Should Matt Donovan rank seventh among New York Islanders under age 25? Should we consider him the second-best defenseman in the system (after one who is already established at the NHL)?
Don't know. But that's where we've collectively put him as we head into the summer and another NHL draft. Donovan doesn't have quite the same hands as Calvin de Haan, nor quite the same sports-car maneuvering as Aaron Ness, but he's a nice balance of both and he hasn't had the injuries that have stalled de Haan's path to the NHL. Their race to the bigs is a fun one to watch.
It doesn't hurt that the Oklahoman Denver U. product comes across as a solid character who fits right into what the Islanders are building.
As you'll see from the individual votes below -- how can he rank 7 when no one individually ranked him that high? -- the balloting was really close in this part of the poll, with Donovan, Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin all averaging in the same territory. (The rest of the top six is an interesting range of votes, you'll learn as we wrap this Spring 2012 list up next week.)
It's fair to say most Islanders fans -- as well as GM Garth Snow himself -- are hoping that elusive "top four" upgrade is available this summer by sign or by trade. But even if several open jobs beyond Mark Streit, Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald are filled from outside, you know the chance for at least one of Donovan, de Haan or Ness to claim a spot is there.
That is not insider info and requires no anonymous sourcing; rather, it's common sense.
In fact, one of the three might have been upgrades during last season, though developmental prudence prefers they all played the bulk of their year learning at the AHL level. (I'm reminded of Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson's "All our defensemen have gone from riverboat gamblers to, `let's take care of our own end,'" comment regarding their growth from the first half to the second half of last season.)
But the Islanders, like most teams, will have to thread that needle between adding established NHL talent and blocking better talent in the AHL. This is an exaggeration -- and certainly Jack Johnson, despite his errors, is no Mark Eaton -- but the Kings got better when Johnson was traded and young Slava Voynov and Alec Martinez were freed for greater roles.
Still, assuming some veterans are added, it poses a nice challenge to Donovan, Ness and de Haan: Win their jobs.
Likewise, it continues the fun competition the Islanders have going for those three youngsters to be the first to earn a place on the Island:
"We're all friends," said Donovan, who turn[ed] 22 on May 9, the day de Haan turn[ed] 21 and nine days before Ness turn[ed] 22. "We're all similar players. We all came in the same time, similar stories, offensive defensemen."
It's a friendly rivalry, de Haan said; "it's good to have that competition."
Bring it on.
How We Voted
To the question of the close cluster of ballots, here's mikb explaining how he voted in this section of the poll:
Cizikas comes seventh because he gives the team more versatility with their penalty kill and faceoff options, and again, he isn't a giant road block his own team's attack. Ullstrom goes eighth ahead of Matt Donovan because I have no doubt he'd have been with the club a lot more without his concussion. He's looking to be a good mid-six forward in a couple of seasons. I think a line of these three players is going to be a key part of any playoff push the Isles take.
Donovan still has to prove himself - I am confident that he will but he hasn't had the opportunity yet.
Panelists: CanadianIslesLifer making a return appearance, as well as most of the authors at LHH.
Note: For those LHH readers who sent their own selections in, JPinVA has them summarized in this FanPost. That one will be fun to measure against our panelists' results.
Related Links You'll See with Each 25U25 Post
You can see which other prospects just missed our top 25 in this preview post.
- At #25 was 2011 pick John Persson
- #24 saw another Swede from 2011, Johan Sundstrom
- At #23, the irritant known as Justin DiBenedetto
- #22: Kirill Petrov, with an asterisk
- #21: Brenden Kichton, Western late bloomer
- #20: Anders Lee, loophole guy?
- #19: Big Scott Mayfield
- #18: Rhett Rakshani, Queen of Funk
- #17: Aaron Ness, Mini-Me Rising
- #16: Anders Nilsson, Towering Thor
- #15: Kirill Kabanov, now a Proven Winner(TM)
- #14: Nino Niederreiter, historic rookie year
- #13: Calvin de Haan, please don't break
- #12: Brock Nelson hits the pro scene
- #11: David Ullstrom, Swede the Elder
- #10: Kevin Poulin, goalie with attitude
- #9: Hitman Matt Martin
- #8: Casey Cizikas, New 3rd Line Center?
- Our September 2011 25U25 Poll Results
To reflect the variety of ways you can place value on prospects with uncertain futures, we brought a range of philosophies to this poll, which ranks all Islanders (prospect or pro) under age 25: Some voters valued present talent/maturity more, some valued future potential more. All are averaged with the intent of capturing a moment in time in the evolution of the Islanders prospect pipeline.