See that score? We need a D that'll help us keep it that way. (Photo: Doug Kerr/flickr)
There’s no question that when it comes to this summer’s NHL Draft in Pittsburgh, the Islanders’ focus needs to be on defense. Our blueline was perhaps (if not certainly) one of the worst in the league (and I even graded them too leniently, more than likely). We need all of the help we can get, and there are some places within and outside the system to look.
John Link’s article on The Checking Line about potential Isles draftees gives us a bit of a clearer picture regarding defensive prospects, and it’s a good look at the projected top three defensemen in the draft — Ryan Murray, Matt Dumba and Morgan Rielly. I especially like the sound of Matt Dumba, considering scouts call him the most complete D in his own end in the draft, but one of those three would suffice. There’s a question within the question, here, though: Do we focus on offensive defenseman, or closer to a stay-at-home kind?
The Isles do have an offensive push on this blueline to begin with; Mark Streit immediately pops into mind. Although his scoring has fallen off somewhat (and he only has one more year on the Island), the captain still factors in on the PP and can join the rush almost effortlessly. Travis Hamonic posted 22 points as well (most of them assists), proving that he’s more of a complete defensive player as well. Andrew MacDonald is right behind him, though I think his game has shifted a bit from his first season on the Island to more of a shot-blocking, down-low defensive style. As far as drafting goes, Murray (from what I’ve read) has tremendous puckmoving ability, and Rielly was a point-per-game player before suffering a season-ending knee injury last November. We haven’t had a stay-at-home defenseman since Brendan Witt’s days on the Island, so I don’t know how feasible having one now is, especially with that type of player diminishing throughout the league.
Looking at who we already have in the system, Calvin de Haan is an offensive forward — at least, his numbers in Oshawa indicate as much, plus he’s a great skater. His only issue seems to be the injury bug, which has held up his progress in Bridgeport and has some wondering if he can last in the NHL. His point totals have suffered because of his injuries, but he’s still got a high upside. Aaron Ness is smaller height-wise, but seems to be sturdier, and can put a few points up as well. Ty Wishart is bigger, at 6’4, and can also help out. He played better than I expected on the Island last season after being traded from Tampa Bay along with a pick for Dwayne Roloson.
Which brings us to size. The average for last season’s blueline is around 6’1 and 209 pounds (an upgrade from a couple of years ago — Mark Streit is now the smallest defenseman at 5’11 and 193, and 5-foot-10-if-he’s-lucky Jack Hillen is elsewhere). Milan Jurcina, Steve Staios, and Mark Eaton are all on the outs. Our biggest issue, as far as I can see, is with being able to use the body on opposing forwards, so we need D who can and are willing to do that (which, again, is why I like the sound of Matt Dumba so far — at least, if we can’t get Ryan Murray). Matt Donovan should be coming into the fold next season, which is helpful – he plays a pretty physical game and can still join in offensively. He’s average-sized at 6’0, but if he brings the hits, it won’t matter. Of course, this leaves us with an impossibly young blueline, which Garth Snow may have to remedy in FA (if he can — more on who’s leaving and who could come in at a later date).
The bottom line? Draft for the blueline. The Isles have plenty of forwards (centers out the wazoo), and as long as players like Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey, Frans Nielsen and of course Tavares and Moulson keep developing, we won’t have to worry much about offense. It’s always good to stockpile some anyway, but the blueline is hurting, and it should be the organization’s priority. I would expect (and hope) for one of these young defensive draftees to be in an Isles jersey come June 22.