James Nichols The Hockey Writers
A Look Back at the New York Islanders’ 2008 Draft
The 2008 NHL Draft was one of the longer drafts for the New York Islanders in the seven-round draft era. In fact, 2008 was the last time that the team owned double-digit draft picks, making 13 selections that year. At the time, this draft was seen as a turning point in the rebuilding franchise.
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12 years later, a few of the Islanders selections are key contributors still today. Others have moved on from the team, finding themselves within different organizations, and the rest have simply fizzled out of the NHL. There are some unfortunate swing and misses such as Erik Karlsson, Roman Josi and ironically, Jordan Eberle. The plethora of draft picks then-general manager Garth Snow accrued didn’t exactly revitalize the team the way he had hoped, but it was a start.
9th Overall, Josh Bailey
Heyyyyyyyyyyy Josh Bailey! (from ‘From confounding fans to earning a place in Islanders lore, Josh Bailey has stayed true to himself,’ The Athletic, 11/19/2019). The ninth pick of the 2008 Draft was drafted as a center and was thought of as one of the building blocks for the Islanders’ future. Although it didn’t quite work out that way, the now veteran forward did end up becoming an important piece for the Islanders.
It took some time before Bailey was regarded as a contributing top-six forward. He spent no time in the AHL for the first two years of his NHL career, then began the 2010-11 season in Bridgeport, but only spent 11 games there and hasn’t been back down since. Up until the 2014-15 season, fans wrote him off as a bust, only having contributed a career-high 41 points by his seventh season with the Islanders.
In 2016-17, Bailey finally broke out with a 56-point season and followed that up in the 2017-18 season with a 71-point outburst, including 31 on the power play. In an interview with Laura Albanese of Newsday, Bailey spoke about the celebration among Islanders fans whenever he scores a goal that attributes DJ Otzi version of Bruce Channel’s “Hey Baby.” “It’s special,” said Bailey, who also scored in overtime in Game 1. “It’s great to have that many people behind you — definitely a feeling [that’s] unmatched for sure.” (from ‘Josh Bailey is producing, and Islanders fans are getting behind him,’ Newsday, 04/13/2019)
Fans in Long Island (and Brooklyn) had to wait a little while before Bailey asserted himself as one of the main contributing pieces of this team, but the wait was worth it. Now, he is viewed as one of the cornerstones of the team, and an important part of the Islanders’ picture moving forward.
36th Overall, Corey Trivino
Corey Trivino was seen as a first-round pick who fell to the second round. The Islanders had thought they had drafted a steal, a forward who could fill the net. He attended Boston University post-draft and led the team in scoring. That is until the young prospect got himself into what was said to be “uncharacteristic” trouble.
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Trivino was linked to an incident that reported he forced his way into a female student’s dorm. He was later charged with three counts of indecent assault and battery, two counts of breaking and entering in the nighttime and one count of assault with attempt to rape. Unfortunately, the incident resulted in the centerman never seeing the NHL – he’s instead had multiple stints in leagues overseas such as the KHL, VHL, and DEL2.
40th Overall, Aaron Ness
Four picks after Trivino, Aaron Ness was selected, and also attended college post-draft. By his junior year of college, Ness impressed on the blueline and earned himself an entry-level deal with the Islanders. Things were looking up for Ness, and one of the only obstacles he looked like he had to hurdle was his size.
Ness received a nine-game stint in the NHL during the 2011-12 season, but things didn’t work out too well, as he contributed no points and didn’t see the NHL after that until the 2013-14 season. The small defenseman only played in 20 games for the Islanders in 2013-14, only contributing three points, and was a minus-13. Two more seasons passed, and the Islanders ultimately decided to move on from the former second-round draft pick.
Still trying to find his way in the NHL, Ness signed a two year, two-way contract with the Arizona Coyotes. In an interview with Craig Morgan of The Athletic, Ness said, “I have had some good years where I still didn’t get call-ups, and then some teams have different ideas of who is going to be in those spots, but the great thing is you meet a lot of good people along the way and you never forget why you play the game.” (from ‘Ten-year pro-Aaron Ness is still chasing his NHL dream,’ The Athletic, 12/15/2019)
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It’s true that Ness had some good years, such as the 2018-19 AHL season with the Hershey Bears. The defenseman accrued a total of 55 points that likely led to the current contract he has with Arizona. Even though he’s not wearing orange and blue, it’s nice to see the former Islanders prospect still working hard and getting chances.
53rd Overall, Travis Hamonic
There was a time when it was believed that Travis Hamonic was the best player the Islanders pulled from the 2008 Draft. Collecting a plethora of picks will sometimes lead to a diamond in the rough, and that’s what happened when the Islanders took him at 53rd overall.
It only took two seasons before Hamonic received his call up to the NHL, and certified himself as one of the Islanders’ best defensemen, and a leader on the team. Aside from a brief stint in the AHL in 2012-13 season, Hamonic has spent the majority of his time in the NHL since his initial call-up.
Hamonic certified himself as the Islanders trusted, shut-down defenseman, lining up against opposing teams best players on most shifts, such as the Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin. He became a leader on and off the ice, as at the end of each home game, the defenseman had a new friend waiting to meet him who suffered the same unfortunate loss Travis had in the past.
There came a dark time for Hamonic where he felt forced to request a trade from the Islanders to move closer to his home of Winnipeg due to a family member developing a serious illness. However, things stabilized for the Hamonics back home, and Travis instead signed a seven-year extension with the club.
“It’s huge,” defenseman Nick Leddy said. “He’s an exceptional player but an even better guy. He’s a great guy to have around in the locker room. He’s the type of guy that you want to be playing with.”
Hamonic was a great service to the Islanders until he was traded to the Calgary Flames for a 2018 first and second-round pick, plus a 2019 second. The first-rounder in 2018 turned into rookie defenseman Noah Dobson, and the following picks became Ruslan Iskhakov and Samuel Bolduc.
Still in Calgary, Hamonic is relied on as a defensive defenseman who skates in the top four. After the 2019-20 season, he will be a UFA, and a homecoming with Winnipeg might not be out of the question.
66th Overall, David Toews, and 72nd Overall, Jyri Niemi
No, you read that wrong. It’s not Devon, it’s David Toews. The main difference is that this one is actually related to Jonathan of the Chicago Blackhawks. The Islanders selected the center in the third round, however, things quickly did not work out for the lesser of the Toews brothers.
David’s career never got started with the Islanders, and thus he was traded from the organization to be given a shot with his brother on the Blackhawks. Toews never surpassed the ECHL, and his last recorded season was 2013-14. Chalk this pick up to a loss.
Jyri Niemi was yet another selection with a short stint in the Islanders organization. The defenseman was one of the first prospects of this batch of fresh new prospects to depart from the Islanders.
Niemi was flipped to the New York Rangers for a sixth-round pick when his two years of entry-level rights ran up. The Finnish defenseman last played in the Liiga in the 2018-19 season.
73rd Overall, Kirill Petrov
The Islanders have had a history of burying their prospects before they are given a fair shot, something fans everywhere hope will change under the new regime. However, this was not the case for Kirill Petrov.
Petrov was drafted by the Islanders already a long shot to come over to North America to play in the smaller rinks, due to having already signed with the KHL Kazan Ak-Bars.
Petrov was a big-bodied winger at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds. At his first camp with the Islanders, many were impressed with the skill set he had, and with the way he threw his body around on the ice. Yet, the forward didn’t make the Islanders out of camp, and after 13 games with the Sound Tigers, the Russian forward decided he belonged in the KHL, where he still currently resides.
96th Overall, Matt Donovan; 102nd Overall, David Ullstrom and 126th Overall, Kevin Poulin
The next three picks by Snow all had short stints with the Islanders. Matt Donovan, David Ullstrom and Kevin Poulin all at some point in their careers seemed as though they might be a contribution towards the growth of the team.
Donovan had an impressive run while playing at the University of Denver that earned him an entry-level contract with the Islanders. A few seasons later in the 2012-13 season, Donovan emerged as one of the top blueliners in the AHL, tying Justin Schultz with a league-leading 48 points among defenseman. However, the success he found with the Sound Tigers didn’t translate to the NHL level, and the Islanders opted not to qualify his offer and the Oklahoma native signed a one-year deal with the Buffalo Sabres.
At the conclusion of his time in Buffalo, Donovan played with Frolunda HC in Sweden for two years, before returning to North America. He has worked his way back into NHL appearances, skating in a few games for the Nashville Predators this season, but mainly manning the blue-line for the Milwaukee Admirals.
David Ullstrom is another pick from this draft that had promise, with little to no follow-through. Ullstrom signed with the Islanders in 2010 and reported to the Sound Tigers. He accrued 41 points in 67 games, and the following season he scored 24 goals, but only added six helpers. The Swedish forward played in 49 NHL games, but much like Donovan, his AHL success didn’t translate and took his game overseas where he is currently playing with EHC Biel of the National League.
Kevin Poulin received the call after Rick DiPietro suffered yet another injury in 2010-11. Unfortunately, he was injured shortly after and was re-assigned to the Sound Tigers. Later in his career, Poulin served as the backup to Evgeni Nabokov.
Nabakov was injured in the first round of the playoffs in the 2012-13 season, and Poulin would replace him as the starter against the No. 1-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins. Although the Islanders were eliminated from the playoffs in six games, Poulin finished the playoffs with a 1.15 GAA and .933 save percentage.
Poulin only made one more appearance for the Islanders before being placed on waivers, thus ending his tenure on Long Island. He played in a number of leagues since then such as the KHL, Swiss-A, and DEL, but is now in the Los Angeles Kings system, with the Ontario Reign.
148th overall, Matt Martin
Matt Martin quickly became a fan favorite with the Islander fans in his first full year with the club in the 2010-2011 season. Although he was a two-time 30-goal scorer with the Sarnia Sting playing next to Steven Stamkos, the Islanders knew that wasn’t what Matt would bring to the table if he made it to the professional level.
Martin spent only one season in Bridgeport, as his work ethic landed him as a staple to the Islanders’ fourth line. It wasn’t long before Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck landed with the team as well, establishing themselves as the best fourth line in the NHL, according to hockey analysts. The fan-favorite made a name for himself by throwing his body around on the ice and protecting his teammates. In the 2014-15 season, Martin set the NHL record for most hits in a single season, recording 382.
In the summer of 2016, Martin parted ways with the Islanders, signing a four-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs. However, when Lou Lamoriello took control of the team for the 2018-19 season, his first move was to reacquire the fourth liner. Lou knew restoring the identity of the most effective fourth line in hockey would be a key contribution to the Islanders’ success post-John Tavares.
Martin still skates on the Islanders’ fourth line today, and has been and always will be a leader for the organization. It’s not often you draft a player out of the fifth round that can contribute as much as Martin has over his career.
156th Overall, Jared Spurgeon
The Islanders were too quick to cut ties with Jared Spurgeon. It’s understandable why the organization may have had their doubts in an undersized defenseman. However, Spurgeon has proved he’s the one that got away out of the number of prospects the team let walk.
The Minnesota Wild invited Spurgeon to training camp in 2010-11, and he never looked back. He signed a three year, entry-level contract, played 23 games at in the AHL for the Houston Aeros, and was then recalled by the Wild, and has since been on their blue line.
Spurgeon solidified himself as a top-four defenseman with the Wild and developed himself into a dependable two-way defenseman. The Edmonton native earned himself a seven-year, $53.025 million contract extension with the Wild. In 59 games played this year, he has recorded 30 points.
175th Overall, Justin Dibenedetto
Dibenedetto was never the point collector he was in the OHL with the Sarnia Sting. After being drafted, Dibenedetto returned to the Sting as an overage player. He was named to the OHL’s second All-Star team, and awarded the Leo Lalonde Memorial Trophy as the top overage player of the year.
The offensive skills didn’t translate to the professional level, and Dibenedetto wasn’t able to evolve his game to stick around. The Canadian forward saw the NHL for just eight games, contributing just one point, and after his entry-level contract expired in the summer of 2012, he did not return to the NHL.
Dibenedetto bounced around from the Austrian Hockey League to the Swedish Hockey League and back, before ending up in the Italian Hockey League in 2014-15.
The Islanders had plenty of opportunity in this draft to be successful, yet failed to convert more often than not. 13 picks in the seven-round draft era is a lot to have, and to only score on about three of those picks (excluding Spurgeon), is tough to swallow, especially with names such as Cam Atkinson, Braden Holtby and Adam Henrique coming out of the later rounds.
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