There's been a lot of debate about how strong Garth Snow's draft record actually is, five drafts into his tenure as the New York Islanders general manager. The comment here is a good example - I'm going to quote it for ease of discussion.
I hear ya, but how many picks have we had since 2007?... I can almost guarantee that we have had the highest of quality of opportunity in those drafts. ie How many first rounders, 2nd rounders, etc? JT was a gimme. Are you happy with Bailey? or deHaan? I get that it’s still early and these guys are young, but all things considered, I’m surprised we haven’t hit pay dirt on at least one other player drafted since 2007, given our opportunity.
Please note - I'm not trying to single out anyone. I'm moving this to a Fan Post because it's worth going over how the Isles got here and where they hope to be going, and how they mean to get there. There's a lot to go over in just this short comment: quality and quantity of picks, how other teams did, how the Isles have done in the past. And since the quoted comment was left in reply to something I wrote, it falls to me. Please bear with it.
First, there's an excellent reply from CaptDallas (your 2011-12 FIG co-champion!) that I encourage you to read here. Money quote: "A case can be made that the reason the Islanders haven’t improved quickly enough (in some fans’ minds) is because they actually haven’t been as bad as they needed to be."
He makes it well, using the Pittsburgh Penguins, who chose first overall and second overall twice each in a four-year stretch, and got two franchise players, a legit first-line center playing THIRD line at times, and a reasonable starting goalkeeper. Well, go 2-1-2-1 over the past four years, and you get Drew Doughty, John Tavares, Tyler Seguin, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. As much as I like Ryan Strome, Travis Hamonic, and Josh Bailey, I think I can fairly concede that those three guys aren't in the Seguin-Doughty-RNH conversation.
That leads naturally to an examination of who's picking when. Have the Isles, in fact, had better picks over the past five years than the average? What's Garth working with?
The answer is, he's gotten good position, but not as well as some others. Most notably, Edmonton will be picking first overall for the third straight year. That's only happened once before: 1989-1991, when the Quebec Nordiques parlayed Mats Sundin, Owen Nolan, and Eric Lindros into the foundation of a two-time Cup winner. (And the year before and after, they added a #3 and #4 overall pick!) Others with better first-round position recently: Pittsburgh from '03-'06, we've seen, of course, but there's also Atlanta/Winnipeg, who have picked 3-29-4-8-7 over the past four drafts; Columbus, with a top-ten pick in 10 of their first 11 years (this year will make it 11 out of 13); and Tampa, picking 1-2-6 in consecutive drafts (and adding 29th and 27th picks).
Still, it's pretty good, especially with seven second-rounders in five years. So it becomes a matter of hitting on these picks. After all, not everyone becomes Pittsburgh or Colorado... sometimes you become, well, Winnipeg or Columbus.
The short answer, given elsewhere, is that it's still very early to tell if these drafts launch the Isles or stall them. Tavares and Travis Hamonic are the best picks he's made thus far, but the depth of these drafts have proven to really help the team grow from within. And there may yet be other stars-in-training who haven't made immediate impact. Those guys are rare, and to expect one out of every draft isn't necessarily realistic.
Case in point -
Mike Milbury had SIX top-five picks from 1996-2000 and the Isles have a ceramic goalkeeper to show for it; period, full stop. In Milbury's first six drafts (1996-2001), he found exactly four players who were ever useful (even marginally) for the Isles: Mattias Weinhandl, Radek Martinek, Rick DiPietro, and the first two seasons of Tim Connolly. That's FOUR out of a total of 62 selections. Every other productive player from those drafts was dealt early,* usually for piffle. Heck, Milbury did better from 02-05 with lower slots in each round... Bergenheim, Frans, Gervais, COZO, and Campoli.
* For what it's worth, Milbury did find a fair number of productive players in those years, including two likely Hall of Famers... but for too many painful reasons, we will not be rehashing the names.
Curiously, Milbury did better with worse picks from 2002-2004: Sean Bergenheim, Frans Neilsen, Bruno Gervais, Blake Comeau, and Chris Campoli all were Isles successes, none taken earlier than 22nd overall. (Then of course he went 0-7 in 2005, but eh.)
Now, I get that this is a bar low enough for an arthritic sloth to jump over. But Big Deal Neil's only draft got the Isles Okposo and MacDonald, and maybe Rakhshani still fills a role for the Isles. Even Joensuu could be a capable player (the Isles have his rights yet) - that would be one single draft that was as good as Milbury's first six seasons, and considering Okposo's and AMac's importance to the team, you could argue that Neil Smith's 40 days were better for the Isles than six solid seasons of Mad Mike.
So that's the background.
Snow has had three top-five picks, possibly four next month. JT, obviously, is a big hit. Nino and Strome, it is honestly too soon to tell. Bailey at nine was maybe a reach, but he has been productive. He suffers some from people thinking that he should be a mini-Tavares; honestly, if he becomes a consistent 50-60 point guy for the next five seasons, that pick is solid - better than anything Milbury ever came up with besides Frans (in accord with the prophecies).
Verdict? Honestly, it's mixed, in that the Isles are still scuffling. Their improvements in such things as limiting shots (3 fewer per game this year), power-play (8th this season), and possession time and faceoffs, have yet to translate into enough wins. Optimism isn't unwarranted, but pessimism is absolutely understandable. At this point, either side could be right. A lot of how we can judge Snow's drafting will come with the next two or three seasons. Early returns are promising, with Josh Bailey and Matt Martin as regular contributors and Casey Cizikas and David Ullstrom looking likely to join them next season; at least one of Kevin Poulin or Anders Nilsson is likely to back up regularly in goal, and both have looked good as pros so far; Matt Donovan, Calvin de Haan, and Aaron Ness will get their chances to be good players on the blueline. But a bunch of singles will not put the Isles over the top, and they need Ryan Strome and Nino Niederreiter to be at least doubles. It would also help to get a lot out of Brock Nelson. And even then, it may be three years before guys like Pedan and Mayfield and Theoret are around.
Oh... and if you really want to hurt your brain, think about this - a lot of how the Isles' drafts will be judged actually depend on Garth's skill in other player acquisitions. Every team needs to find guys like Mark Streit, P.A. Parenteau, Matt Moulson, and Michael Grabner. A draft record always looks better attached to a winner, and Snow may need to find another gem or two on the open market to get the team into the playoffs and make a run. People will think differently of his picks if they're playing May hockey next year, and that may have as much to do with signing the right guy in July, as it does with what Garth's done the past few Junes.