If you read my review of the Islanders' picks in the 2009 NHL Draft, you might remember my carefully worded plea in the section about the Islanders' 4th-round pick, 92nd overall, concerning information readily available in corners of the Web about an off-ice incident.
Well, now that well-read Islanders blogger Chris Botta has addressed that case explicitly (including a Q&A with the subject's approval) on his quasi-team-sponsored Islanders blog, the elephant in the room has made its presence known beyond message boards. [Update: Newsday's Arthur Staple has a story, too.] The reason for my prudence was part preference and part from Canada's Youth Criminal Justice Act, which doesn't allow the identification of underage defendants. (I'm not in Canada, but still ... I'm not exactly looking to jump on this given how ripe for TMZ-style gossip it is.) You'll note that even today, after the sentencing of one year of probation and community service was announced, the Canadian news stories still cannot list the defendant (now 18, but 16 at the time of the incident) by name. In fact, they never can.
It's a well-intentioned yet slightly bizarre law, given the free exchange of information across borders in today's online world -- to say nothing of the ironic collision between Canada's youth protection law and Canadian media/public's tendency to stalk hot NHL prospects from a very early age.But now, with Botta's post, it's almost silly to ignore it here -- particularly with news of the sentencing making this prospect's long-term opportunity a little clearer. I'm still not going to get into the details of the case here. You can find all kinds of reports (including Botta's version) elsewhere, if you want that -- and the victim's family even asked that charges not be pressed.
[Pardon the plea, I just don't want this post to be yet another Internet forum for a bunch of people to throw accusations or outrage around about an incident they did not witness -- which is why I've worded this post so as not to draw random search traffic and comments from anonymous gawkers and crusaders. I don't desire that and frankly am not so desperate for traffic as to pander that way. ("Hey, boob shots! Look, something controversial! Click away!" ... TV news: "Why your child may die from eating what's in your cupboard ... tonight at 11"). I should add that I appreciate the tasteful way Botta handled it via the Q&A with the young man himself. This situation is hardly a kept secret, yet it's hardly easy to handle, ya know?]
The Hockey Question
But on topic: Regardless of how things went down, it's fair to question the Islanders' selection, given that sentencing in the case was still pending on June 27th, Day Two of the draft. Only probation was handed down -- and perhaps that was the most likely sentence all along -- but it's worth noting the government was seeking a sentence of two to three years as an adult. So this sentence is the best-case scenario for the Islanders and for a young man no doubt trying to move on. But at the time of the draft, the Islanders were selecting someone who might not be available to continue his hockey development for a year or more. You can add the possibility of this tragedy haunting a kid later on -- or even the distraction of media inquiries likely to follow, and now the armchair GM in you has something to mull over.
Moral preferences aside (and even any statement there is murky, given the age of the defendant and context of the incident), was this the best use of a 92nd overall pick? Scouts say the kid had "second-round talent" or better, so some team, at some point, was going to pick him and possibly get a steal. Plus, 4th-round picks are hardly sure things -- and perhaps an ideal time to take a chance on someone said to have "Patrick Kane-like skill" (oh come now, really?). But then it's not just the incident that dropped his stock -- it's the fact he had a disappointing season in juniors. So do they chalk that up to the trauma of the incident and trial, and if so, do they further project that this mental effect won't linger?
It's another gamble similar to Kiril Petrov, albeit with different circumstances: Not a particularly pricey gamble. A gamble that could even pay off handsomely. But one that, if it doesn't, will give everyone a pre-packaged reason as to why not.
As with all draft questions, time will tell.