The first round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft wasn't supposed to involve the New York Islanders. They had no picks in the first two rounds - having sent both to Buffalo in the infamous Thomas Vanek-Matt Moulson deal - and made no noise whatsoever about who or what kinds of players they'd be looking for with their later picks. If you had other plans for that June 26th evening, you would not have been expected to break them.
But we should all know Garth Snow better than that by now.
The draft has always been a time for the Islanders GM to make significant moves, whether we like it or not. Before the lockout season, he traded a second rounder for a very effective Lubomir Visnovsky. In 2013, he jettisoned an unhappy Nino Niederreiter for Cal Clutterbuck. Last year, he moved a few picks to get back into the first round specifically to take talented lightning rod Joshua Ho-Sang. Even the moves Snow doesn't make become news.
Despite having no picks at the start of the evening, the Islanders left the first round of the 2015 draft with not one but two new players, moving a highly-regarded prospect of their own in the process. Afterward, Snow garnered almost universal acclaim for swooping in and spinning some straw into high-end gold.
Seattle Thunderbirds star Mathew Barzal was expected to go near the top of the draft, and was the subject of more than one profile from hopeful fan bases. He sure as hell wasn't expected to become an Islander. Trent Klatt, the team's director of amateur scouting at the time, later said that no deal would have been made had Barzal not been available. But there he was, unselected at No. 16 despite the Boston Bruins having the three preceding three picks.
So Snow moved defenseman Griffin Reinhart, the fourth overall pick in 2012, to the Edmonton Oilers for the 16th and 33rd picks in the draft, and used the first on Barzal, a scorer with a heightened defensive awareness beyond his years.
The video isn't exciting (and, being from Sportsnet, is very Oilers and Reinhart-centric), but remember: the Islanders came out of nowhere to do this.
Grabbing a big name wasn't enough for Snow, who then moved the Oilers' 33rd pick and the Islanders own third rounder for Tampa Bay's 28th overall pick. Snow used that pick to take smaller, dynamic left winger Anthony Beauvillier out of Shawinigan of the QMHJL. Beauvillier wasn't the known quantity that Barzal was, but he also came highly regarded as a well-rounded player with good hands, just one on the smaller side (in a profession in which 5'-10" is considered "small.")
(Love that Leafs talk, guys)
Since that day in June, both players have continued to show the kind of skill and scoring prowess the Islanders were looking for. Currently, they're both on Canada's World Junior team and doing stuff like this:
What a goal from Matthew Barzal pic.twitter.com/k9E8lamf8v— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) December 28, 2015
Caveat Time: Prospects are all about wishful thinking. We - not just Islanders or hockey fans but advanced sports fans in general - have seen many, many, many kids get their names called having all the promise in the world and then... poof. Most never become what we expected, some never become anything at the professional level at all. In this case, there's still time for Reinhart to become a stand-out player that the Islanders could regret trading.
But to move a non-roster player that had been passed on the depth chart for a pair of exciting offensive talents in a year when you had exactly zero first round picks is the kind of calculated home run swing that should make you happy. Now, all we need to do is wait.
Barzal, Beauvillier, Snow and Klatt all left the BB&T Center that night with smiles on their faces. So far, they're still wearing them (in Klatt's case, at his new job. I assume).
We should be smiling, too.