Trevor Connelly is the NHL Draft's most controversial prospect and could fall into the NY Islanders' lap

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Even though the Stanley Cup Finals have yet to begin, the beginning of the 2024-25 season is just three weeks away, beginning with the 2024 NHL Draft.

The NY Islanders currently hold six picks, including No. 20 overall after a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks. By acquiring a first and two second-round picks from the Blackhawks for a first and a second, the consensus is that the Islanders will look to make a splash on draft day and acquire a top-6 winger.

If they elect to keep the pick, it'll be the organization's first first-round pick since 2018 and would be a major step to rehabilitating their league's worst prospect pool.

The 2024 draft is considered to be on the weaker end with a drop off in talent after the top 10 prospects. There is however a player with top-10 talent who likely will fall into the latter half of the first round.

Trevor Connelly is a 6'0" 156 lbs winger who played last season with the Tri-City Storm of the USHL. He finished second in the league's point race with 78 (21 G, 47 A) in 52 games, and a high 1.50 points-per-game.

His lights-out season earned him a spot on the USA U-18 World Junior Championship roster - one of only two players to make the team who were not part of the USNTDP, alongside goaltender Caleb Heil. He finished the tournament seventh in scoring for the Stars and Stripes with 9 points (4G, 5A) in seven games, including one of the goals of the tournament, pulling off a "Michigan" against Latvia.

Connelly has been called a human highlight reel and is ranked the draft's fifth-best in four-way mobility and third in puckhandling by Elite Prospects. A threat every time he steps on the ice, Connelly is a top-5 prospect based on skill alone. So why is he projected to go as a mid to late-round pick in the first round?

How far will Tevor Connelly fall on draft night?

Off-the-ice issues have plagued Connelly, beginning with a Snapchat photo he posted of a teammate in the children's area of a library with blocks assembled in the shape of a swastika. Coincidentally, at the time of that photo, Connelly, a California native, was playing for the Long Island Gulls and was removed from the team after the incident.

“I think it’s important I talk about what happened because it was an awful mistake and I still feel terrible about it,” Connelly told The Rink Live... "I’m very sorry for my ignorant mistake and since then I’ve been doing a lot to try to make up for it.”

There is also a 2021 incident where he was accused of using a racial slur towards a black player. Connelly adamantly denied the incident and was later cleared of any wrongdoing.

Connelly has made efforts to right his wrongs, doing community service and getting involved with Hockey Players of Color, an organization aiming to make hockey a more inclusive place.

While righting his wrongs is a step in the right direction, NHL executives must do their due diligence in determining whether a prospect is right for their organization, taking on and off-the-ice factors into consideration.

So if the Islanders still have their pick come the 20th selection and Connelly is still on the board, Lou Lamoriello has a decision to make. By selecting Connelly, he'd add a player who's bound to become a top-6 forward in the NHL, and would immediately become the orgaization's top prospect.

On the other hand, there are plenty of players with all the skill in the world but have off-ice issues who peter out of the league quickly - with Josh Ho-Sang as an example.

Some teams will have Connelly crossed off their list, like one NHL scout who told Elite Prospects via their draft guide (paid subscription) "I wouldn’t take him in the first round. I would wait until Day 2.”

On the other hand his skill may be enough to overlook past issues.

“At the end of the day, he’s a top-five forward in the draft," one Western Conference scout told Elite Prospects. "On hockey alone, he’s a top-five talent. I think he goes in the middle of the first round. There are some teams in there who, rightly or wrongly, they don’t give a shit. Talent-wise, this kid’s Kyle Connor, fast more bite."

With Lamoriello's old-school mentality, it's difficult to believe he'd be the one to take a chance on a player who doesn't fit his mold. But then again, the Islanders' prospect pool hasn't been this bleak in a long time, and the organization could soon be faced with being toward the bottom of the NHL standings. A player like Connelly could potentially be one to build around in the future.