In the NHL (and probably other leagues, but who cares about those?), you don't always sign all of your draft picks. And it's usually because you don't want to. Two years (or more for college kids) to evaluate whether they're worth a three-year ELC, some mild concern about the 50-contract limit, and the fact draft re-entries usually don't improve their status means these kids rarely have much incentive to go Lindros.
So the mild hysteria among always-sky-falling Islanders fans (wonder what helps feed that echo chamber?) as this year's -- well, really 2012's but we'll get to that in a moment -- prospects signed contracts was bemusing.
This week Ville Pokka (2nd round, 34th) signed in a small window after the World Championship completed, but there was never any scuttlebutt that anything different would happen.
Previously, Adam Pelech (3rd round, 65th) signed in March, Loic Leduc (4th round,103rd, and pretty much a longshot but hey Jason Clark is on an ELC) signed in April, and Griffin Reinhart signed long ago because he's a manchild.
Now today, just before the (non-NCAA) deadline, 6th-round pick (155th) Jesse Graham has also signed, leaving only Jake Bischoff and Doyle Somerby unsigned from the Isles' 2012 "None More Defensemen" draft -- and those two can't sign without leaving college first anyhow. (At this point, hopefully you know the entry level contract is the standard three years with various unreachable bonuses and such.)
Other guys have gone down to the wire, or at least within reach of the wire -- Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas, David Ullstrom come to mind -- but that trio of names should tell you something about how often this is a bigger deal than the routine course of business.
Where Does Graham Fit?
So with Graham in the fold, the Islanders have, well, even MOAR blueline prospects.
In four seasons of junior hockey (first with Niagara, later traded to Saginaw), Graham compiled 152 points on 20 goals in 265 games. He was named to the OHL First All-Rookie Team in 2010-11, after scoring 18 points (one goal, 17 assists) in 63 games with Niagara.
Hes' been a consistent point producer over the last three seasons and a key defenseman for his teams over the last two (losing his partner Dougie Hamilton to the NHL), so he passes that first bar you associate with NHL hopeful defensemen. He's a righthanded shot, which also adds mildly to his chances. For a sixth-round pick, he's done well for himself and that's about all you can ask at this point.
Here is Yahoo juniors writer Neate Sager earlier this season:
Graham has been an intriguing player over his run in the OHL, as a defenceman who's a relatively stripling at a listed 5-foot-11 and 172 pounds. The Toronto native isn't a purely offence-first D-man even though one might be inclined to view him as such because of his modest stature. His 41 points over 53 games between the Niagara IceDogs, where he began the year as captain, and Saginaw, puts him a mere eighth in the OHL defenceman scoring race.
[...] Yet he's always been a very guileful player who stepped into the OHL at age 16 and immediately handled a big role with Niagara...
That roundup, of course, came on the occasion of that other thing on Graham's resume: This insane and appreciated effort to save an empty-netter (and lead to a goal the other way):
Beyond that, he enters the pool like so many other non-Reinharts (and non-Pokkas, even). I won't betray our full updated Top 25 Under 25 list just yet but here's a teaser: He's not on it. (He did receive one 25th-place vote from our esteemed panel.)
Defensemen on pro contracts or due qualifying offers for next season include:
- Lubomir Visnovsky
- Travis Hamonic
- Thomas Hickey
- Matt Carkner
- Brian Strait
RFAs (need qualifying offers to be retained):
- Calvin de Haan
- Matt Donovan
- Aaron Ness
Signed but Hardly Guaranteed NHL Spots:
- Griffin Reinhart
- Ryan Pulock
- Kevin Czuczman
- Scott Mayfield
- Ville Pokka
- Adam Pelech
- Andrei Pedan
- Loic Leduc
You can apply various asterisks to a few of the above -- maybe not qualified (Bridgeport's Marc Cantin is also an RFA according to CapGeek), maybe assigned to Europe, maybe kept in juniors even -- or you can imagine some would be trade chips if the Isles move some bodies in the meat exchange this summer.