2011 NHL Entry Draft Preview: Garth Snow's Choice

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2011 NHL Entry Draft Preview: Garth Snow's Choice
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
What name will Garth Snow announce first from the podium in Minneapolis?

The summer of 2008 was less than three years ago.

The big news at the time was then presidential candidate Barack Obama trying to convince Hillary Clinton to bow out gracefully before the Democratic convention. She did, of course, and was rewarded with an appointment as Secretary of State.

The summer of 2008 was also when Garth Snow, general manager of the New York Islanders, began the current rebuild of that team.

He committed to building through the draft and to not taking any of the shortcuts that sidetracked predecessor Mike Milbury's efforts. With the full support of owner Charles Wang, he has stayed the course and now, just three years later, is poised to complete that task.

The one element missing in Snow's masterpiece is a franchise defenseman. This is ironic, given that Bill Torrey BEGAN building the dynasty Islanders by drafting the ultimate franchise defenseman Denis Potvin.

As was the case with that draft selection, a disappointing season by the Islanders has put Snow in position to add that final piece to the puzzle.

Wednesday's 3-2 loss to the Devils in regulation essentially sealed the deal. The Islanders had already been eliminated from the playoffs. The loss to the Devils all but guaranteed that the Islanders would finish in the bottom five in the standings and once again have a top five pick in the draft.

Larsson scores on a blast from the point against Russia

The lottery is a variable and there has not been a lottery bump since 2007, so you could argue that we are due to have one.

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that there is no bump, the Islanders will have either the third, fourth or fifth pick in the 2011 draft.

The Islanders are currently in the fifth slot. Florida and Ottawa are both two points behind in the third and fourth slots respectively.

It is possible, of course, that the Islanders might have such a high regard for a forward like Ryan Nugent Hopkins or Gabriel Landeskog that they would opt for that player in lieu of a franchise defender.

The general consensus about this draft, however, is that there are not such great disparities between the top prospects. It is genuinely possible for the Islanders to consider need and they NEED a big franchise defender.

The two players the Islanders will likely consider are Adam Larsson and Dougie Hamilton. Larsson is 6'3", 200 lbs and plays for Skelleftea of the Swedish Elite League; Hamilton is 6'4", 193 lbs and plays for Niagara of the OHL.

Larsson may just be the jewel of this draft. He has been compared to Hockey Hall of Famer Ray Bourque and Nick Lidstrom—pretty impressive company. There is absolutely no doubt that Garth Snow would love to be able to call his name on June 24, 2011.

Hamilton scores in the Top Prospect Game

Problem is that he is unlikely to be on the board for Snow to select if the Islanders are picking fourth or fifth.

To be sure of getting Larsson, the Islanders would need to win the lottery. To have a shot, they would need to pick no later than third. The Oilers are likely to have the first pick and the Avalanche the second.

My guess is that they will select Ryan Nugent Hopkins and Gabriel Landeskog respectively. If the Oilers and Avalanche pass on Larsson, it is doubtful that the team in the No. 3 slot will do the same.

If the Islanders do lose out in the Larsson Lottery and settle for Hamilton, have they lost anything and, if so, how much?

Both players are obviously big and will get bigger. They are both right handed and that will work well alongside lefty Mark Streit. Both have big, booming shots. Both make excellent first breakout passes and both generally make good decisions with the puck. Both are gritty, physical players.

Neither is known for delivering the bone crunching check or for fighting, but they can take care of themselves.

Larsson is the better, smoother skater; he is also more poised and confident. Although he might benefit from another year in Sweden (he is under contract for next year with Skelleftea), he could probably win a roster spot on the Islanders next year.

One weakness to his game is that he tends to hold the puck too long, take punishment and sustain injuries. The hit he took from Ryan Johansen in the the World Junior Championships is typical.

Hamilton is a great teammate and leader. He is incredibly intelligent, possessing a 98 percent average in high school. Adding Hamilton to Lee, Moulson and Hamonic would give the Islanders quite the brain trust on their bench. His parents were both Canadian Olympians (although not in hockey), so the bloodlines and the discipline are there. He is a great character guy and will likely wear a letter on his sweater in the future.

On the downside, he is not yet ready for the NHL and may take two years to get ready.

Although neither of these players is likely to become the next Potvin, Larsson has star potential.

They leave the "i" off the word "team" for a reason however. It's possible Hamilton might be the better choice going forward.

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