Islanders All-Decade Team: The draft busts

I know the new year is supposed to be a time of hope, washing the slate clean, letting bygones be bygones, etc. Well, we'll get back to the hope part once the calendar turns.

But as one final note on this culturally circumscribed decade (i.e. "the aughts") which has brought us so much pain, here we may expunge some famous draft demons once and for all. A glance at recent Islanders draft years underlines just how costly giving up high picks can be, as well as just how biased we can be when picks are still fresh. (For example, I look at that 2008 draft haul and see six players I can picture as NHLers. That is both impressive and so delusional I'm ashamed to write it.)

To be fair, I'll restate my belief that beyond the top five or so the draft is largely a crapshoot, and the Islanders haven't whiffed in that spot -- at least not at the "bust" level. I can only blame teams so much for passing on a Mike Green in 2004, when Washington themselves selected Jeff Schultz instead of Green just two picks earlier.

Without further ado, the nominees for Biggest Draft Bust on the Islanders All-Decade Team. [Full listing after the jump, which is after the poll if you're on the home page.]

Start (and finish?) with the most obvious, I suppose:

Ryan O'Marra

2005, 1st Round, 15th Overall  | NHL Totals: 3 GP, 0 G, 1 A

Selected just after: Sasha Pokulok, Capitals.

Selected before: Ryan Parent (18), Tuukka Rask (21), Nicla Bergfors (23), T.J. Oshie (24), Matt Niskanen (28).

If O'Marra in any real way helped rent Ryan Smyth, then cheers to Garth Snow, I guess. O'Marra has been written about a lot, seldom in a flattering way. But he finally got into some NHL games with the Oilers this year. First-round picks get lots of chances. If he salvages something from his, good for him.

 

Petteri Nokelainen

2004, 1st Round, 16th Overall | NHL Totals: 156 GP, 14 G, 11 A

Selected just after: Alexander Radulov, Predators

Selected before: Travis Zajac (20), Wojtek Wolski (21), Andrej Meszaros (23), Rob Schremp Hockey(!) (25), Mike Green (29)

I wouldn't call Nokie a bust, though you could argue you want more offensive talent out of a mid-first rounder. Still, he was hurt more by injury than by his own failings and he has become a responsible NHL forward befitting the Finnish mold. But in terms of what the Isles got out of him (Ben Walter and an extra 2nd-round pick in 2009) and where he was selected, yes, this pick was a bust.

 

Sean Bergenheim

2002, 1st Round, 22nd Overall | NHL Totals: 213 GP, 34 G, 34 A

Selected just after: Anton Babchuk, Blackhawks

Selected before: Ben Eager (23), Alex Steen (24), Cam Ward (25)

So Bergenheim is far from a "bust" for a 22nd-overall pick, but he's another first rounder who's not a star, so it's fair to throw him in for consideration of what might have been. Honestly though, the bottom half of 2002's first round is hardly an all-star group. Bergenheim isn't the scoring power forward many of us dreamed of, and his one-year banishment under Wang's Rules hurt him and us, but he's a pretty useful player (who the Isles PK misses right now), and he measures up alright with most of the 2002 first round, actually.

 

Rick DiPietro

2000, 1st Round, 1st Overall | NHL Totals: 273 GP, 117-112, 2.79, .905

Selected before: Dany Heatley (2), Marian Gaborik (3), Rostislav Klesla (4), Raffi Torres (5)

I think it's a stretch to call a goalie with 273 games played and an All-Star peak form a draft "bust." Any negatives with DiPietro come from: 1) the decisions (and moves) Milbury made to draft a goalie first overall just a few years after taking a (quite good) goalie nearly as high; 2) the 15-year deal that was Wang's doing (and despite its tomfoolery, reflective of a player who wanted to be part of the solution on Long Island, which is rare), and 3) the injury plague that began after that contract was signed.

The evaluation of DiPietro's talent turned out to be dead-on. But if draft evaluation is about the franchise's decision-making at the time, DiPietro enters the discussion through no fault of his on-ice talent. Speaking of which...

 

Raffi Torres

2000, 1st Round, 5th Overall | NHL Totals: 396 GP, 89 G, 74 A

Selected before: Scott Hartnell (6), Ron Hainsey (13), Alexander Frolov (20), Brad Boyes (24), Steve Ott (25)

I'd expect more out of a 5th-overall pick, but it's not like that 2000 draft was littered with stars. There was the top three, and then everyone else. Would DiPietro have been available in this slot if the Isles had taken Heatley or Gaborik? We'll never know, even though you'll get revisionist insiders telling you one way or the other.

Did Torres profile as a more prolific power forward than he's become? Yes. He's not as originally billed, but neither is most of the class taken behind him. If the Isles thought they could get a #1 goalie and a star forward with two picks in the top five, they were only half right -- or they messed up the order.

 

Corey Trivino

2008, 2nd Round, 36th Overall | Sophomore at BU

Selected just after: Some guy we don't know yet (Nicolas Deschamps, Anaheim)

Selected before: A bunch of guys we don't know about yet, although the Isles took Aaron Ness and Travis Hamonic later in that round.

Okay that's not exactly fair for a kid who was selected just 18 months ago. But it is notable that Trivino was a high second-round pick, while fellow members of his class (Hamonic, Donovan, Martin) are already getting more praise heaped upon them. Still, as with all prospects, talk to me when they show up in an NHL uniform; then we'll really know what we have. He's not a bust, but we needed someone on this list more recent than 2005, and 2006, 2008, and 2009 gave us some pretty nice first-rounders.

 

Cory Stillman

2001, 4th Round, 101st Overall | NHL Totals: 0 GP

Selected just after: Two and three picks behind Ray Emery (99) and Jordin Tootoo (98)

Selected before: Christian Ehrhoff (106)

This one is extremely unfair, and Stillman can't be called a "bust" given he was just a fourth rounder. I just thought I'd mention him since he was the Islanders top pick in 2001, thanks to Milbury dealing the picks before then, with Yashin and assorted maneuvers that cost the Isles the 2nd overall pick (Spezza) and the top pick in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th rounds. If you're giving up that much of your future, plus young assets like Zdeno Chara, you better score with what you acquired and with the picks you have left. Milbury didn't.

It's pretty sad all the moves it took for Milbury just to get us one exciting playoff series.

 

Robert Nilsson

2003, 1st Round, 15th Overall | NHL Totals: 217 GP, 31 G, 72 A

Selected just after: Brent Seabrook, Blackhawks

Selected before: Perhaps you've heard this -- Zach Parise (17)? And Ryan Getzlaf (19), Ryan Kesler (23), Mike Richards (24), Corey Perry (28), and, heh, Jeff Tambellini (27). Also: Shea Weber (49).

Nilsson isn't an awful hockey player. He's just nothing like most of the first round in his draft year. It's fair to look at his career totals at 15th overall and Bergenheim's career totals at 22nd overall and ask, "Why hate on one and not the other?" Well, seven draft slots' difference aside, sometimes you pass on a gem no one saw when you make a bad pick; for Nilsson, the Islanders passed on a veritable All-Star team at every position. That hurts.

I didn't mind dumping him in the Smyth rental. I still don't. The less said about this pick, the better. Good bye, 2000s. And good riddance. May the 2010s bring us so, so, SO much more.

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