Isles shore up defense with Visnovsky and top pick
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PITTSBURGH -- The Islanders addressed their glaring need on defense here Friday night, first with a trade, then with a somewhat surprising pick at No. 4 overall.
Garth Snow has usually gone for the best forward available with the four straight top-five picks, and he had a couple of appealing forwards on the board after the Oilers took Nail Yakupov first overall, the Blue Jackets went for defenseman Ryan Murray at No. 2 and the Canadiens took center Alex Galchenyuk third. But Snow bucked his preferences and took a big Western Hockey League defenseman who has an excellent pedigree.
Reinhart's father, Paul, played 11 NHL seasons for the Flames and Canucks; older brother Max, a center, was a third-round pick of the Flames in the 2010 draft and younger brother Sam, also a center, is a standout 16-year-old for Kootenay of the WHL.
"He's got excellent size, good hockey sense and he comes from a winning program," Snow said of Griffin Reinhart, who had 12 goals and 24 assists in helping Edmonton to the WHL crown this past season. He's 6-4 and 206. "He's another great piece to add to the puzzle and he fills a need."
So, too, does Lubomir Visnovsky, the 35-year-old defenseman Snow acquired from the Ducks for a 2013 second-round pick just before the draft began. Visnovsky is a veteran of 11 NHL seasons with the Kings, Oilers and Ducks, for whom he had six goals and 21 assists last season.
Visnovsky is not a tremendous physical presence, but he's a presence for an Islanders defense that was looking painfully thin. Steve Staios, Mark Eaton and Milan Jurcina were all moving on -- Staios retired to join the Leafs' front office -- leaving the Isles with only three defensemen who played regular minutes last season.
They needed bodies, preferably ones who could eat up second-pair minutes and add to an inconsistent power play. Visnovsky turns 36 on Aug. 11, but he averaged 20:47 per game last season. Also of benefit for an Isles team that figures to be near the as-yet-undetermined salary-cap floor: Visnovsky carries a $5.6-million cap hit but only a $3-million salary in the final year of his current contract.
Reinhart said he had very little contact with the Islanders leading up to Friday night.
"For me to be picked here, it's really quite a shock," he said. Reinhart got phone calls from John Tavares and Travis Hamonic, another WHL defense product who has worked out quite well for the Islanders.
Reinhart's final Central Scouting rank was No. 10. Young, big defensemen sometimes take a while to adapt to the speed of the NHL game, so Reinhart may be a couple of years away from being an Islander.
"I think everybody's disappointed if they don't make a team right away," he said. "I've got a lot I need to work on."
As do the Islanders, who felt compelled to go for need rather than top talent.
"When you don't make the playoffs, there's a lot of needs," Snow said. "We've got someone we think will help us for a long time."