The Wonder Years: The Development of the Islanders Young Fellas

(Writer’s note: I encourage any discussion either through the comments section or via twitter @tobysmithny.  Also, If there are any topics you’d like discussed feel free to reach me.  Cheers!  Oh, and thanks to John M. for the idea.)

Growing up, an after-school ritual for me involved plopping down at the kitchen table with my homework, eating Andy Capp’s pub fries and watching syndicated episodes of The Wonder Years.

C’mon, you remember.  Kevin Arnold playing ‘cat-and-mouse’ with the waifish and bookishly cute girl-next-door Winnie Cooper while getting pummeled by his older brother, ignored by his dad and coddled by his mother.  And then there was his crony Paul who didn’t know jack-squat about anything; he was basically along for the ride.  Anyway, The Wonder Years was all about finding your way in life, coming of age, and occasionally getting lost in the shuffle.  With the NHL draft coming up in less than a month and all these young prospects in the Islanders pipeline, let’s reflect . . . have any of the young Isles come of age? Are any lost? Many folks in Islander Country have strong opinions on the topic.  Let’s take a look at a couple guys that were drafted and developed from within and compare them with one brought in from the outside.  Let’s see how much patience we have as fans.

Josh Bailey.  We’ll start with him because he seems to be a freakin’ lighting rod whenever this conversation comes up.  Additionally it’s a good starting point because some fans argue that the 2008 draft was the beginning of the dum dum DUMMM . . . rebuild.

Garth ‘dumped it down’ to get his guy in the ‘08 NHL draft; 9th overall. Immediate controversy.  JB was thrown right into the NHL fire and didn’t receive much ‘seasoning’ via Canadian juniors and, correct me if I’m wrong, but he was 18 when he began with the Islanders, so he was too young for the AHL.

Should he have gone back to juniors (OHL)?  Yes.  However, he was a top 10 pick for a desperate team with very few forwards that were contributing.  He stayed and yes, he was absolutely rushed.  No question.  The Islanders do not have the luxury of say, the Detroit Red Wings, who favor the idea of letting their prospects ‘marinate’ a la Val Filppula, Jimmy Howard, and Henrik Zetterberg.  Despite his early foray into the NHL for Bailey, not much blame on the decision making by the team from me on that one.

In the same breath that JB12 get’s mentioned, Kyle OKposo’s name usually lurks as well.  Some folks have already mailed it in with OKposo’s development, or in their eyes, lack thereof.  Some say he has maxed out and reached his ceiling and is . . . well. . . a bust.  On the whole, I disagree.  Among the various complaints you may hear: too soft, won’t stick up for his teammates, can’t finish, and no scoring touch.  You’ve heard the arguments.

Kyle was a hockey prodigy, a product of Shattuck – St. Mary’s School in Minnesota where hockey reigns supreme.  KO was picked 7th overall in the 2006 draft, a couple years before JB.  At the end of his second season at U of Minnesota, he left and went to Bridgeport and subsequently got some ice time with the Isles; that was the 2007-08 season.  2008-09 brought 65 games and 39 points, 2009-10 brought 80 games and 52 points with a minus-22 rating.  2010-11 was the lost season as the rotator cuff injury took it’s toll, and last year brought 79 games, 45 points, and a career high 24 goals.  Again, like JB, Kyle was hurried along.  To have KO stay in Bridgeport another year would have been mint, but when the team needs to reach the salary floor and put butts in the seat, you have to bring this guy along a little sooner than you’d like.

This is going somewhere, trust me.  OK, so the Isles develop their guys on the fly and sometimes fans want to give up on ‘em and trade them for established players.  If we look close, we can even see some similarities between Garth Snow and Kevin Arnold’s dad with his short fuse and lack of patience with his kids.  I digress.

Exhibit A in the argument of why not to give up too early on these guys is PA Parentau.  PA was drafted in 2001 by Anaheim in the 9th round, 264th overall.  Despite his above average numbers in the ‘A’ (he was a point per game player for more than half his career).  The Ducks, the Blackhawks, and ultimately the Rangers apparently never saw enough in PA to keep him around and bring him up; he was essentially lost in the shuffle.  In fact, he was in the ‘A’ for 7 years.  7 years!  With those numbers?  Somebody screwed up.  Really, no one saw anything in this guy?  You could argue that at 27 years old, when he got his first crack with the Isles, he was plenty ripe.  I’d agree with you.  PA has poured in 53 and 67 points respectively in the last two seasons.  PA, a near 70 point player!  Sure, he’s good for the occasional ‘maddening’ turnover in his own zone, but point totals like his are respectable and he’s seemingly a class act of a teammate and a positive locker room presence.  I have to give Garth credit for this pick-up.  One man gathers what another man spills. (Sidenote: I think about $4 million at 4 years gets it done in terms of keeping unrestricted free agent PA on the island.)

What about Nino and Strome?  Will we see them on the island for ’12-‘13?  Not sure.  Truthfully?  I hope not, especially with Ryan Strome.  They could honestly both use a little more time before truly being able to make an impact.  It really depends on a couple things.   1)what Garth does in terms of getting NHL ready forwards here either via trade or free agency and 2)how well these guys play over the summer and in camp.

The long of the short of it is pretty simple really . . . patience.  The ‘Mad’ Mike experience is still pretty fresh in our minds and it kills me to see guys like Chara, Bertuzzi, and Luongo having success, so personally I like the approach Garth is taking.   Regardless of how they’re brought along, let’s have some patience and allow these top 10 picks to develop through their mid-20’s before we pass judgment.  And you wanna know something?  The whole patience thing worked out pretty well for Kevin in The Wonder Years.