With depth, Isles can develop picks

Players discuss Islanders' draft choices and memories of their own selection at team's draft party at Nassau Coliseum. Videojournalist: Jessica Rotkiewicz (June 24, 2011)

It might have seemed like business as usual for the Islanders Friday night. They went into the NHL draft with the fifth pick for the third time in four years; the other time, they had the first pick.

That's a testament to their lack of success, a track record that simply isn't very good on the ice the last four seasons.

But there was something different with the selection of Ryan Strome, the fast, skilled forward who fans dream as a perfect complement to either John Tavares, his summer workout buddy in Ontario, or Nino Niederreiter, last year's No. 5 pick.

Strome won't be expected to step right into the Islanders' lineup and have an immediate impact, as Tavares was two seasons ago. He won't be a long shot to make the roster, as Niederreiter was in his nine-game stint last season. Nor will he be a Josh Bailey, who was rushed three years ago.

No, this draft pick is a prospect. He'll be allowed to learn and grow with another season in Niagara of the OHL, and perhaps a season in Bridgeport after that.

And that's the Islanders now, finally, a team that has players in place heading into 2011-12, a team that doesn't need a dynamic 19-year-old to overreach and try to shake things up.

"You don't want to rush your players if you don't have to," assistant coach Dean Chynoweth said at the Isles' draft party Friday night.

A sizable crowd at the Coliseum slapped on Trevor Gillies mustaches and took locker-room tours, but the fans didn't go too crazy for the Strome pick.

And that's fine. That's how you do things when you're a team without a crying need to put kids in the lineup.

The Rangers know about that sort of slow path, with so many mid-to-late first-round picks the last few years. They were there at No. 15 Friday night selecting Ohio-born center J.T. Miller, who's off to the University of North Dakota and into the Rangers' impressive prospect pipeline for the future.

The Rangers have Chris Kreider, their first-round pick from 2009, on the way after this coming season at Boston College. They have Tim Erixon, the Flames' first-round pick in 2009, acquired in a trade and ready to compete for an NHL defense job. And Steve Thomas' son, Christian, along with Ray Bourque's son, Ryan, likely a year away from having a chance to compete for jobs. There's no reason to rush any of them, especially when Glen Sather has the money to throw at Brad Richards when free agency opens.

The Islanders have room to spend but not a lot of room to crack the lineup. Tavares, Matt Moulson and Michael Grabner occupy three of perhaps 10 forward slots that could be locked up before training camp ends.

"My first year, and a bit for Johnny as well, it was more about establishing ourselves as NHL players," Moulson said. "Now the focus more than ever is on winning, being in the playoffs and winning in the playoffs. It's about not accepting anything less than being a winning team. That's different, maybe, than a year or two years ago."

The Islanders have looked at the last three drafts as ways to improve their team right away, and the mixed results from Bailey, Tavares and Niederreiter indicate that formula isn't the quickest path to success.

Friday night's pick is a move for the future, the hope that Strome can arrive after the Islanders have become competitive and help them stay there.

That's the right way.

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