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NHL Draft: Islanders Depth, and the Challenge with Picking Defensemen Early

Even Adam Larsson has discovered NHL D-men take a while.
Even Adam Larsson has discovered NHL D-men take a while.

In The Hockey News 2012 NHL Draft Preview, they had a refreshingly level-headed and concise capsule by Ronnie Shuker on where the New York Islanders stand.

Noting the team's budget orientation, they nonetheless say "Garth Snow has organized the chaos and stocked up on talent," citing the club's pool of skilled forward prospects in particular.

Less shiny, as we all know, is the blueline pool, although there are three in their early 20s pushing for NHL jobs (Matt Donovan, Calvin de Haan, Aaron Ness) and another trio from the 2011 draft that have a decent chance of turning out well.

The top 10 or so of the 2012 draft class is richer in defensemen than normal, but the challenge is whether any of them are worth taking where the Islanders sit at #4 overall. (Alternatively, they could trade down and collect extra assets, since you can never have too many.) This D-man dilemma entering the draft has been a frequent topic already and will continue to pop up between now and late June, so we'll leave you with another thing THN pointed out:

Six of our Preview's top 10 prospects are defensemen. Of the 19 blueliners drafted in the top 10 since the lockout, 12 didn't play in the NHL the following season. Any team hoping to build around a D-man taken in 2012 must temper any expectations of immediate dividends.

Adam Larsson, the "might be better than Hedman" hot D pick from 2011, was scratched for every Devils playoff game until Game 2 the other night. By all accounts he should be quite good, but that doesn't mean he's there yet -- and there are no Larssons in this year's draft.

Furthermore, few would disagree that the difficulty in accurately projecting 18-year-old (if that) hockey players goes like this:

Easy --> Harder --> Difficult
Forwards --> Defensemen --> Goalies

Even looking at the still quite-recent 2009 draft illustrates this point, as Hedman was taken at #2, Oliver Ekman-Larsson was taken at #6, Jared Cowen was taken at #9, Ryan Ellis at #11, Calvin de Haan at #12 and Dmitry Kulikov at #14. (Nick Leddy at #16, David Rundblad at #17, and Tim Erixon at #23 may also have something to say here before all is said and done.)

Meanwhile, the 2012 top 10 features at least four defensemen that fall in different orders on different pre-draft rankings. If I'm the Islanders and I'm not sold on which forwards are left at #4 overall in the draft, then I do anything I can to trade down a few spots and grab one of the several promising but hardly certain defensemen in the top 10.

If you think the Islanders prospect pipeline needs another high-end defensive talent, maybe someone in this year's top 10 is an answer. But if you're looking for someone to make a real difference on the blueline next season, the 2012 draft does not hold the cards you are looking for.