By Chris Botta
Over the last week at the franchise's offices at Nassau Coliseum, Islanders chief scout Tony Feltrin and the rest of his team have held their latest round of meetings in preparation for the 2006 NHL Draft on June 24.
A sneek peak at the meetings witnessed more than a dozen men with their laptops and notebooks open, making serious and sincere pitches on behalf of the young men they believe deserve to be part of the next wave of New York Islanders.
"The staff has established what a New York Islander stands for," said Feltrin during a break. "Committed, dedicated, relentless, passionate and a great teammate. We've done well the last few years bringing along players like Jeremy Colliton and Sean Bergenheim, Blake Comeau and Robert Nilsson, Chris Campoli and Bruno Gervais and Ryan O'Marra and Petteri Nokelainen. We need to continue to find more."
What's different about this year's draft is that the Islanders hold the seventh overall pick, their earliest since selecting Rick DiPietro first overall in 2000. Feltrin's staff has been able to get great value in the first round in Nilsson (15th overall in 2003), Bergenheim (22nd in 02), Nokelainen (16th in 04) and O'Marra (15th in 05). At pick number seven next month, the Islanders could grab a world-class talent.
When asked which youngster is most likely to throw on the blue Islanders jersey with 06 and his nameplate on the back, Feltrin would not take the bait. The perception around the league is that anything could happen within the lottery picks. Perhaps that is best illustrated by the story of Phil Kessel, the American phenom believed for years to be the slam-dunk pick at No. 1 in 2006. Now word is the super-skilled scoring forward could go anywhere from the first pick to the eighth.
Feltrin knows it's the job of his staff to be ready for anything. Part of the job is not just knowing which kids have the most ability, but having a feel for what the other 29 teams may do with their picks. That's why, just as any draftnik fan might do before the NHL, NBA or NFL drafts, Feltrin and company have their own version of the mock draft.
"We have done our homework and will continue to do so right until the day of the draft," said Feltrin. "We have a good idea of which player will go where and what each team is looking for, so I could easily narrow it down to which prospects will be there for us at 7. I'm very proud of the work this staff has done over the last few years. I know we will be ready."
On Monday, the Islanders' regional scouts returned to their home bases, narrowing the meetings to just Feltrin and his three deputies Ryan Jankowski (Europe), Doug Gibson (Canada) and Jay Heinbuck (United States). Director of Player Development Dan Marshall, who has done yeoman's work the last few years communicating with all of the Islanders' prospects, is also involved. While there are plenty of more meetings ahead and prospect meetings and testing in a few weeks the staff has zeroes in on what most teams call their Priority List. Although Feltrin would not divulge how long the Islanders' Priority List is, NHL teams usually focus on their view of the top 50 - 100 prospects in the draft.
The staff has a lot to work with on June 24 as a result of the Islanders' trades in the second half of last season to move veterans, provide some cap flexibility and, most importantly, add draft picks.
"As a scout, the more picks the better," said Jankowski. "Mike (Milbury) did a great job acquiring early round picks like he did in the deals with New Jersey, Phoenix and Dallas. "There's no doubt that if we execute, we will be able to add several excellent young players to our system."
The NYI's Best Picks from 2002 - 2004
Sean Bergenheim (22nd overall)
Frans Nielsen (3rd round)
Robert Nilsson (15th overall)
Jeremy Colliton (2nd round)
Bruno Gervais (6th round)
Igor Volkov (8th round)
Petteri Nokelainen (16th overall)
Blake Comeau (2nd round)
Wes O'Neill (4th round)
Steve Regier (5th round)
Chris Campoli (7th round)
Jason Pitton (8th round)