The Best Draft Class New York Islanders in History

New York Islanders Best Draft Class
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NHL teams build their teams in many different ways. Some construct their clubs via free agency while others do it through trades. However, the main way teams create a roster is through the NHL Draft. Most years have maybe one or two players make the roster, but some years the general manager gets it right and gets a cornerstone or two for the franchise. The Last Word on Hockey is doing the best draft class for each team with the exception of the Seattle Kraken. Today we look at the New York Islanders best draft class.

New York Islanders Best Draft Class: 2009

The challenge in selecting a single draft class from the Islanders is that their greatest successes were concentrated. Four straight Stanley Cup Championships from 1979-80 to 1982-83 makes for a somewhat biased historical memory. The expectation is that if you go back from this dynasty, surely there will be a brilliant year to knock the rest out of the competition. The Islanders best draft class must surely come in the 1970s.

And that’s true, of course. Partially. It’s not long before those dominant teams you find Mike Bossy, Clark Gillies, Denis Potvin, Bob Nystrom… All of whom were taken in different years. There were other players drafted with them, but never quite enough to let them win this best of challenge. Nystrom was drafted with Billy Harris. Potvin was followed by 1000-game man Dave Lewis. The first-round pick of Clark Gillies was joined by second-round selection Bryan Trottier. Both Bossy and John Tonelli were vital parts of all four Stanley Cup wins.

They lose a few marks for the Islanders having between eight and 19 picks in any one of those years, too. That hitting percentage – six NHL players in seven picks – tilts the scales in favour of the Class of 2009.*

John Tavares – 1st round, 1st overall

He played only 56 games in 2020-21, and as a result, missed scoring 20 goals for the first time in his career. In twelve seasons, John Tavares‘ shooting percentage has never dropped below 10.8%. In 669 games on Long Island, he scored 272 goals and 621 points. Leaving to join the Toronto Maple Leafs, he got even better.

Immediately incorporated in the leadership group – the Leafs had no captain in 2018-19, but Tavares wore an A for them – he has scored 92 goals and 198 points in 201 games. In arguably the highest-pressure market, he’s the captain, the spokesman, and a top-three scorer. All told a solid first-overall selection.

Calvin de Haan – 1st round, 12th overall

Calvin de Haan has never been a star in the NHL, but he has been in the league for eight seasons and has scored in all of them. Usually just one goal, but that counts, right? But teams need defenders who can defend as well, and de Haan qualifies. He may have been able to contribute more if he could ever remain healthy, but as a solid middle-pair defenceman he’ll always find work.

Mikko Koskinen – 2nd round, 31st overall

It took a late return to salvage this selection for the New York Islanders best draft class. But as much criticism as Mikko Koskinen has received, he was either the best or among the best goaltenders in the KHL for five seasons before being coaxed to the Edmonton Oilers. The deal may not have worked out quite how the Oilers hoped, but they aren’t the most goalie-friendly team, either. Whatever his success has been, the Islanders drafted a starting goaltender with their third pick in 2009.

Anders Nilsson – 3rd round, 62nd overall

Their next selection didn’t make it to a starter’s role except for briefly with the Ottawa Senators 2018-19 after his trade from the Vancouver Canucks. But they did select a player who has been in 161 NHL games over seven years. He’s still played the third-highest number of NHL games of all goalies in the draft that year with 161 – followed by Koskinen’s 123.

Casey Cizikas – 4th round, 92nd overall

Casey Cizikas is a free agent for now, but not on the basis of his play. Defensive forwards are feeling the squeeze with a flat salary cap hitting when he enters free agency. His lost deal was over $3 million, and despite his experience, it’s likely he’s going to take a reduction in pay. He plays a hard, agitating game and his injury history shows it. But he found his game early, and it’s kept him in the league for a decade.

Yes, Cizikas is a fourth-line defensive specialist who gets all the worst jobs and starts 70% of his plays in the defensive end. He’s also done that for 590 NHL games, and it’s hard to think he won’t find a home this season.

Anders Lee – 6th round, 152nd overall

The Islanders best draft class includes not only their previous captain but their current one. Unfortunately, Anders Lee needed to undergo surgery, ending his 2020-21 season in March. When he’s healthy, he’s a front-line player, scoring 100 goals and 175 points in his past four seasons. That’s 259 games, as Lee has normally been as healthy as his scoring. He is a mirror image of Cizikas, getting 68% of his starts in the attacking zone and being a power-play star. Of those 100 goals, 29 were on the power-play.

More importantly, he’s the captain of his team and a big reason for their success – and he was taken 152nd overall in 2009. That’s a home run, and a perfect way to cap off the Islanders best draft class ever.

Honourable Mentions

In 1997 the Islanders drafted Roberto Luongo and Eric Brewer fourth and fifth overall respectively. Brewer went on to play 1009 games as a decent defensive defenceman, but the star was Luongo. Luongo went on to not only have an excellent career as one of the best goaltenders of his era, but he also played the second-most regular-season NHL games in league history. He’s one of just three to break the 1,000 games mark, reaching 1,044.
It’s a third-rounder who stands out in 1996. Head and shoulders above the rest, really, playing over 1600 NHL regular-season games and still going. Zdeno Chara was selected 56th overall and has 207 goals, 666 points, and often the hardest slapshot in the league.
*For the record, the seventh pick in 2009 was defender Anton Klementyev in the fifth round, 122nd overall. Even he made it to the NHL, but just for one game.
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