Patience a Must with the Prospects


Islander Rookie Brock Nelson. Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Everybody likes to see their team’s draft selections step into the lineup and make an instant impact. Not just the early first rounders, but also some of those late-round gems that always show up as trivia questions once they’ve exceeded all expectations and made those who drafted them look like geniuses.

Since the glory days on Long Island there have been precious few gems, late round or otherwise. Former GM Mike Milbury was fairly adept at picking winners, admittedly. The downside was, he was equally adept at trading them away before they had a chance to blossom. But generally speaking, over the last twenty-odd years the number of “step right in” picks has been woefully small.

A close look around the league at the former top ten picks that joined their NHL clubs right off the bat will tell an interesting story. A lot of them, for obvious reasons, were selected by weak teams, many of which have been expansion or small market teams. It stands to reason that a number of these might have been rushed to the NHL to initiate ticket sales based on name value, at the expense of proper player development. And even of the ones who stick around and become NHL players, how many of the role players might have been regulars – how many of the regulars might have been stars – if they’d only been given some time in the minors to hone their skills before being tossed into the deep end? More importantly, how many of the teams that selected them might have been icing Cup contenders with homegrown talent they hadn’t ruined for the sake of a few thousand ticket sales in the early going?

Islander fans have watched their team tread water through the early part of this season and many have grumbled about the lack of playing time for such rookies as Matt Donovan and Brock Nelson. Granted, with a 4-4-3 record following Saturday’s disappointing loss to Philadelphia, the team’s overall success has been spotty. And yes, there are occasions when throwing a raw, 18-year-old, fresh-out-of-Junior rookie right into the mix can work out nicely. John Tavares is a fine example of one of those who clearly was ready to step into the mix and pay dividends immediately. But for every guy named Tavares there are a dozen or more named Chyzowski or Scissons.

Given Garth Snow’s success rate with his early picks, despite the fact the team has chosen to bring most of them along slowly, it might not be such a terrible thing to cut his coaching staff some slack in that department. Is it better to have a young hotshot scoring ten or fifteen goals a year from the age of eighteen, or have them wait until twenty two or three to move up then potting thirty a year? Which isn’t to say it’s inconceivable that some of the Isles’ current prospects could have been on the big club before now. Maybe they could have been. If, in three or four years the Isles are past the point of scrambling for a playoff spot in April, and instead are gearing up for their next deep playoff run, it will make the wait seem worth it.

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