With the fifth overall pick in this year’s draft, the Islanders are confident they’ll land a talented player, but the team is open to trading up or down, according to general manager Garth Snow.
“You don’t always know how it’s going to unfold,” Snow told Newsday when reached by phone Monday. “If there is an opportunity to trade up or down, we’d be open to anything like that.”
The Islanders stuck with the No. 5 pick last June—which they used to select Swiss winger Nino Niederreiter—but did package two second-round picks to move back into the first round to take Minnesota high school standout Brock Nelson at 30th overall.
Two drafts prior, the Islanders went the opposite way, moving back twice—from 5th to 7th and 7th to 9th—to select center Josh Bailey.
Although the Islanders will be without assistant general manager/ scouting director Ryan Jankowski for the first time since 2007--he was dismissed back in September-- Snow said he plans on approaching the draft the same way as years past and bristled at the suggestion that the team was 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 said.
Snow also did not rule out the possibility of moving his first-round pick in a trade for an NHL-ready player. He said he has had “preliminary conversations” with other team executives but sounded doubtful something would 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.”
Conducting amateur scouting meetings this week, Snow said his team of scouts will identify their top targets; the list will not be finalized until right before the draft.
Until then, the Islanders have four pre-draft visits scheduled this week.
Saint John’s center Jonathan Huberdeau arrived on Long Island Monday; Niagara defenseman Dougie Hamilton and Drummondville center Sean Couturier will visit Tuesday; Kitchener Rangers defenseman Ryan Murphy will meet with the team Wednesday.
Snow also said his staff plans on meeting with other top prospects in the final days leading up to the draft in Minneapolis next week.
Of the four prospects making the trek to Uniondale, Huberdeau is the least likely to be available at the fifth spot. Projected to go in the top three, Huberdeau had an excellent season with the Memorial Cup-winning Sea Dogs, finishing with 43 goals and 62 assists in 67 games this season.
The Islanders have selected a forward with their first pick the past three drafts, so could be leaning toward a strong group of defenseman clustered at the top of the rankings which includes Hamilton, Murphy and Saint John's Nathan Beaulieu. Northeastern University’s Jamie Oleksiak and Portland’s Joseph Morrow of the WHL are also potential candidates should the Islanders move down.
Regardless of what the Islanders do with their pick at No. 5, they also have two picks in the second round, one in each the third and fourth, two in the fifth and one last pick in the seventh round in what is considered to be 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 2nd through 4th round. It doesn’t drop off extremely quickly. Someone coming out of the later rounds could be a big-time player," he said.
“We’re confident that we’re going to get a solid player that will fit into our young core.”