By B.D. Gallof, WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — If there were any concerns about the state of the Islanders’ defensive prospects heading into last weekend’s draft, they’ve been addressed.
And then some.
The Islanders selected seven defensemen in Pittsburgh, many big, hulking brutes. And believe it or not, there was a simple method to this madness: each time it was their turn they looked at their board and selected best player available.
It just so happens that seven times out of seven the board screamed defenseman.
Nothing has been more tricky than trying to predict the Islanders’ draft system. It has baffled many, including myself. Over the weekend I became the latest victim as five years of not taking a defenseman in the first round got washed away by a surprising move for Griffin Reinhart, a beast on the blue line considered to be an eventual lock for the first pairing.
Prior to making that pick, the Islanders traded for veteran Lubomir Visnovsky, a player that will help their blue line immediately.
But more on that in a bit.
WHO IS GRIFFIN REINHART?
As HockeyProspect.com guru Mark Edwards told us here back last week,“We have Griffin Reinhart ranked 4th overall.” Evidently, so did the Islanders as they took him in that spot on Friday night.
In fact, in HockeyProspect.com’s Black Book, they have this summation on Reinhart: “There is so much potential in Reinhart’s game that we could not ignore. No other defenseman in the draft has his size, physicality, offensive and defensive skills put into one. If he can continue to work on his overall game and particularly his skating, he will be a force to be reckoned with for many years to come in the NHL.”
Edwards added this about Reinhart: “Like NHL teams, I love the players that ooze hockey smarts. Griffin is a player with a high hockey IQ. When I watch the intelligence he shows on the ice, along with poise and his natural physical tools, it’s easy to rank him with the top players in this draft class. I see a kid with huge upside based on size, skill and smarts. I have gone back and forth between Griffin and Ryan Murray since Christmas.”
McKeen’s Hockey said this about Reinhart: “His unmatched combination of size, offensive awareness, defensive zone coverage and healthy bloodlines makes him among the best and one of the safer picks of defensemen available in this year’s draft class.”
Simply said, the Islanders have not had a defenseman of this caliber since perhaps dating all the way back to Bryan Berard, the first overall pick in 1995 (by Ottawa) and Calder Trophy winner two years later; Wade Redden, the No. 2 overall selection in ’95 who was later traded to the Senators to get Berard; and Eric Brewer, taken No. 5 overall by the Islanders in 1997.
As for Reinhart, the son of solid former NHL defenseman Paul Reinhart, scouts and experts view him as a guy who could potentially play 1,000 games at the NHL level, a feat accomplished by just 279 players, regardless of position, in NHL history.
Reinhart, who stands 6-foot-4 and more than 200 pounds right now, had not communicated at all with the Islanders before Pittsburgh. As I first reported on Twitter early last week, the Islanders were plenty busy meeting potential picks, including a very public management visit with Filip Forsberg for all to see in a hotel lobby. Yet, they met with their selection, Reinhart, and also Teuvo Teravainen very quietly. Interesting tidbit, right?
Cagey GM Garth Snow chose not to address Internet leaks of all sorts of rumors of his visits. Newsday, largely considered the Islanders’ newspaper of record, even pointed out to the public who the team was visiting.
None of them were the Islanders’ choice.
Instead, while in Pittsburgh, Snow and Co. were all about business.
Reinhart is likely to remain in juniors while being carefully developed. The Islanders, who have faced heavy criticism for their handling of Nino Niederreiter and Josh Bailey, might have learned their lesson.
When will we see Reinhart on the Island beyond training camp? That’s hard to say, though many experts believe he could become a regular inside of 2-3 years, though “Islanders time” has often been different than what the predictions of the past have stated.
EVALUATING THE REST OF THE ISLANDERS’ DRAFT
Those I spoke to from the NHL and scouting community gave the Islanders high marks. Getting a top pairing defenseman in the first round was automatically a plus, but if we look deeper we see some key values in the later rounds.
Though I said on Twitter the Islanders were likely targeting first round-rated Sebastian Collberg in the second round, he was plucked by Montreal right before they could select. Instead, the Islanders took Ville Pokke, who is a projected second-pairing defenseman, a solid puck mover with power play upside. Think Bryan Rafalski, but with a bigger body. ISS rated Pokke as a second rounder.
In Adam Pelech, whom the Islanders took in the third round, they got a player many projected as a second-round selection. Pelech is considered potentially a second- or third-pairing defenseman with classic shutdown ability and size.
In the fourth and fifth rounds, respectively, we see projects with upside in Loic Leduc and Doyle Somerby. These are big, strong, nasty but raw defensive blue liners with character and size. Think Hal Gill-type players, the types you cannot have a shortage of in this NHL, especially if they prove to be good skaters.
In the sixth round, the Islanders made another excellent pick in Jesse Graham. ISS considered him a third-round pick. He is a great skating offensive defensemen, much like last year’s selection of Brandon Kichon and former pick Jared Spurgeon.
Their last pick, in the seventh round, was Jake Bischoff, a defender with two-way upside.
If we look at the Islanders’ defensive selections historically, we see that they have looked for projects with upside and occasional long-term home run potential, but, again, all of that depends on development.
THE GUNSLINGER FROM ANAHEIM
Despite the deluge of defensive picks, the Islanders made themselves immediately better on the blue line by trading for 35-year-old Lubomir Visnovsky.
This former All-Star is only a season removed from a whopping 68 points, that despite a disappointing showing in what was a bit of a team-wide mess last season in Anaheim. By shipping off a second-round pick in next year’s draft, the Islanders got possibly a new number 1 power play quarterback, a player that could prove to be a go-between next to captain Mark Streit, who, with his 50 points last season despite a slow start after missing a full season due to injury, is no slouch.
With the addition of Visnovsky, the Islanders now have two very good puck-moving defensemen, pieces that could prove to be solid difference makers in getting the forwards the puck on their way to helping fix what was an often inconsistent offense in 2011-12.
Folks, this trade was a serious statement to support Snow’s claim that next season will be about a lot more than simply competing.
For a moment Sunday there was fan confusion on Twitter and the rest of the Internet as a roughly translated story about Visnovsky surfaced from Hokej Portal in the Czech Republic. It left up in the air the possibility that Visnovsky would consider the KHL in addition to the Islanders. However, Newsday’s Arthur Staple contacted Visnovsky and dispelled this unclear yet apparently rampant rumor, with Visnovsky saying that he would be ready for camp and would play for the Islanders.
Even though the Islanders were very active at the draft, they are not done. More spaces need to be filled, and free agency is only a week away. I will have more on that later this week.
Please read more columns by B.D. Gallof and follow him on Twitter at @BDGallof.
Are you happy with the Islanders’ draft? Do you like the trade for Visnovsky? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below. …