Exactly one month from now the hockey world will head back to Montreal for the pomp and circumstance that trumpets in prospects to the NHL ranks.
Exactly one month from now John Tavares will be taken No. 1 overall; to expect anything else would be a stretch.
But who will actually take the London Knights sniper with that pick is still up for debate. Currently, the selection belongs to the moribund New York Islanders and while many are expecting the Isles to hang onto such a prospect for dear life, don’t be surprised – or disappointed – if they decide to peddle the pick for a wider array of bodies and potential to design a franchise rebound.
After all, the precedent is there.
Last year, the Isles made not one, but two, draft day deals to move down in the order as they strengthened their prospect base. They originally stood with the No. 5 selection, but obviously didn’t feel the need or desire to settle on Luke Schenn or Nikita Filatov, so they traded the pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs for the No. 7 and a couple of later selections.
Then, not convinced about Colin Wilson, the Isles again traded down, handing Wilson to the Nashville Predators for the No. 9 pick along with a second round selection.
At the time, many were left scratching their heads, confused what the Islanders were doing. And while the players the Isles passed up could still end up being better than anything they did get, the early returns suggest Josh Bailey – he of 25 points in a 68-game rookie campaign – was a mighty fine first round selection.
But this year is different, right? This year the Isles have the No. 1 pick and a chance at a can’t-miss prospect with a scoring acumen that has some comparing him to Brett Hull.
Ah, but that is precisely why the Isles should shop this pick. If the market for the No. 1 is as wide as is suspected, New York could come out of this draft much further ahead in its rebuild than they would with Tavares alone.
Think about it: While Tavares is certainly a top-notch, blue-chip prospect any team would love to add to its arsenal, he comes with question marks. And besides, the gap between him, Victor Hedman and the rest of the high end of this draft isn’t as vast as was once believed.
If New York dealt the pick, not only could the Isles make a move with another team holding a top-10 selection, but they could likely get a couple later picks as well as a budding prospect – or two – in return. As good as Tavares is projected to be, players such as Matt Duchene, Evander Kane, Brayden Schenn, Jared Cowen or Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson would provide their own significant boost and excitement.
Call me crazy, but I think this is the course of action the Isles should take.
It’s safe to say this franchise is still more than one prospect away from a successful rebuild, but by managing their assets in a way that will expand their portfolio, the painful road back to the playoffs won’t be as long and arduous. And when they finally do get there, they will have greater depth to battle with.
No doubt Tavares will be making the jump straight to the NHL next year and will provide that team with a few more Ws – but not enough Ws to help out this Isles team right away.
If they deal Tavares for a stronger base on which to build, the worst-case scenario for the Isles is they struggle their way to another last-place finish. All that would do is put them in a position to select Taylor Hall in 2010, another can’t-miss prospect who would go high in this year’s draft.
After one more draft of wheeling, dealing and foundation-building, Hall would be a pick to hang onto and make the franchise cornerstone. Heck, if they could add a first-rounder for next year in with a Tavares deal, the 2010 draft could go a long way in finalizing a bottom-rung rehabilitation project.
I know it’s an idea long-suffering Islanders fans want no part of, but one player does not make for a great team. Choosing to go this route would mean a longer time before the fruits of management’s labor would be ripe for the picking, but boy what a harvest of talent that would be. Besides, it’s taken them this long to rebuild, what’s another year or two? I guess it comes down to whether management believes it has been granted the time to move in such a manner.
If the Isles end up with a handful of good prospects instead of the much-hyped Tavares, don’t knock them. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts and New York needs more parts before they can become a whole.
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