The Islanders are confident they will land a talented player with the fifth overall pick when the NHL draft begins Friday in Minneapolis. But they're open to changing their draft position, according to general manager Garth Snow.
"You don't always know how it's going to unfold," Snow told Newsday in a recent telephone interview. "If there is an opportunity to trade up or down, we'd be open to anything like that."
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The Islanders kept their No. 5 pick last June, which they used to select Swiss winger Nino Niederreiter, but they did package two second-round picks to move back into the first round to take Minnesota high school standout Brock Nelson at 30th.
Two drafts prior, the Islanders went the opposite way, moving back twice -- from fifth to seventh and seventh to ninth -- to select center Josh Bailey.
Although the Islanders will be without assistant general manager/scouting director Ryan Jankowski -- he was dismissed in September -- Snow said he plans to approach the draft the same way as in years past. He bristled at the suggestion that the team is operating with a limited scouting staff.
"It's really no different," he said. "We always draft the best player available, but our 'best player available' may be different in our eyes than the rest of the hockey world."
Snow also did not rule out moving his first-round pick in a trade for an NHL-ready player. He said he has had "preliminary conversations" with other executives but sounded doubtful that something will come to fruition.
"Ninety-five percent of the time, nothing comes out of it," Snow said. "When I have conversations with other general managers, it's more of seeds being planted."
At amateur scouting meetings this week, Snow said his scouts will identify their top targets. The list will not be completed until right before the draft.
The Islanders had four predraft visits last week. Saint John (New Brunswick, QMJHL) center Jonathan Huberdeau arrived on Long Island on June 13, Niagara (OHL) defenseman Dougie Hamilton and Drummondville (Quebec, QMJHL) center Sean Couturier visited last Tuesday, and Kitchener Rangers (OHL) defenseman Ryan Murphy was here Wednesday.
Snow also said his staff plans on meeting with other top prospects in the final days leading up to the draft.
Of the four who came to Uniondale, Huberdeau is the least likely to be available at No. 5. Projected to go in the top three, he had an excellent season (43 goals, 62 assists in 67 games).
The Islanders could be leaning toward a strong group of defensemen clustered at the top of the rankings, which includes Hamilton, Murphy and Saint John's Nathan Beaulieu. Northeastern's Jamie Oleksiak and Portland's Joseph Morrow of the WHL are potential candidates if the Islanders move down.
They have two picks in the second round, one each in the third and fourth and two in the fifth in what is considered a fairly deep draft. Dave Gregory of the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau said there is good talent among the first 10 to 15 players, as well as those in the middle rounds.
"There is a lot of depth from the second through fourth round," he said. "It doesn't drop off extremely quickly. Someone coming out of the later rounds could be a big-time player."