On a day when it looked like one long-ago New York Islanders draftee might finally jump from the KHL, another one looks headed to a different kind of freedom.
In a surprise, 2008 pick (3rd round, 73rd overall) Kirill Petrov's situation is still murky yet suddenly interesting. In much less of a surprise, it looks like 2011 pick Robbie Russo's (4th round, 95th overall) rights will be lost to free agency after he completed his senior NCAA year at Notre Dame.
Islanders beatwriter Arthur Staple of Newsday tweeted that tidbit on Russo, which is consistent with what Staple has surmised and shared in previous updates. For whatever reason, there has never appeared to be much happening -- no scuttlebutt, no statements of "want to make this work," no "sides are talking" reports -- between the team and this prospect.
That could be fueled by the journey both have taken since Russo became the fifth Islander selection in 2011: The Islanders kept adding, and adding, and adding some more to their defensive prospect pipeline, including the infamous 2012 Draft mark by the rumored "The Choice: Pick Ryan Murray or Seven Other Defensemen." A conservative count has at least five young defensemen drafted since Russo who are already higher up the Islanders' depth and prospect chart.
Russo, meanwhile, actually missed half a season due to being declared academically ineligible. He returned and finished up with a bang though, impressing this past season while being named captain, picking up second-team postseason honors, and trailing only Mike Reilly in points by NCAA defensemen.
For a player, when you've made it this far without signing and free agency is around the corner, you might take your chances with 30 possible bidders rather than the drafting team who's still yet to sway you. For a team, when you've accumulated so many (often similar) defensemen, you might resist adding another to the 50-contract limit and required minimum ELC commitment.
Whether it's a mistake by either party is for the future to determine. Russo is 22, but late bloomers happen and the right-handed shot's final college season certainly headed in the right direction. The Isles have been in this situation before with NCAA picks you never heard from again, and with major junior players who (albeit two years younger than Russo) ended up being a costly oversight in Jared Spurgeon's case, and a player still yet to find NHL action in Brenden Kichton's case.
For what it's worth, prospect watcher Sean Lafortune (thescout.ca, McKeen's hockey) thinks Russo will be grabbed up "pretty quickly," while Chris Peters of CBS likewise imagines lots of landing spots.