When Neil Smith left yesterday for Vancouver and his first draft as general manager of the New York Islanders, he could not contain his enthusiasm.
"The draft is really the biggest day of the year for our franchise," said Smith. "Bill Torrey used to call it the 'lifeblood' of the Islanders. Now more than ever with the new CBA, that's definitely the case with us and I'm sure just about every team in the NHL feels the same way."
Smith has inherited one of the NHL's sharpest scouting crews and has complete faith in his new staff, led by chief amateur scout Tony Feltrin.
"Tony and his team have worked very hard in preparation for Saturday," said the Islanders' new general manager. "We're heading to Vancouver knowing that the scouting staff has done its homework and that we are ready for every situation."
The Islanders hold three important third round picks that could result in a trio of strong prospects, or give the team the flexibility to move up in the draft. The big story on Saturday, however what will have Islanders fans on the edge of their Coliseum seats at the Draft Party is what will happen in the early part of the first round.
Assuming the Islanders stay at the seventh selection and be assured it is way too early to make that assumption they will have their pick of a very impressive group of prospects. Expect stud defenseman Erik Johnson to go first overall, likely followed (in no particular order) by a trio of outstanding forwards: Phil Kessel, Jordan Staal and Jonathan Toews. There's also a good chance the consensus top European prospect, Swedish center Nicklas Backstrom, will go before pick seven. That still leaves Smith, Feltrin and Co. with an exciting group of kids to choose from.
There are two defensemen every team would love to grab, Bob Sanguinetti and Nigel Williams. There could be at least five intriguing forwards recently spotlighted on NEWYORKISLANDERS.COM: Kyle Okpuso, Bryan Little, James Sheppard, Peter Mueller and the kid so many publications have ranked at No. 7, Quebec League scorer Derick Brassard, with 44 goals in 58 games. There's also two very exciting talents from the Czech Republic: left wing Jiri Tlusty and right wing Michael Frolik. Laval's Jonathan Bernier is considered a future No. 1 goaltender.
So the Islanders will have plenty of options. As you would expect, Smith is not showing his cards.
"Here's what I can tell you," he said. "With that seventh pick, I have no doubt in my mind that we'll be bringing an impact player to Long Island."
As for the rest of his picks?
"We're going to pick as many future NHLers as we can," said Smith. "That may sound like I'm stating the obvious, but that's our goal from the first round to the last. We want to continue to add to our stable of young players that are going to be part of a Stanley Cup team."
MORE OF THE DRAFT CENTRAL '06