To say last year was a down season is an overstatement. But it's all about getting back into the playoffs.
To compete now, the New York Islanders moved the 13th overall pick to acquire Montreal Canadiens defenseman Alexander Romanov. That left them with picks in rounds two through six to help invigorate their prospect pool that has looked barren for a couple of seasons now.
Their top pick in last year’s draft was Aatu Räty, the Finnish center that was originally projected to go in the top three but fell off production-wise in the Liiga and wound up being taken at 52nd overall in 2021. He was rejuvenated when he switched teams and scored 40 points in 41 games with Jukurit, seemingly capturing what so many saw in him before his draft year. After signing his entry-level deal after the Liiga season, he started his North American career with a solid AHL playoff run with Bridgeport.
William Dufour put on an absolute show in the QMJHL this past season, scoring 56 goals and 116 points en route to capturing the league MVP and helping the Saint Johns Sea Dogs capture the Memorial Cup. He's also set to join Bridgeport this upcoming season and could be a force offensively fairly quickly at the AHL level. Simon Holmström is another Bridgeport player with promise but a slight step back last season has some concerned. Holmström’s ability to attack off the rush, use his speed, set up dekes with head fakes, and weave deception into his game are all still evident, he just wasn’t able to find the scoresheet all that often. The potential is still there though.
On the backend, things are equally as underwhelming, unfortunately. Samuel Bolduc saw a step back last season, struggling to defend against speed and use the physical tools that make him one of the Islanders’ more intriguing blueline prospects. His offensive game isn’t going to earn him a job, but he can make a steady pass up ice to get the breakout started. Bode Wilde is still a mystery as the Islanders sent him overseas due to his refusal to get vaccinated prior to last season and his year in the Allsvenskan, Sweden’s second-tier league, was quite a disappointment.
On the blueline, Calle Odelius and Isaiah George are nice additions to the prospect pool. Quinn Finley and Matt Maggio are pieces that could find themselves as solid NHL role players down the line, but both have long paths ahead of them. The Islanders' prospect pool doesn’t just lack high-end talent in terms of a grade-A prospect, but it lacks depth as well.
2022 NHL Draft Class
Round 2 (65 Overall) - Calle Odelius, D, Djurgardens Jr. (J20 Nationall)
Round 3 (78 Overall) - Quinn Finley, LW, Madison Capitols (USHL)
Round 4 (98 Overall) - Isaiah George, D, London Knights (OHL)
Round 5 (142 Overall) - Matthew Maggio, RW, Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
Round 6 (174 Overall) - Daylan Kuefler, LW, Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
With Romanov in the fold and the 13th overall pick out the door, Calle Odelius became the Islanders' first choice of the draft at 65th overall. That’s a solid value for a player with quite a bit in the tools department but Odelius never really figured out what kind of player he was this year. He has the four-way mobility and passing ability that lends itself to the offensive end of the ice but he never really became more than a good facilitator there when there were opportunities for him to be a catalyst from the back end. He has decent size and understands how to read a transition defensively, but he sometimes fails to commit to making the play with his stick or body. He very well could wind up as a very good transitional defenseman where you can see flashes of the offensively potential, even if it never comes to fruition.
Finley was quite young for the draft class so there is a bit more development runway with him. He is a good shooter who showed an excellent catch-and-release shot at times this year in the USHL but he needs to continue to develop outside of his shooting talent.
George is a toolsy defender who may very well be the steal of the class. As with many players in the London Knights system, they aren’t given prime opportunities until they mature a bit and although the skating, passing, and shot are all projectable tools offensively, he wasn’t given those offensive opportunities. He showcased excellent transition ability with effortless skating and had some impressive change of speed elements in his game towards the end of the year. This is an upside pick.
Maggio is a menace at times, getting into the face of his opponents and playing the pest role with the best of them. Drafted as a 19-year-old who pooped off for 85 points in the OHL this season, Maggio’s offensive game was built on his high effort, speed, and willingness to mix it up all over the ice. This could wind up being a sneaky good pick for the Isles in a few years.
The strength of the Islanders’ prospect pool is also a big question mark. The right-wing position is the easiest in hockey to fill generally but that is where the Isles have the most going for them in their pipeline. Even so, there aren’t any surefire NHLers. Dufour exploded in the QMJHL and looks to be a legitimate goal scorer. His jump to the AHL this upcoming season will show a lot. Holmström has all of the talent but will need to bounce back. They have some interesting names like Alexander Ljungkrantz and Eetu Liukas as well but they are long shots, to say the least.
A lack of players is the weakness of the Islanders’ prospect pool but particularly a lack of defenders. They added two good prospects in Odelius and George at the draft this year. Bolduc is going to need to rebound from a down year and Wilde is going to need to figure out whether he is willing to get vaccinated or if Europe is where he wants to stay. Beyond that, they don’t have much. Matias Rajaniemi and Aleksi Malinen might be something but they are long-term projects. Robin Salo should play a role this year but he’s a 23-year-old that has a limited ceiling even though he looks like a perfectly capable NHLer at this point. There is work to do in filling out this blueline down the road.
Next Man Up: D Robin Salo
The Finnish defender looked solid in his North American debut season, playing mostly with Bridgeport in the AHL before getting some NHL duty. Salo should step into the NHL lineup full-time this seasonm but don’t expect to be blown away. Salo is the type of player who's better than the sum of his parts because he processes and reads the game well. His defensive game is quiet and efficient, rarely looking lost. The 23-year-old can make a good first pass when exiting his own zone and when that doesn’t present itself, he can find skating routes to escape pressure and move into space as he discovers a better passing lane. His offensive game is predicated on him just making the next play and moving the puck to the correct teammate. He isn’t flashy but he does have a good shot. He could play some valuable minutes for the Isles this year.
Prospect Depth Chart Notables
LW: Quinn Finley, Otto Koivula
C: Aatu Räty, Cameron Berg
RW: William Dufour, Simon Holmström, Alexander Ljungkrantz
LD: Samuel Bolduc, Calle Odelius, Isaiah George
RD: Bode Wilde
G: Tristan Lennox, Henrik Tikkanen
For a deeper dive into the prospect pool with player rankings, check out the Yearbook and Future Watch editions of the Hockey News print edition!