VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Lou Lamoriello worked the floor and his cellphone in the hours preceding the first round of the NHL Draft on Friday night at Rogers Arena, talking with executives from several teams as the Islanders’ contingent gathered around the team’s table.
But the Islanders’ president and general manager made no immediate moves. The team retained its pick at No. 23 and went somewhat off the board from most mock drafts by picking Swedish forward Simon Holmstrom, who dealt with injury issues the past two seasons.
“Our scouts were extremely high on him,” Lamoriello said. “He’s a top-six forward with skill, and you can’t go beyond that. In comparison to the other players, it was unanimous with them that if he was going to be there at that point, we were going to take him.”
Holmstrom is a 6-1, 185- pound, left-shooting wing with strong skating ability, according to scouting reports, but has endured hip and thumb issues.
“We had that all checked out,” Lamoriello said. “All you can do is go with your doctors. If the doctors feel there are no issues, you’ve got to go with that if it’s the best player. If there are any concerns, you don’t do it.”
Lamoriello said the Islanders discussed trading up — and also trading back and accumulating more picks — but “nothing made sense.”
“There were three players available when it was coming to us, so we decided to just stay where we were at,” he said.
Holmstrom had seven goals and 13 assists in 21 games for his junior squad in Sweden last season. Lamoriello said it was too early to project whether Holmstrom will play in North America this season or remain in Sweden.
Holmstrom acknowledged that his injury issues have been “frustrating.”
“I’ve tried to keep looking forward, pushing forward,” he said.
He described himself as an “offensive player who likes to drive the net and score goals” and added that he knows he needs to get stronger to be able to compete physically in the NHL.
He said he tried to pattern his game on Hall of Famer Peter Forsberg, a fellow Swede.
Islanders center Mathew Barzal, who is from Coquitlam, about 20 miles east of Vancouver, sat at the team’s draft table and met Holmstrom on Friday.
Holmstrom will attend the Islanders’ summer prospect development camp starting Monday. Training camp in September will be another proving ground.
“I’ll keep pushing forward and doing my best, and hopefully that takes me to where I want to go,” Holmstrom said.
Lamoriello came to Vancouver with five picks in the two-day draft, which concludes Saturday with rounds two through seven. The Islanders do not have a pick in rounds three and four.
The draft was expected to be a fertile ground for deal-making, especially with the salary cap coming in lower than expected. The ceiling will be announced Saturday and will be either $81.5 million or $82 million after it initially was expected to rise to $83 million.
The delay in setting the salary cap has made it difficult for teams to plan for the upcoming season.
“I think it’s only frustrating if you allow it to become frustrating,” Lamoriello said. “What you can’t control, don’t let it become a distraction.”
The Islanders are believed to be looking for scoring forwards potentially at the expense of their defense depth, especially with Anders Lee’s return uncertain (the captain is an impending unrestricted free agent). Defenseman Nick Leddy is considered a prime candidate to be moved.
Impending UFAs can begin talking to other teams on Sunday. The free-agent market opens on July 1.