It was a good weekend for one Battle club. While the jury is out on the Rangers' Dylan McIlrath gamble, Islander fans had to be pleased with what Garth Snow added to a mix that features John Tavares and Kyle Okposo.
Picking fifth overall in an unpredictable first round that saw both American defensemen Cam Fowler and Derek Forbort slip out of the top 10, the Islanders opted for offensive help by taking Swiss prospect Nino Niederreiter. The talented right wing teamed with Portland linemates Ryan Johansen and Bradley Ross to form a top scoring line that lit up the Western Hockey League (WHL) for 88 goals, including Niederreiter's 36 ranking second among rookies and tied for first with six game-winners. He finished with 60 points (36-24-60 in 65 GP) and 68 penalty minutes, earning 2nd All-Star Team WHL honors in the Western Conference.
Most notably, the 18 year-old who's listed at 6-2, 201 scored big goals, getting the winner to oust Russia in the WJC that advanced Switzerland to the semis against Canada. His six tallies and four helpers for 10 points paced all Swiss, earning a place on the All-Tournament team alongside Jordan Eberle (Edm) and Ranger prospect Derek Stepan. Not surprisingly, Nino also fared well in the WHL playoffs pacing Portland with eight goals while his 16 points ranked second.
No question the rising Swiss is a talented player who should please Islander fans for years to come. He combines strong skating with good skill and grit. This was one of my favorite players during the WJC because of how hard he competed. Ironically, I almost predicted Nino to the Isles figuring it would make sense to get Tavares support. Guess not everyone can be as psychic as good Ranger buddy Scotty Hockey, who nailed the McIlrath pick at 10. Props there.
"I'm trying to be a scorer one day. At the moment I think I'm a two-way player with some skills and also defensively. At the end I just want to be a goal scorer," Niederreiter expressed Saturday while also sounding genuinely excited about being the newest Islander.
"I think it was just great. I think the whole company is fantastic. Even the place where they play, and Long Island, I think it's just so great."
It's that kind of enthusiasm that should endear El Nino to Long Island.
Not only did Snow land Niederreiter but also went for potential by grabbing skilled Russian Kirill Kabanov with the club's third pick, tabbing him 65th overall. Once considered a lock to go in the top 10, the 18 year-old left wing plummeted due to uncertainties about his future. Firing your agent prior to the Draft ain't the wisest thing. With the KHL also a distinct possibility, that along with character issues is why he lasted so long. Will the 6-2, 173 pound Russian make other teams pay the price? He certainly has talent even if a month long negotiation for his release and a broken wrist limited him to only 22 games with Moncton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). In his first 11 games, Kabanov totaled 14 of his 23 points (10-13-23).
In 2009 at the World Under 18 Championships, Kabanov tallied 11 points (4-7-11), placing third on Team Russia. He also once finished third in scoring at the World Under 17 Championships played in London, Ontario, which featured Matt Duchene, Evander Kane and Ryan O'Reilly. It's not a question of ability. The Islanders are banking on their potential third round steal to silence doubters with his play. When and if he signs, that day gets much closer.
The Islanders spent their other four picks on two centers, a defenseman and another goalie. Here's the breakdown:
2 (30th overall) C Brock Nelson US 6-3 205
4 (82nd overall) C/LW Jason Clark US 6-2 180
5 (125th overall) D Tony Dehart US 6-2 187
7 (185th overall) G Cody Rosen CA 5-11 180