From 2009 to 2012, the New York Islanders had a top-five pick each year. Ironically, now just eight years removed from 2012 zero of the remain.
Garth Snow and the NHL Draft mixed like oil and water. It’s common knowledge for fans of the New York Islanders, arguably Garth Snow’s biggest flaw was finding talent in the NHL Draft. Sometimes, even after finding some talent, he did a pretty good job of ruining that player.
The most prime example of ruined talent comes from the 2010 Draft when the Islanders selected Nino Niederreiter with the fifth overall pick.
At the time, the pick was well respected. Here was one scouts take on Nino Niederreiter:
"A strong player who can play both sides of the forward ice and has pro-level finishing ability already at his young age. His potential to be an impact player in the NHL is as high as anyone’s and as recent performances at the World Juniors and in the National League A playoffs with HC Davos in 2009 proved, he can certainly handle being in and performing well in pressure situations."
It wasn’t a reach, he was mocked as a top-10 pick by Bleacher Report, Sports Illustrated, and SB Nation. By a talent evaluation standpoint, Garth was fine. Islander fans at the time thought they found a winger to pair with John Tavares for years to come.
Less than six months after being drafted, Nino Niederreiter got a nine-game trial in the NHL. He had just two points (1 goal, 1 assist) so Garth Snow and then coach Scott Gordon decided to ship Niederreiter back to the WHL.
He was very solid in the WHL putting up 70 points (41 goals, 29 assists) in just 55 games. After deciding to send him back as an 18-year-old, they brought over Nino as a 19-year-old to play with the big club.
It went terribly. In 55 games he had just one point, one goal coming in his fifth game of the season. On most nights, Niederreiter was getting just single-digit minutes a night playing with Marty Reasnor who had six points on the year or Jay Pandolfo who had three. The kid had no shot.
And that was on the days he played, he also spent a ton of time eating popcorn in the press box. Obviously, it was disappointing to see but at 19 years old, there was still no reason to give up on him despite the lack of accommodations to his game.
In 2012-2013 he was banned to the AHL. While the Islanders ended up making the playoffs and giving Pittsburgh a run for their money in round one, they still could’ve used some forward help. Nino never got a chance, not one game did he play in the NHL that year despite 50 points (28 goals, 22 assists) in the AHL.
There’s some context here though. Niederreiter wasn’t invited to training camp a rarity for a top prospect. As a result, Nino’s camp asked for a trade. Was Niederreiter the perfect soldier? No, but a lot of it had to do with being a 19-year-old getting scratched on a regular basis and then playing with 38 years olds who couldn’t score.
Anyway, Snow would oblige and he ended up trading Nino to the Wild for Cal Clutterbuck and a third-round pick in June of 2013. This isn’t against Cal, who has been fine for the Islanders and is a solid bottom-six option but Garth Snow completely whiffed on this.
All he had to do was invite him to camp that year, that’s it, and Nieddereiter doesn’t ask for a trade which went public and brought his value down. The Islanders gave up on a 20-year-old three years after taking him fifth overall but ironically now refuse to give up on another fifth overall pick six years after he was drafted in Michael Dal Colle.
Since the trade, Niederreiter has had two 50 point seasons and has scored 20 or more goals four times in his career. Still to this day, he’s a very inconsistent player but at a $5.25 million cap hit I think the Isles wouldn’t mind having a now 27-year-old who can pop in 20 goals and 40-50 points.
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The Islanders had the right plan in the early 2010s, they just completely whiffed on top picks and Garth Snow was never able to pivot. Luckily, the Islanders are in better hands now but even now, seven years later this is still a head-scratcher.