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Reality Check: Isles Should Shoot for Connolly

Fifth pick in Friday’s first round should grab elite player

Garth Snow is sitting in pretty good shape come this Friday evening at the NHL’s 2010 entry draft in Los Angeles. With the fifth overall pick, plus two second rounders and two third rounders, his Islanders should emerge with additional young talent to add to an already impressive stable of kids.

However, he’ not presented with the slam dunk he had last season when he held the first pick overall and chose, to no one’s surprise, John Tavares. Not the case in 2010 as this time around Snow has a difficult decision on his hands. Does he look to add that potential cornerstone young blueliner to shore up the team’s spotty defense or pick another elite forward to improve the club’s rather anemic attack up front?

While Snow isn’t exactly tipping his hand, we’ll tell you we think it should be the latter, and if 18-year-old Prince George right wing Brett Connolly is available he should be pulling an Islanders jersey over his head sometime around 8 p.m. Friday night.


OK, here’s why you’ll hear they shouldn’t draft this kid—a hip injury has everybody scrambling for medical reports and his numbers, even prior to the injury, aren’t dazzling (30-30-60 in 65 games in 2008-09) for the free-wheeling WHL.

Here’s why they should—just about every scout that has seen this kid play claims he’d be going one or two if not for the hip flexor injury. Yeah, I know, you’re an Islanders fan and you’ve had it up to here with hip injuries. First off, he’s not a goalie and secondly his agent made it clear this week there’ll be full disclosure on his medical records at the draft. Connolly himself was recently quoted as saying, “My hips are 100 percent now and I’ve had a couple of really good months of working out. I feel great.”

As for his seemingly so-so stats, his Cougar team finished 25-44-0-3 his last full season (2008-2009) so he hasn’t exactly been surrounded with equal or better talent.

All this shooting from (and about) the hip aside, here’s the biggest reason we think the Isles should nab Connolly. We spoke with someone who regularly watched this kid play in Prince George and they had this to say: “The most noticeable player on the ice every game, every shift, and he’s one of those kids that finds another gear late in close games and almost wills the team to win on those nights. His leadership skills are something you just don’t teach. Has some Mark Messier in him.”

This from 45-year-old Henry Chase, who lives in Vanderhooh, B.C. and has attended numerous Prince George Cougar games the last few seasons. Though Chase is not an NHL scout (OK, he’s a photographer), he’s been a hockey loon his entire life and has seen a ton of talented B.C. kids growing up in Western Canada. He tells us he’s never seen anything quite like Connolly.

And we’re not relying on Mr. Chase’s assessment alone, as just about every scout that has seen this kid play rates his skills right along side Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin—expected to go one/two on Friday. What seems to separate Connolly in every discussion is his style of play—aggressive, tireless and nast—attributes not typically associated with the top forwards chosen every year.

At 6-2, 190-lbs. and growing, Connolly already has the frame to continue his physical style without getting worn out at the NHL level and at 18, his hip won’t exactly be slow to heal. The kid’s only concern after missing almost the entire 2009-2010 WHL season was about getting his timing back. The hip apparently wasn’t an issue.

Connolly made it back to the Cougars for the final 16 games this past season and it didn’t appear timing was a problem either as he had 10 goals and nine assists.

Grabbing one more stud up front will also give the Isles the chips they need to possibly land a top-shelf defenseman via the trade route. Their defense, as currently constituted, isn’t exactly a disaster heading into the 2010-2011 anyway. Led by free agent signee Mark Streit and the surprising emergence of both Jack Hillen and Andrew MacDonald, you could certainly make the case that this group currently represents the team’s strength heading into next season. That’s not to say Snow shouldn’t be looking to add a banger come July 1st—because he most certainly should.

While there will be a couple of very tempting and talented defensemen available at No. 5, along with some heralded young goaltenders, Snow should roll the dice on Connolly. There are GMs out there that will within those first 10 picks and Snow shouldn’t let this kid get away.

Bottom line—there is Wendel Clark-potential residing inside Brett Connolly. While he may not be quite as tough as Clark, Connolly has that rare mix of skill, grit and determination that hasn’t been seen on Long Island in quite some time.

We’re solidly rooting for Brett Connolly on Friday night in this corner.

Ice Chips

The 2010 NHL Draft is being televised live on Versus here in the U.S. The first round of the draft will begin at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT on Friday, June 25, with rounds 2 through 7 held on Saturday, June 26, beginning at 10 a.m. PT. Versus is not televising Saturday’s rounds.

Of those aforementioned young backliners we mentioned that might be available for Snow if he opts to pass on Connolly or if the kid goes in the first four picks, Erik Gudbranson, a defenseman with Kingston of the Ontario League is the most likely choice for the Isles. Cam Fowler, one of the other top flight youngsters on D will probably go third (Florida) or fourth (Columbus). Gudbranson is big (6-feet-4-inches) and is being compared to the Hawks Brent Seabrook as a true “shutdown defender.”

The 2010 Draft race is real tight between two surefire future NHL stars, C Tyler Seguin of the Plymouth Whalers and LW Taylor Hall of the Windsor Spitfires. Edmonton and Boston (via Toronto) pick one/two and our guess is the Oilers grab Hall leaving the Bruins with Seguin, which will be fine with them.

In what is generally considered a very deep draft at the top, many scouts believe a good number of the first 10 picks might play in the NHL this coming season.

Snow has five picks within the first 82 spots as along with the fifth overall pick he holds the 35th and 58th in round two and the 65th and 82nd in round three.

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