The New York Islanders are in the midst of a busy summer, one that has already seen some key names such as Nick Leddy and Jordan Eberle on the move.
On Day 2 of the NHL Draft, many had their eyes set on general manager (GM), Lou Lamoriello, with the possibility that he might move some picks to upgrade their current roster. However, Lamoriello had different plans, and used all six of his draft picks, adding to a thin Islanders’ prospect pool. So who did the team draft?
Let’s meet the Islanders draft class of 2021.
Certainly not the most controversial pick by a long shot, yet still controversial, Aatu Räty fell to the Islanders at 52nd overall. He was once thought of as a top talent in this draft, yet fell on many draft boards after a couple of down seasons in 2019-20 and 2020-21. Prior to his struggles, Räty had a fantastic season on his hometown Kärpät team in Finland’s top under-18 level. The 15-year-old posted 27 points in 12 games, opening eyes everywhere and shooting him to the top of draft rankings.
After struggling in his next two seasons, the conversation turned to Räty being unable to handle the pressures of the media naming him the possible No. 1 draft pick. However, his agent, Mika Backman, said it wasn’t the media that made things hard on Räty.
“Last spring, it wasn’t easy for him,” Backman said. “He was the youngest player in the whole world juniors and then after the tournament Kärpät put him to play with the juniors and he tried to work harder and harder, and I think he even practiced too hard. I think he pushed too hard. The joy, he lost it.” (from, ‘The fall from No. 1: Aatu Räty is no longer the 2021 NHL Draft’s top prospect, but that isn’t the end of his story,’ The Athletic, 07/24/21)
After being snubbed from Finland’s under-20 World Junior team as a returnee, Räty’s season began to turn for the better. He was one of the youngest players in Finland’s Liiga, playing on a nightly basis for Kärpät. His biggest drawback is his skating, yet according to Kärpät GM, Harri Aho, it’s taken considerable strides recently. As for the rest of his tools, they look pretty good.
“His hockey IQ is good and he can create plays by himself and for other players. That’s probably his best strength. The basic skills are good, so that’s not going to be an issue,” Aho said. “And he works really hard on and off of the ice. Sometimes he needs to take more rest than work. It’s not about his work ethic. That’s super. He’s a guy who wants to learn all the time more and more, and he’s interested about the game and how to develop himself. From that point of view, he’s a really good prospect and a good kid. He really can be someday in a good role in the NHL but it will take some time.”
There’s a belief that Räty will make an impact in the NHL, it just might take some patience with his development. The Islanders’ new prospect is already off to a good start. After finding out he had been drafted, he went on to score four goals for Kärpät on the same day.
Looks like a boost of confidence on Räty’s draft day has done him some good, and could be good news for the Islanders moving forward.
The Ontario Hockey League (OHL) didn’t even have an abbreviated 2020-21 season, so to be drafted to the NHL was a relief for the Islanders’ newest goaltending prospect, Tristan Lennox.
“I don’t really have words to describe the feelings that I’ve been feeling,” Lennox said via Zoom. “I’m just really excited to get to work and be a New York Islander.”
Unable to draft Lennox based on his 2020-21 numbers, the Islanders relied on his merits prior to the COVID complicated season in the OHL.
“Lennox, 18, posted an .876 save percentage, 3.63 goals against average, and 20-8-3 record in 33 games played in 2019-20 for the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). The Ottawa, Ontario native helped lead Canada to a silver medal in the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, posting a .951 save percentage and 0.95 goals against average through three games. The Islanders selected the 6’4″, 190 lbs. goaltender in the third round, 93rd overall,” according to the New York Islanders PR.
Lennox comes to the Islanders already familiar with a few faces in Bode Wilde and Blade Jenkins, his teammates with the Saginaw Spirit during the 2019-20 season.
According to Eliteprospects.com, he’s steady in net and hard to rattle. Islanders goaltending gurus, Mitch Korn and Piero Greco, could put the finishing touches on Lennox who has the capabilities to become an NHL goaltender.
Cameron Berg is a left-shot, left-wing product of the United States Hockey League (USHL). Selected at 125th overall, the 19-year-old produced 58 points (27 goals, 31 assists) through 51 games with the Muskegon Lumberjacks last season. Berg finished seventh among skaters in points at the conclusion of the 2020-21 season.
Berg, drafted at 6-foot, 192 pounds, will be a freshman this fall at the University of Nebraska-Omaha in the NCHC and will continue to develop under the Omaha Mavericks in NCAA’s Division I.
Eetu Liukas was selected by the Islanders in the fifth round. He skates with TPS of the Liiga and is teammates with fellow Islander prospect, Ruslan Iskhakov. Another winger with good size, Liukas comes in at 6-foot-2, 207 pounds. He started last season with TPS’ U20 squad and totaled four points (2 goals, 2 assists) in five games. He was then called up to TPS’ top team and finished the year in the Finnish Elite League.
Liukas played 19 games with TPS in the regular season, registering a goal and two assists in 19 games, and helped TPS all the way to Liiga’s final.
Aleksi Malinen was a prospect who ranged from a second-round selection to a seventh-round selection across multiple draft boards, and the Islanders drafted him in the sixth round.
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At 6-foot, 176 pounds, Malinen is known for his explosive skating who can skate well in transition, and is capable of bringing the puck coast to coast. The 18-year-old spent his first season with JYP of Liiga in 2020-21, where he tallied three points (2 goals, 1 assist) through 30 regular-season games.
Taking their second defenseman of the draft with their last pick, Tomas Machu stands at 6-foot-4, 190 pounds. Machu started last season with HC Vitkovice U20, tallying seven assists in five games. He then played a single game with HC Vitkovice’s top club in Czech Extraliga in the Czech Republic’s top league. He also helped his hometown Czech Republic team to a bronze medal at the 2019 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.
The 2021 NHL Draft is bound to be full of surprises after two seasons of COVID-19 complications and inconsistencies across all leagues. The Islanders draftees certainly have promise, and it’s now the Islanders’ responsibility to develop their new talents. Beginning with Räty, time will tell if Lamoriello and company hit a home run, or popped out in the 2021 NHL Draft.
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James is a THW New York Islanders writer and podcast host of Nassaumen Hockey Podcast. A trusted source for Islanders content for many years at THW, James is passionate about keeping Islander fans up to date on the latest in Islanders news. Other content contributions also include his Co-Editor-in-Chief status for NYIslesBlog.com. For interview requests or to provide content info, follow James on Twitter.