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Isles wheel and deal to accelerate rebuilding program

Saturday, 06.27.2009 / 4:31 PM / 2009 NHL Entry Draft

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

MONTREAL -- The NHL Trading Deadline comes in late February or early March. But for the New York Islanders, their main trade time seems to come at the Entry Draft.

For the second year in a row, the Islanders were among the biggest movers and shakers at the draft, this time trading up twice in the first round in order to select highly skilled Oshawa Generals defenseman Calvin de Haan with the 12th pick.

The Islanders entered the 2009 Entry Draft as the only team with two first-round picks. They also had three second-round selections and two third-round picks.

The Isles started the selection process by choosing London Knights center John Tavares. The dynamic scorer gives the Islanders the No. 1 center they need for their rebuilding plan and should give their anemic offense -- they were 29th in the League in goals per game last season -- a major boost.

The Isles' second pick started at No. 26. But to get the player they wanted, they felt they had to move up -- and more important, they felt they had the ammunition to do it.

They jumped to No. 16 in a trade with Columbus that saw them send No. 26, plus second-, third-, and fourth-round picks to the Blue Jackets. Then they sent the No. 16 pick, plus another third-rounder and a seventh-round pick, to the Minnesota Wild to move up to No. 12, which they used to choose de Haan.

"Calvin was a player we identified coming out of our meetings," Islanders GM Garth Snow told NHL.com. "We made a significant jump from 26 to 16 and wanted to make sure we still were in a position to draft Calvin and we did that with Minnesota."

But Snow wasn't done. He recouped two of the picks he had sent to Columbus by making another transaction with the Blue Jackets, exchanging another second-round pick (No. 56) for picks 62 and 92.

In all the Islanders ended up with seven selections, including the first pick in each of the first six rounds.

"We do have a system we're using, a process," Snow said, "and we believe in it. The key is when we identify a prospect, we can move up or we can move down and acquire picks. We stick to our guns and we're going to get them."

While moving up was the theme of this year's draft, last year it was about moving back and stockpiling picks. That started when the Isles switched spots in the first round with the Toronto Maple Leafs, swapping the fifth pick for the seventh, and in the process picking up a 2008 third-round pick and a 2009 second-round pick. That second-rounder (No. 37) became the pick they sent to Columbus to start the process of moving up to grab de Haan.

They quickly dropped down two more spots in a deal with the Nashville Predators that saw them pick up an extra '08 second-round pick.

At No. 9, they selected center Josh Bailey, who made the team out of training camp and had 25 points in 68 games.

The real bounty came in the next two rounds, as the Isles ended up with three second-round and three third-round picks. Among the selections were impressive defensemen Aaron Ness, Travis Hamonic and Jyri Niemi, plus Russian right wing Kirill Petrov, who was NHL Central Scouting's second-rated European player.

Petrov slipped to the third round because of fears he wouldn't be able to come to North America. But with so many selections, the Islanders were able to take a chance and hope their gamble pays off.

That kind of bravery on draft day has become a hallmark of the Islanders.

"It's about getting the players you want," director of amateur scouting Ryan Jankowski said. "I think it's been very consistent the last couple years that when we identify the players we want, we do what we can to get them. Last year it involved trading down, this year it involved trading up. The assets we were able to put together from trading down last year we were able to use this year to trade up and get the player we wanted in the first round."

To make all those moves requires a combination of skill and luck.

"You have to have a good understanding of what's happening at the draft," Jankowski said. "You have to have a good understanding of who's going to be where, which we feel we do."

On Day 2 of the 2009 Entry Draft, the Islanders' haul started with a pair of giant goaltenders. With the first pick of the second round (No. 31), they selected 6-foot-5 goalie Mikko Koskinen from Espoo Blues in the top Finnish league. With the 62nd pick -- one they sent to and got back from Columbus -- they chose 6-5, 220-pound netminder Anders Nilsson from Lulea in the Swedish junior league.

"Mikko's come a long way in the last couple of years," Jankowski said. "He was one of the top goalies in Finland, and he took his team to the finals of the Elite League and we felt that with his size and potential that he's going to be able to help us."

In the fourth round (No. 92), they selected Mississauga center Casey Cizikas, who had 16 goals and 35 points in 56 OHL games this season.

"Casey's a very talented player, he is very skilled and has a lot of hockey sense," Jankowski said. "We didn't think he's be around in the fourth round, and it was a very pleasant surprise that he was there."

In the fifth round (No. 122), they chose Russian defenseman Anton Klementyev, and with their final pick, in the sixth round (No. 152), they took 6-2, 209-pound Edina (Minn.) High School center Anders Lee.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com