Revisiting the 2011 LHH 25 Under 25: Well done, Garth, LHH cognoscenti

When you were young / You shined on our list some... - Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Trawling the LHH archives on a lazy Sunday afternoon, I came across the inaugural LHH 25 Under 25 ranking, issued after the 2010-2011 season.

That was a critical time in the Islanders rebuild: some of the key pieces of the team (e.g., Tavares, Okposo, Nielsen, Grabner, Hamonic) were maturing into bona fide NHLers, and the team had just come off a nice little run in the second half of season fueled by Michael Grabner breakaways, surprising goaltending from a hodgepodge of prospects young and old, and an inspiring, if controversial, slaughter of the Pittsburgh Penguins that Isles fans will never forget.

Although it's an open question whether that streak was a reflection of true talent, luck or perhaps a case of a team with nothing to lose taking advantage of unprepared opponents (though the team's possession stats from that period suggest luck as the likely explanation), it sent the message to fans that the rebuild was progressing and that patience was warranted (and in a bit of improbable cosmic score settling, probably netted us Ryan Strome at the cost of Adam Larsson).

Looking back at LHH's top 25 players under 25 in the ensuing offseason is a fun exercise as it shows the prescience of LHH, Garth's draft prowess or both. Several of these players are now key pieces. Here's the list:

#25: Anton Klementyev, D

#24: Andrey Pedan, D

#23: Mark Katic (D)

#22: Rhett Rakhshani (W)

#21: Matt Martin (LW)

#20: Johan Sundström, C

#19: David Ullström, C/W

#18: Scott Mayfield, D

#17: Kirill Petrov, W

#16: Casey Cizikas, C

#15: Anders Nilsson, G

#14: Ty Wishart, D

#13: Matt Donovan, D

#12: Brock Nelson, C/LW

#11: Kirill Kabanov W

#10: Calvin de Haan, D

#9: Anders Lee, C/W

#8: Josh Bailey, C,

#7: Kevin Poulin, G

#6: Nino Niederreiter, W

#5: Ryan Strome, C/W

#4: Kyle Okposo, RW

#3: Travis Hamonic (D)

#2: Michael Grabner, LW

#1: John Tavares

The Non-Prospects: Of this list, I would consider the following six of the players to have been non-prospects at the time because they had essentially been regulars during the 2010-2011: Matt Martin (21), Josh Bailey (8), Kyle Okposo (4), Travis Hamonic (3), Michael Grabner (2) and John Tavares (1). The only obvious miss in this list is Martin, who, say what you will about him, would without a doubt be higher on that list today with the benefit of hindsight. Of the remaining players, Okposo, and perhaps Bailey, should have been higher, but overall the rankings stand up. It's also notable that all six continue to be contributors at the NHL level as Islanders four seasons later.

The Prospects. Focusing solely on the prospects, it's impressive how accurate the ranking is and how many have become productive NHLers, particularly at the top end. Of the top seven prospects on the list, only Kabanov and Poulin look like misses, with the other five (Nelson, de Haan, Lee, Nino and Strome) already showing promise of becoming very good (if not better) NHLers. After the top seven, there is Matt Donovan, who might already be a third pairing D-man on a team with less depth than the Isles, and Casey Cizikas.

In all, around half of the players on the list are now regular, everyday NHL players (12, to be exact, and 13 if you count Donovan), all of whom play of the Islanders with the exception of Nino. More importantly, most of these players are not just marginal NHLers. They include at least two All-Star caliber players (Tavares, KO), top 4 defensemen (Hamonic, de Haan), and a bunch of young dynamic forwards (Nelson, Lee and Strome).

For comparison's sake, I had a look at Copper & Blue's list of the Oiler's top 25 Under 25 that same offseason:

1 Taylor Hall

2 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

3 Jordan Eberle

4 Sam Gagner

5 Magnus Paajarvi

6 Jeff Petry

7 Linus Omark

8 Anton Lander

9 Teemu Hartikainen

10 Oscar Klefbom

11 Martin Marincin

12 Curtis Hamilton

13 Tyler Pitlick

14 Theo Peckham

15 Ryan Martindale

16 Andrew Cogliano

17 David Musil

18 Brandon Davidson

19 Jeremie Blain

20 Colten Teubert

21 Dillon Simpson

22 Olivier Roy

23 Samu Perhonen

24 Taylor Chorney

25 Alex Plante

Now you know why the Oilers are choosing a jersey number for Connor McDavid while the Isles are in second place in the East. Of these players, only 6 are everyday NHLers (Hall, RNH, Eberle, Gagner, Petry and Cogliano), only four of whom are on the Oilers (Gagner was traded for Teddy Purcell and Cogliano was traded for a second round pick).

This all simply reinforces what Jen LC's recent post showed with a whole lot more data -- that despite some fits, starts and missteps, Islanders management has on the whole done an excellent job rebuilding the roster through drafting and developing prospects. For Isles fans who followed these kids with hope, excitement, worry, excitement, some more worry, nausea and then excitement again as they progressed from draft day, to their ELC signing, to prospect camps, juniors, promotions, demotions and to, finally, 23-10, it's something to savor.

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