The [Islanders'] 10 draft picks from 2004 have played a total of 511 NHL games for an average of 51.1 games per player -- the fourth-highest average among the 30 teams for this draft class.
>>from the Islanders' turn in the Hockey's Future series on the 2004 draft
When you put it that way, the Islanders' 2004 draft performance doesn't sound so shabby (definitely check out HF's player-by-player rundown). The problem on the road from there to now is a matter of player development, roster management and, as always, luck.
Two of the three NHL regulars in the Islanders' 2004 draft haul are no longer with the club, though their mutually agreed partings fetched the Islanders additional first- and second-round picks in the upcoming 2009 draft (plus Ben Walter, a Group VI UFA this summer). Another pick who got away scored three goals in eight NHL games this season.If Chris Campoli was the well-known biggest steal of this haul as a 7th-rounder (227th overall) who's already played 253 NHL games, 1st-rounder Petteri Nokelainen was the biggest heartbreaker. While Campoli requested a trade this past season after not feeling the love under Scott Gordon, "Nokey" was shipped to Boston by mutual agreement in Summer 2007 after his uneven recovery from the serious knee injury that sabotaged his 2005-06 season.
As Chris Botta chronicled in December, Nokelainen was a character guy -- like many in that draft class -- and it absolutely killed him to be on the shelf so long, which is why the proverbial "change of scenery" was sought. Time and time again we hear a player is never fully recovered from a serious knee injury until his second season after surgery. That could certainly apply to Nokelainen, who got in 57 games in 2007-08 with the Bruins and -- though little used by Boston this past season -- was acquired by Anaheim as the successor to unsung (except by Sleek) two-way forward Sami Pahlsson.
Those 57 games in 2007-08 are why the Islanders have Boston's 2nd-round pick this month. The fact he's not developing into a Pahlsson for the Isles is more dumb luck rather than mismanagement. The return of Walter, on the other hand ... could be up for debate. (Mind you, prospects slow to recover from a knee injury are not exactly prime trade chips, which is why the conditional pick was a smart score for Garth Snow.)
Campoli, of course, is another matter. His career took off quickly, and each year his ceilling seemed to get higher. From dependable depth defenseman, to two-way guy, to ... power play regular? It's amazing that a 227th overall pick is who the Senators sought to be a power play quarterback 1A, and almost as amazing that the last-place Islanders could no longer make it work with him. You'd like to see the Islanders be able to hang on to an asset like that, but sometimes personal aspirations and management's evaluation do not align. It happens. Considering Campoli's years of service on the Island and the return from the Sens of the 26th overall pick this summer, the Islanders certainly got their money's worth out of what is almost always a worthless pick.
Fifth-round pick Steve Regier is the biggest still-open case from the Islanders' 2004 class. His 18 games with the Isles over three different seasons never amounted to much, and he was let go last summer. Upon signing with St. Louis, he continued to put up his Bridgeport-like totals of around 20 goals and 50 points with AHL Peoria. But it was that curious call-up with the Blues -- three goals in eight games, though all in the first two -- that makes one wonder if the big winger might yet have something to offer at the NHL level.
Of course the Islanders still have a real NHL asset from that draft who hasn't gotten away. Blake Comeau was one of the few youngsters to get a real chance under Ted Nolan, and his hockey sense shined in 2007-08. Which made it all the more perplexing for fans when he started Scott Gordon's tenure back down at Bridgeport. However, having learned whatever parts of Gordon's scheme he was slow to pick up on, Comeau became a regular by mid-season and a fixture with some scoring touch (7-18-25 in 59 GP) on a "kid line" that gave us Islanders fans hope.
The jury is still out on what Comeau will become and whether Campoli will continue to improve. But scouting-wise, the Islanders deserve credit for a solid 2004 draft. And hey, at least not all of them got away.