The only question is the goalies. Always with the goalies.
Projecting a few seasons out, the New York Islanders knew they needed to add one or two more goalies to the system in Sunday's 2013 NHL Draft. They added two from the NCAA, meaning they have a little more time to figure out what might come of them.
And that seems to be the thing about young goalies: No one has unlocked the secret on how to evaluate nor project them. It's become rarer for them to be selected early; the consensus top goalie, Zach Fucale, was taken 36th overall, upsetting some Habs fans. (Craig Button raved about him up and down throughout TSN's draft coverage, repeating again and again that he's a franchise player and the best goalie at 16 and 17 that he's ever seen. No one echoed that high praise. You can't know that about any prospect, but particularly not about 18-year-old goalies on stacked teams.)
After Fucale was selected, the norm of recent drafts followed: Goalies are not taken where someone thinks they are valued in the overall draft board. Rather, after the first one is selected, the rest start to disappear in a quick pecking order as teams who need a goalie draft out of fear that one they like won't still be on the board the next time their turn comes up.
There are plenty of interesting forwards and defensemen available in the mid and late rounds, but once the goalies start to go it's like shopping for milk and bread before a snowstorm. The Isles grabbed theirs in the third and fourth rounds, and I have no idea whether they'll ever appear in uniform.
Reviewing the Picks
For all of the blurbs below, click the links for deeper descriptions of each.
1st Round (15th): Ryan Pulock, D
The most is known about the Isles' first pick, an offensive defenseman from the WHL Brandon Wheat Kings with a notoriously hard shot. He's a right-hander with a cannon clocked around 100 mph, so you envision him as a power play threat but you hope he turns out to be much more.
Either way it's a strong pick, not a reach. As noted in his initial write-up, there are contrasting opinions on how good an all-around defenseman he can be, but the potential is there.
2nd Round: Lubo, Lubo
No pick in this round from the Isles. It was used in the Lubomir Visnovsky trade, a mild risk that paid off quite well for the Isles. The Ducks took Nick Sörensen, a Dane, in accordance with the prophecies.
3rd Round: Eamon McAdam (70th), G; Taylor Cammarata (76th), C/W
This is the round where you wondered if an Isles scout got snowed in in Waterloo and fell in love with the hospitality. The Isles took two players from USHL Waterloo just six selections apart (the 70th came their way in the Nino Niederreiter trade).
McAdam is headed to Penn State, so we won't get a better read on him until he gets NCAA games under his belt. His stats this season aren't impressive -- few goalies' are in the USHL -- at .896 save% and 3.45 GAA, but he was on scouts' radars for the ISS and CSS. He was the sixth goalie taken in this draft. He did well in the USHL/Top NHL Prospects game, for what that's worth.
Cammarata is frankly the more interesting pick, and a nice risk in the third round: He led the USHL in scoring, has hands observers rave about, and his "biggest" (sorry) knock is his size. At 5'7", he needs to have some serious Martin St. Louis in him to thrive. That's a pretty rare outcome.
That said, there will be fun imagining if it can be so:
When Waterloo Blackhawks forward Taylor Cammarata is selected on Sunday, likely the first anecdote to be told will be how Cammarata was a teammate of top-3 overall selection Nathan MacKinnon at Shattuck-St.Mary's, and that Cammarata out-scored his linemate 170 to 101 as a bantam, and 139 to 93 the following year on the school's U16 team.
Cammarata has always been a scoring phenom.
He's headed to the University of Minnesota in the fall, where as with McAdam we will learn much more.
4th Round (106th): Stephon Williams, G
This is what I mean with the mystery of goalies. In truth, Williams is older -- he's 20, and has already been passed over in the draft -- so I get why he wasn't rated highly in this draft. However, this past season was a fine one for him, as he took home conference all-star and rookie awards playing for Minnesota-Mankato.
It was his first NCAA season at age 20 because he'd previously played in the USHL for, among other teams, Waterloo. Of course.
On the surface, Williams looks more promising to me than McAdam. But who knows? They're goalies.
5th Round (136th): Viktor Crus Rydberg, C/W
Having hit the WHL and the USHL, the Isles dipped into Sweden with their next pick, going for the familiar "two-way responsible center" profile. Seems every other year the Isles draft this kind of player from Sweden. With David Ullstrom fleeing to the KHL, it was time for another.
However, Crus Rydberg is smaller and not as promising as Johan Sundstrom, the Swede they selected last year with the pick they received in the James Wisniewski trade. As a Swede, the Isles will have two years to sign him. First he'll continue his career in the Linköping system.
Said Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus, in impressive brevity (for Twitter):
2nd line center for the Swe U18s. Skilled player, can pass well. Abv avg speed. Small and needs to bulk up.
6th Round (166th): Alan Quine, C
The Isles went for conditional upside with another older prospect. Quine was previously drafted by the Red Wings in the third round of 2011, but he didn't sign by the deadline this spring. In truth the intervening years on bad OHL teams were not kind until he surged this year starring for Belleville on their playoff run.
It might be too late for that kind of performance to matter, but the sixth round is made for such potentially rewarding longshots. Says Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus:
Very skilled player, good speed. Still has to round out game, but has potential.
Quine fancies himself a two-way player who needs to shoot more. He appears to recognize his game will need adapting to win a job in the pros.
7th Round (196th): Kyle Burroughs, D
You might see this as virtually a throwaway pick, and normally this late in the draft I'd agree. But Burroughs turned enough eyes leading the Regina Pats defensemen in scoring that many thought he would be selected earlier than this.
Another Brenden Kichton who scores a lot in the WHL but lacks the full package for the pro game? Possibly. (Kichton, incidentally, was selected by Winnipeg in the 7th round after reportedly asking for 2nd/3rd-round money from the isles.) But Burroughs is another decent gamble with a late pick, as it's possible that opportunity rather than talent or development kept him from shining sooner.
Grading drafts the day after is silly, since no one knows all the players and no one knows all the variables and team priorities when names are disappearing each minute after the first round. But we can get a sense of how the Isles approached it in 2013.
Essentially, they took a justifiable pick for an organizational need in Pulock. They took a couple of NCAA goalies, possibly early, though not until five and then nine other goalies were taken ahead of them. They selected a potential two-way grower in Crus Rydberg. And with their late picks they drafted several high-upside kids who have flaws that might be fatal but might be the kind of thing that makes sleepers go so late in the draft.
Frankly, with the longshots that happen in the later rounds, it's smart to swing for the fences. Cammarata's high-end skill probably won't pan out, Quine might have gone unsigned for a reason, and Burroughs' late surge might be a mirage. But you never know.