With Frans Nielsen's hand broken and Thomas Vanek firmly on the trade block, all signs point to a bigger role at either center or wing for Brock Nelson, who is already having an impressive rookie season. In the process, it looks like Nelson will assume a title he arguably already took over in 2012-13, when he stirred the drink at AHL Bridgeport: The New York Islanders' most important asset from the 2010 NHL Draft.
The way it stands, it already looks like all the Islanders will have to show from that draft is Nelson, Cal Clutterbuck, and 2013 pick Taylor Cammarata (the latter two acquired in a swap for 2010 5th overall pick Nino Niederreiter). While Clutterbuck is providing good third-line contributions, Nelson has done everything to justify a promotion to more minutes and a bigger role.
As alluded above, even before Niederreiter's comprehensive falling out with the organization, it was starting to look like Nelson might be the more important piece from 2010, though that debate is obviously far from being decided.
But the fact one went in the top five, while the other was the last pick of the first round, is reflective of a draft that, like so many cattle auctions before it, is looking odd as it transitions from the Projecting Teenagers stage to the Dealing with Twenty-somethings phase.
Two Sure Things, And a Lot of Debate to Follow
Pre-draft discussion was dominated by a debate over Taylor Hall vs. Tyler Seguin, a debate that has continued, and oscillated back and forth, in the years since. But while both have had ups and downs natural to players baptized in NHL waters at age 18, there's no second-guessing their positions in that draft.
After those two, however, the top of the draft featured a mixed bag of skilled forwards and a few puck-moving defensemen. (And then over here you have rough defenseman Dylan McIlrath, taken by the Rangers at 10, and goalie Jack Campbell, taken by Joe Nieuwendyk's Stars at 11. Looked suspect then, looks suspect now.)
Outside of the Taylor vs. Tyler debate, the 4-9 sequence is perhaps the most interesting storyline from that draft. First of all, all six teams took forwards and passed over highly touted Cam Fowler (who New York and Dallas also passed on for their questionable picks).
Me Want Power Forward Hit Things Grrr
The big-bodied WHL trio of Ryan Johansen, Nino Niederreiter (Portland teammates) and Brett Connolly went 4-5-6, and all three have had rocky transitions to the NHL. This season, as many expected on draft day, Johansen has put his healthy scratches behind him and risen as the cream of that trio. Hiis former junior linemate Niederreiter has resurrected himself after the Isles traded him to the Wild. Connolly -- who was shrouded in concerns about his hip surgeries at the time of the draft -- still hasn't carved out an NHL role with the Lightning.
After those three were two slighter-framed but skilled forwards in Jeff Skinner and Alexander Burmistrov, the former who has outscored them all and took off immediately for Carolina, the latter who never found favor with Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel, but for whom a good case can still be made even though he's in the KHL this season.
Add to them Mikael Granlund, taken by Minnesota at #9, who stayed in Europe at first and as recently as last season looked like he might not figure out how to round out his skill with a "200-foot" game. This season, he looks better than Niederreiter among Minnesota's trio of 2010 first-rounders (the Wild also acquired Charlie Coyle, San Jose's 28th overall pick, in the Brent Burns trade).
(Granted, all of this language could look insane in one year, much less five years -- but that's also why it's fun to do. We can check back to see where things stood in 2014.)
Draft lookbacks are made for 20/20 hindsight and coulda-shoulda. For every better player passed over for Niederreiter (Skinner, Fowler, Schwartz), there is a weaker play yet another team took instead (Connolly, McIlrath, Campbell).
Later-rond picks are also made for longshot talk. For every kid -- except Cody Rosen -- there is at least one figment of hope on why they might pan out. Skilled but "awkward" Kirill Kabanov highlights that category, where the third-round pick was once a no-brainer gamble but now looks like a gamble that didn't pan out. (Context though: Tampa Bay's Radko Gudas is the only player anywhere near Kabanov's selection at 65 who has done much in the NHL so far.)
The Islanders other picks of Jason Clark (in Bridgeport but not noteworthy), Tony DeHart (never signed) and Cody Rosen (never mind) look like footnotes.
But who would have expected that when the Islanders traded up at the end of the first round to draft an uncertain product from a small high school in Brock Nelson, he would end up being their best gem from the draft? That he arguably would be the key to Niederreiter's AHL rehabilitation year just as Johansen was arguably the key to Niederreiter's WHL breakout?
Considering the other picks and the Niederreiter fallout, it's a damned good thing for the Islanders that Nelson is panning out, moderate gamble that he was.
(And isn't that how it goes? Niederreiter gets warranted draft hype and attention from starring at the WJC and shining with a junior linemate who would turn out to be an even better prospect? Nelson gets much more cautionary praise because his good performance was against mostly "weak" high school competition in Minnesota? Johansen was less known until scouts started taking a closer look at him while scouting Niederreiter.)
These twists and turns put some context on the uncertainty of the draft in general, and the odd 2010 draft in particular.
A draft which, at present, Nelson looks like the Islanders' only homegrown return.