoring struggles.
Griffin Reinhart’s player profile on Elite Prospects readsm “a large defenseman with solid skills at both ends of the ice. A strong player with room for improvement in his physical game. Defensively sound. Gives a good first pass and skates well considering his large frame. Not a flashy player but provides good all-round talent and is capable of handling big minutes.”
Unfortunately, this is not at all what the Islanders received when they drafted him fourth overall at the 2012 NHL draft.
The former Wheat Kings captain and CHL All-Star did not see his skill set translate to the NHL, or the AHL for that matter. The Isles had thought Reinhart was a safe pick – a stay-at-home two-way defenseman. He had the make of a No. 1 defenseman you build around, however, he just couldn’t figure it out. He was sent back to the Wheat Kings in the same year he was drafted. The following year, he got an eight-game tryout with the Islanders, but was sent down to Bridgeport, where he had some success, but it was clear to the organization that he was not the defenseman they had hoped for.
Snow was quick to move on from the former top-five draft pick, having seen that he was not what they had believed the team drafted. Peter Chiarelli and the Oilers took on Reinhart in exchange for the 16th and 33rd picks in the 2015 NHL Draft. Those selections turned into Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier (thank you, Mr. Chiarelli).
The Islanders didn’t get much of a chance to try and develop the young defenseman before trading him, and that’s due to the fact that Snow realized before others did that he wasn’t going to cut it in the NHL. That still holds true today, as Reinhart only suited up for the Oilers 29 times, and is now overseas playing in the KHL.
Make that three prospects in three consecutive years that Snow mishandled or reached for in the NHL draft. In the following years to come, the Islanders had a little more luck drafting players, but there are still some blips in player development.
Michael Dal Colle
If only the Islanders got a re-do button. They selected Michael Dal Colle at (you guessed it) fifth overall in the 2014 NHL draft. The Ontario native made a name for himself in the OHL as a top talent in the Canadian Hockey League. The Islanders believed they were getting an elite forward who would be able to contribute an abundance of offense, leaving names like William Nylander, Nikolaj Ehlers and David Pasternak on the board.
The Islanders were slow with their newest prospect, sending him back to juniors and letting him build confidence dominating at the junior level. In 2016-17, Dal Colle played with the Sound Tigers tallying 41 points in 75 games.
Once again, things seemed to be going decently well for the young prospect. Since the 2017-18 season, Dal Colle has bounced between the AHL and NHL level, however, he is being used in a different role than what he was drafted for at the NHL level. In 77 games in the NHL, the forward has only collected 17 points between three seasons.
The current NHL season is the first time in his career that Dal Colle has found himself in the lineup on a nightly basis, but it’s not for his offense. The forward is being utilized in a third-line checking role, occasionally contributing a point here and there, but the offense he was drafted for is no longer the player he is. Dal Colle was forced to change his style of play if he wanted to last in the NHL, and it seems as though he is now a bottom-six checking forward.
It’s possible you read a few days ago that Josh Ho-Sang still has value. And it’s true, we remember the holdout, we know he’s back, and we see he’s contributing at the AHL level. Ho-Sang was drafted 28th overall in the same first-round Dal Colle was taken in. There was cause for concern with the young talent, as he had a reputation of getting himself into trouble off the ice, but the talent was obvious on the ice, and Snow rolled the dice.
Ho-Sang dominated the OHL with multiple 80-plus point seasons as one of the league’s best playmakers. When he was drafted, he compared himself to Patrick Kane. There have been plenty of distractions with the Toronto native off the ice, and maybe that’s what’s keeping him at the AHL level this long, but as of late, things have been quiet on the Ho-Sang front.
He’s finding offensive success in Bridgeport, and the consistent slight to his game is he needs to learn how to play away from the puck. Brent Thompson has yet to help the young winger figure that part of his game out. There is still time for growth, but the window is closing, and as you can see with the prior prospects, there hasn’t been much, if any success in developing offensive threats.
Had the Islanders developed these players, they would look like an entirely different team right now. The kind of team that likely could find themselves going for a deep playoff run, and possible Stanley Cup Final appearance. Had the above forwards prospects reached their full potential, an Islanders lineup under head coach Barry Trotz could look like this:
Dal Colle – Barzal – Ho-Sang
Beauvillier – Nelson – Niederreiter
Lee – Strome – Bailey
Martin – Cizikas – Johnston
The Islanders would be without Barzal and Beauvillier if it weren’t for moving on from Reinhart, so let’s leave that one alone. A lack of patience with prospects, allowing them to develop at the stages below the NHL, and reaching for prospects higher than they should have been drafted ultimately resulted in a couple of flops at the draft. In more recent years, the Islanders have found some success with drafting players like Noah Dobson and Oliver Wahlstrom. Hopefully, the development process continues in this direction.
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