NY Islanders: Trading up for Brock Nelson illustrated the importance of draft capital

2010 NHL Draft Portraits
2010 NHL Draft Portraits / Harry How/GettyImages
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At the 2010 NHL Draft, the New York Islanders had the 5th pick in the draft and selected Nino Niederreiter after another underwhelming and rebuilding season. If you can put aside how the Isles adversely impacted his development by playing him with fourth-liners and then sent him to Minnesota for Cal Clutterbuck in 2013, it was a sold pick by Garth Snow. Niederreiter has played in 810 NHL games, scoring 205 goals and 204 assists for five organizations over 12 seasons.

But it's the move that happened at the very end of the first round that has continued to pay dividends for the Islanders 13 years later. The Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks owned the 30th and final pick of the first round. That's when Snow packaged two second-round picks, 35th and 58th overall, to move up to No. 30 and select Brock Nelson, a center for Warroad H.S. in Minnesota.

Nelson was headed to the University of North Dakota after being a finalist for the Mr. Hockey Award as Minnesota’s top high school hockey player and was the nephew of former NHL player and 1980 Team USA member Dave Christian. Those are some good hockey roots. The pick, the 11th US-born player rafted that day (a record), was announced by Entourage star Kevin Connolly.

Next: How did the Islanders have the assets to trade up for Nelson?

Trading Andy Sutton led to drafting Brock Nelson

Columbus Blue Jackets v New York Islanders
Columbus Blue Jackets v New York Islanders / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

Rather than wait to see if a player they really liked would last to pick No. 35, Snow packaged the two-second rounders to leave the first round with a player he coveted. The Isles had the 58th overall pick because, before the trade deadline, Snow moved D Andy Sutton to the Ottawa Senators for the pick. In the final season of a three-year contract he signed, the 34-year-old Sutton had four goals and eight assists in 54 games that season after being injured much of the prior year.

Standing 6'6 and 245 pounds with the propensity to land big hits and block shots, he was a target of multiple teams looking to bolster their defense heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Ottawa had acquired the pick from San Jose as part of a blockbuster that sent Dany Heatley to the Sharks for Jonathan Cheechoo and Milan Michalek.

"It's a fair price," Snow said in Newsday. "That's what the market is for a player of this nature, especially in terms of what a defenseman was bringing back. It's a good move for our organization when you look at what the future bears. The play of Andrew MacDonald and Dustin Kohn and the health of Jack Hillen enabled us to make a move like this."

Next: The Isles current draft capital is lacking

Lack of Draft Capital

The Islanders have made the post-season four of the last five seasons; they are in a different position now than they were during the rebuilding period in the late 2000's, but over the last two seasons, they've had the opportunity to trade pending UFAs have decided against it.

New York Islanders v Montreal Canadiens
New York Islanders v Montreal Canadiens / Minas Panagiotakis/GettyImages

In 2022, Zach Parise was signed to a 1-year extension while Clutterbuck, who was injured and would be shut down for the year, inked a 2-year contract to stay on Long Island. Rather than move veteran defenseman Zdeno Chara or Andy Greene, Lamoriello gave each the option to play out the season rather than be on the trade market, and both preferred to play out the season on Long Island.

While the returns would've been minimal for Chara or Greene, that would've almost certainly not been the case each of the prior two years for goaltender Semyon Varlamov. With Ilya Sorokin the team's future in net, Lamoriello twice chose not to entertain trading Varly, citing goaltending being the team's strength and the desire to retain him after the 2022-23 season as the 35-year-old hits free agency this summer.

The Islanders have shown they are more than willing to trade first-rounders for players they feel can help them in the short and long term. To Lamoriello's credit, none of the players acquired with their first-rounders over the last four years have been a rental.

Montreal Canadiens v New York Islanders
Montreal Canadiens v New York Islanders / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

However, it's not only first-round picks the Isles are without.

They don't have a third-rounder this season as the conditional pick went to Arizona to complete the Andrew Ladd deal, and next year's third-rounder has already been sent to Toronto to acquire Pierre Engvall, another UFA, at the trade deadline.

Looking ahead, the Islanders have all seven of their 2025 draft picks. We don't know if they'll be buyers or sellers at the deadline next season but with Clutterbuck, Matt Martin, and Sebastian Aho the only expected UFAs to be on the roster (Josh Bailey's future is uncertain, and a Sorokin extension is suspected to be in the cards), the result is likely to be similar to the last two deadlines.

The draft is non-exact science, and the Isles could've easily gotten the 30th pick wrong. Snow, two other times, made similar moves at the end of the first round, once taking Josh Ho-Sang and the other drafting Anthony Beauvillier. However, the organization currently doesn't have the draft capital to be aggressive on draft day. If there is a prospect they have high on their boards, their best and only option will be to wait and see if they fall.

The 2009-10 Islanders were six points out of a playoff spot when Snow traded Sutton for Ottawa's second-round pick. If he hadn't, the future and present of the organization could have been altered.

It's the type of move the current Isles won't be able to make because of their unwillingness to trade any of their pending free agents over the last two seasons.