The selection of Robert Nilsson over Zach Parise in the 2003 NHL Draft is a legendary mistake which Islanders fans seldom go long without being reminded. Sometimes that reminder is self-inflicted, sometimes it's because an annoying blogger brings it up, and sometimes it's because Pierre McGuire speaks very sternly about he knew it was wrong at the time. (Granted, Pierre can go on a draft rant from time to time.)
History and the players' divergent careers has made the decision look worse over time than it was on that day. But one of the grains of salt in the wound that day was that Isles brass chose a player with Oilers (though mostly Flames, really) bloodlines over a player with Islander bloodlines. (Kent Nilsson made his name as a Jet, Flame and Oiler. J.P. Parise only scored one of the pivotal goals in Isles history.)
Not that bloodlines really matter, but it adds a little rough karma to the story, you know?
In the 2012 draft class, there are at least two opportunities to tempt allegiance-related karma again, plus a third that defies categorization.
The Scent of Smurf
Matteau is the son of ex-Ranger (and ex-many teams) Stephane Matteau, who himself scored a fairly pivotal goal in Short Island Smurfs history. Matteau the younger is rated highly enough to think the Islanders won't even have to think about him, but low enough where he might still be on the board when the Isles pick again at #34.
He's certainly not a sexy pick though -- and that's not just because there is Ranger in his blood.
Matteau is a perfect bottom-six fixture who can provide a niche role similar to what his father did before him.
The Scouting Report (29):
Matteau is a true "sandpaper" type player who projects to be a gritty winger who can fit in with a number of different roles at the NHL level. Matteau already has a pro frame and brings a physical dynamic to the ice every game. While his skating is fairly average, he keeps his game simple which prevents skating from being an issue in his game.
Craig Button, TSN (23):
Stefan is capable of wreaking havoc in the game with his combination of skating, skill and size. He has excellent speed and can close on opponents quickly and when you combine this with a desire and willingness to make physical contact, it can be very uncomfortable for opponents.
Matteau played with the USNTDP but the IIHF kept him out of the U18 Worlds. He was bound for North Dakota but instead decided to play in the Q.
Heh ... "Zach." Stepan is the cousin of current Ranger Derek, but they are cousins in "almost like a brother" way rather than a "those rednecks we see at reunions" kind of way. Stepan The Younger describes his game as similar to Derek's but with a better shot.
Stepan has been playing at hockey factory Shattuck. He isn't currently seen as possessing the same potential as his older cousin, but on the bright side he's not a Ranger. He's headed for Ohio State.
After a tremendous junior season, Stepan took a step backward and never seemed to get comfortable offensively this season for Shattuck. He failed to be the go-to guy. ... Stepan has good acceleration, but only average speed.
... He also has power to his stride that enables him to quickly gain ice. This should improve as Stepan gains some much needed muscle to his frame. Stepan has solid puck skills and looks to be more of a complimentary player than an elite offensive talent. That said, his hockey sense and ability to read the play separate him from most players in his age group....
Central Scouting ranks him 53rd among North American skaters.
Familial Ties to a Former Isles Scout
Mark Jankowski is an interesting one -- superficially because he's the nephew of ex-Isles scouting head Ryan Jankowski, and his great uncle is Red Kelly -- but more pertinently because he's had a growth spurt and performance burst that has completely changed how scouts view him -- if they viewed him at all before this year.
Kirk Luedeke, New England Hockey Journal:
The talented centerman from Dundas, Ontario (near Hamilton) is a late-bloomer who wasn’t even drafted in the OHL Priority Selection until this past spring, two years after being eligible. Now, the 6-feet-2, 175-pounder is looking at a solid position somewhere in the top-60 of the NHL lottery in Pittsburgh June 22-23.
Jankowski was largely ignored by the OHL because he was under 6-feet and didn’t show off the high-end potential some are seeing with him now as a 53-goal scorer in 57 games at Stanstead.
"There was no denying his skill set, but he's a much more confident player now," Stanstead head coach James Rioux told the Montreal Gazette. "His size and reach are big assets. He's a two-way player who's good in his own zone. He's one of the best distributors of the puck I've seen."
His quick growth spurt has not allowed the rest of his body to adjust, as he weighs a slight 170 and has very limited strength to his game. Nonetheless, this season Jankowski operated on another level, as he had no supporting cast but was able to dominate the league and carry his team.
The Scouting Report (42):
Jankowski is an intriguing prospect with good size and raw offensive upside. However, playing against weak competition and without much pedigree, the risk factor is very high as well. It goes without saying that the Providence commit could wind up being one of the drafts biggest surprises, or biggest flops.
He was not on any scouting radar at the outset of this season but when he did appear, he became a bright, blinking light. He is an excellent skater with a long, efficient stride combined with agility, quickness and balance that allows him to impose himself on the game. He can beat defenders 1-1 and is capable of opening up ice for himself and breaking down opponents for his team's gain.
CSS ranks Jankowski 43rd among North American skaters. The weak competition thing makes him risky. The talent (and late birth date, and growth spurt) makes him enticing. He could be someone flashing in the pan at just the right time, or someone blooming late but in a very significant way.
From off scouts' radar to sending scouts scrambling in one year. Whoever selects him this weekend will believe they are getting a sleeper.