The NY Islanders have been trying all summer to upgrade their top-six forward group. After losing out on Johnny Gaudreau and Nazem Kadri, if GM Lou Lamoriello is going to add a significant forward it will have to be via a trade.
The Islanders have occupied the NHL rumor mill this off-season but landing another top-six forward has yet to occur to this point and it seems unlikely it will happen before the beginning of the season. The performances of the Isles top prospects over the last year or so including the recent World Junior Championships have made it more difficult for Lamoriello to include Aatu Räty and William Dufour as part of a trade.
Räty & Dufour
Räty and Dufour are by far the Isles' top two prospects. It's a big drop after them although Simon Holmstrom has begun to find his way at the AHL level and there could be something there. Regardless, both Räty (6'2, 185 lbs) and Dufour (6'3, 204 lbs) have NHL size and as of last season have proved they just might have the skill. Both will most likely be developing their game with the Bridgeport Islanders this season, although Lamoriello did leave the NHL door open for Räty when asked about it in his latest press conference.
Both Räty and Dufour had strong seasons for their respective regular season clubs. Räty played in the Finnish League (Liiga) scoring 13 Goals and 40 Points in 41 Games. Dufour in the QMJHL Canadian Junior League tallied 56 Goals and116 Points in 66 Games for the Saint John Sea Dogs. They each posted strong seasons but their performances in this month's World Junior Championships opened a lot of eyes even further regarding their NHL futures.
Projections are always just that, projections, but Räty and Dufour have skyrocketed their value, giving them the potential status to be second-line forwards according to a few different outlets. The duo prospects have certainly changed the narrative around them from a free fall prospect after a difficult season and late-round long-shot selection to legitimate NHL potential which means there's always the chance that they can still become even better players. When Anders Lee was in the prospect pipeline most probably would have doubted he would become a first-line winger as a former sixth-round draft pick.
With the current trend in their play, it's fair to question if Lamoriello would include the prospects in a trade. Of course, no one is "untradeable," heck even Wayne Gretzky has been traded before. However, an example that comes to mind is if a player such as David Pastrnak becomes available and the Boston Bruins are interested in one of these prospects, that's a trade you pretty much have to make. But it really depends on the player at this point as trading one of Räty and Dufour would mean Lamoriello needs to retrieve someone as impactful as the previous example that will contribute to the long-term. Is J.T Miller that player? Considering he will be 30 next spring and would have to be signed to an expensive long-term extension, it feels unlikely and it appears the 30 other clubs have pretty much finished their summer business.
There are other considerations as well.
Isles Forward Group Next Two Years
Over the next two years, the Islanders will have five forwards to see their contracts expire and become unrestricted free agents. Such players include Zach Parise after this coming season and Josh Bailey, Anthony Beauvillier, Cal Clutterbuck, and Matt Martin the year after. Odds are of that group, Beauvillier may be the only one who resigns when his deal ends.
That means there will be roster spots to fill. Hold your sarcasm, but trade or free agency is, of course, an option, however, given the history who really knows if that will work in the Islanders' favor? Filling some of those roster spots internally benefits the Islanders for a couple of reasons and Räty and Dufour could start becoming a part of the Isles' future core. Having some rookie contracts in your NHL roster frees up some money in the short term for Lamoriello to work with in free agency or on the trade market, and keeps the roster young with the implication both prospects are making an impact on the lineup.
Other potential prospects are very uncertain at this point to help at the NHL level, to say the least. The best chance of a forward stepping up in the Isles pipeline would be Kieffer Bellows or Holmstrom, but their long-term NHL projection is questionable at this point and time.
The ascent of the Islanders' top prospects makes it hard for Lamoriello to dangle Räty and Dufour as trade bait unless he can land a big-time forward between the age of 25 - 27 that will contribute long-term. Homegrown talent has proven to be the recipe for success with some of the NHL's most recent Stanley Cup Champions such as the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche. If it all continues to work out for Räty and Dufour, adding them to the core of Mathew Barzal, Oliver Wahlstrom, Noah Dobson, Ilya Sorokin, Alexander Romanov, and Anthony Beauvillier (if he can re-write his narrative) shapes up a pretty strong, young core moving forward, in addition to impact veterans such as Lee, Brock Nelson, Adam Pelech, and Ryan Pulock.
Thanks to the emergence of Räty and Dufour, the Islanders prospect pipeline, although still not great, looks a lot better moving forward.