NHL Draft: Islanders' biggest needs, top prospects
New York Islanders fans won’t want to hear this, especially after missing the playoffs this season, but the Isles’ prospect pool is one of the worst in the NHL.
Within New York’s system, there is unlikely to be a true difference-maker at any position, which means for the Islanders to get back to the playoffs, they’ll need to hope for internal roster growth, bounce-back years, and perhaps a few free-agent signings. At the draft table this summer, New York Islanders brass will need to begin to address shortages at all positions.
Aatu Raty - Not many prospects in the NHL have faced more adversity and critique recently than Aatu Raty. Notably, the fire was fueled when Raty was left off the Finnish World Junior roster. How Raty responded to that snub this season was masterful. He scored 40 points in 41 games in Liiga, and then looked solid in the AHL postseason with Bridgeport, his first stint in North America. He has a big shot and is not afraid to go to the busy areas on the ice. Raty will be a prime candidate to jump into New York’s bottom-six next season and work his way up as opportunities present.
William Dufour - Second in QMJHL points this season and the league leader in goals (56), Dufour is a shoot-first scorer, who uses his size effectively, and puts pressure on opponents. A 2020 fifth-round pick, Dufour will make the jump into the AHL next season and looks like a good bet to take an immediate scoring role with Bridgeport. He’ll be a candidate for a midseason call-up and should see some preseason action with the Islanders. While his step forward is welcomed for the Islanders who desperately need a mid-round pick to hit, Dufour must still round out his game, and learn to play good defense on each shift.
Simon Holmstrom - Able to play at a high pace thanks to his skating skills, Holmstrom took a different path than many European prospects by immediately coming to North America following his draft. It was a difficult transition as Holmstrom struggled in his first two seasons with Bridgeport. It was not until this season that the now 21-year-old found his stride at the pro level. He scored 43 points in 68 AHL games, and will undoubtedly get an opportunity to play a handful of games, if not more, in the NHL next year. Holmstrom was the 23rd overall pick in 2019 and needs to take another big step next year, as every player selected ahead of him in 2019, except one, has spent time in the NHL.
Ones to watch
New York’s second-round pick in 2018, Ruslan Iskhakov has embarked on a winding path. The diminutive Russian forward came through the NCAA before going to Finland to play in Liiga where he had a strong season in 2020-21. He followed that up with a year in Germany’s DEL scoring 22 points in 25 games. It’s time Iskhakov came to North America to see how his offense translates to a smaller surface.
The other organizational player to watch is netminder Tristan Lennox. It was a long and painful season for all involved in the Saginaw Spirit organization in the OHL, Lennox included. Still, his 6’4” frame and calm demeanour in net hint at the upside New York initially saw when they selected him in the third round of the 2021 draft. Lennox will likely get starts in both the ECHL and AHL when he turns pro. Without another high-end goaltending prospect in the system, though, the Islanders will be closely monitoring his progress.
Ready to step in
Truly, no one is ready to step into the Islanders lineup and impact their outcome. The closest players to the NHL are Finnish products Otto Koivula and Robin Salo. Both are 23, and both have played stints in the NHL. Salo, a left-shot blueliner will almost certainly play a bottom-pairing role in New York next season, where his steady game will be on display in all three zones. Koivula has more upside but has yet to translate his multiple seasons as a standout in the AHL into NHL scoring.
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