The 1997 NHL Draft was unique for the New York Islanders. They had two hits in round one but it didn’t end that way.
Drafting is not an easy thing to do, as Islanders fans know this all too well, but it is imperative to have a successful organization. Look at the 1970s, the Isles hit on a ton of draft picks that helped build their dynasty era squad.
Well, in 1997, four years removed from relevancy, the Isles were in a position to rebuild and their General Manager had two draft picks in the top five. With the fourth overall pick, the Isles decided to go with Roberto Luongo and fifth overall they nabbed Eric Brewer.
Both of these guys went on to play over 1,000 games each in their career but played a combined 113 games with the Islanders. So what went wrong?
We’ll start with Luongo. After being drafted, he spent the next two years in the QMJHL before coming to play for the Islanders in the 1999-2000 season. He’d put up a .909 save percentage in the AHL before getting the call up to the Isles. In 24 games, he had a .904 save percentage and a 3.25 goals against average.
Now, any rational person would say 24 games in the NHL isn’t enough of a sample size to see if he’s the franchise goalie or not. The issue was that Mike Milbury wasn’t rational, he was an egomaniac who was in over his head.
He decided to flip Luongo and Olli Jokinen, who he just received after being forced to move Ziggy Palffy, to the Panthers for Oleg Kvasha and Mark Parrish. This was a disastrous move as both Jokinen and Luongo went on to have great success in Florida and for the remainder of their career.
As we know, Milbury wanted Rick DiPietro. DiPietro’s career was cut short, and it’s hard to blame Rick for that, when he was healthy he was pretty good, it’s the logic of taking a goalie in the top-five and then trading him away three years later that is mindboggling.
For Brewer, he put up 11 points in 63 games with the Isles in 1998-1999 and then two in 26 games in 1999-2000 before he was traded. The Isles ended up moving him along with Josh Green and a second for Roman Hamrlik.
Hamrlik was very good for the Islanders, he put up 153 points in 300 games over four seasons averaging over 25 minutes a game during his four years with the team, but that’s the issue. They got 89 games out of a top-five pick and then 300 games from the guy they traded him for, the value isn’t there.
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Imagine having two picks in the top-five and then three years later both aren’t on the team? That’s absolutely insane, and it goes to show just how delusional and inept Mike Milbury was when it came to building a roster.