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by Steve Mears / New York Islanders
Steve Mears
At the Islanders’ first Open House at Nassau Coliseum last month, General Manager Garth Snow outlined his plan to build the Isles into a consistent contender. It will include “drafting wisely, developing prospects properly, and bringing in the right mix of free agents.” By no coincidence, that blueprint can be found in this year’s Stanley Cup Final. For almost two decades now, the Detroit Red Wings have been the model franchise when it comes to “building from within.”

But take a look at just how good they’ve been in all of those departments:

Henrik Zetterberg, who leads the Stanley Cup playoffs in scoring, was a 7th round pick (210th overall) back in 1999. As the story goes, sometime during the 1998-99 season, Red Wings scouts Jim Nill and Hakan Andersson were in Northern Sweden to watch former Islander Mattias Weinhandl. Instead, they were impressed by a different Swede.

Pavel Datsyuk was selected in the sixth round (171st overall) in 1998.

Tomas Holmstrom was amazingly a tenth round pick in 1994. A tenth round doesn’t even exist in the draft anymore!

These are the three guys on the best line in hockey right now. And don’t forget about Johan Franzen, a third round pick in 2004. 

Now sure, there is definitely a lot of luck involved with getting these players in such late rounds of the draft. Even Red Wings’ GM Ken Holland recently said, “if we were that good, we would’ve selected them earlier.” But they deserve a lot of credit for decades of smart building. Even Nicklas Lidstrom, the best defenseman of this generation, was a third round pick back in 1989.

So with all the talk about who the Islanders will take fifth overall in this year’s draft on June 20th, it may be the subsequent nine picks in the later rounds on June 21st that could be just as important.

Another reason why the Red Wings have been so good: the free agents they sign from the NHL’s “scrap heap” turn out to be huge performers.

Dallas Drake was signed as a free agent last summer after scoring a career-low 12 points during the entire 2006-07 season with St. Louis. Now he’s an important role player for the team that originally drafted him in the sixth round back in 1989. He was also the #1 Star in Game Six of the Western Conference Final against Dallas.

Mikael Samuelsson is a former Ranger and Penguin who had never scored more than eight goals in an NHL season, until he came to Detroit in 2005-2006. Now in three seasons with the Red Wings he’s totaled 48 goals and was the #1 Star of Game One of the Stanley Cup Final with two against his former team.

Dan Cleary was considered to be a draft bust after being picked 13th overall by Chicago and never scoring more than 14 goals in an NHL season. Detroit signed him as a free agent in October of 2005 and now he’s put together back-to-back 20-goal campaigns.

Some other random thoughts on the Stanley Cup Final:

Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall has been outstanding during this playoff year with rock solid defense and huge open-ice hits. But you can’t leave your feet to check someone. In every video montage that Versus put together of his crushing playoff hits, it seems like half of them should be charging penalties. Even I could drill someone if I got a running, flying head start.

The Penguins need to dress Georges Laraque. I understand an emphasis on having speed in the lineup against Detroit, but Laraque has proven all season that he can fight and play the game. The Islanders learned that this year when he notched two goals and two assists in the regular season series and was almost impossible to contain when he got the puck below the goal line.

Former Islander Chris Osgood should be the Conn Smythe trophy winner, if the Red Wings continue to shut down the Penguins and win the series. Even after back-to-back shutouts to begin the Final (only Martin Brodeur had done that since 1945), all of the talk is still about “the dominant Detroit defense” or the “lack of production from Malkin, Hossa, etc.” Remember two months ago, the Red Wings were tied 2-2 in their first round series with Nashville and Dominik Hasek was really struggling. Osgood started Game Five and the Wings haven’t looked back since.

Islanders Radio Play-by-Play Broadcaster Steve Mears can be reached via e-mail at

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