His new-to-the-NHL Islanders were so bad that general manager Bill Torrey liked to joke that he began thinking the Nassaumen’s real name was Hapless.
“Every time we lost,” Torrey explained, “some writer would refer to us as ‘The Hapless Islanders.'”
But not for long. Bowtie Bill — with plenty of help from aide Jim Devellano — began drafting wisely and well. Denis Potvin started the trend, as the defense foundation and easy rookie of the year.
The Cavalcade of Comers never seemed to stop. Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy came, saw and conquered. Together, the onetime rookies went on to deliver an unprecedented 19 straight playoff series wins and four consecutive Cups.
When the late Bill Torrey was handed the number one selection in the 1973 amateur draft, there was only one player on his mind: Ontario’s Denis Potvin. As a defenseman, the kid could do everything.
Potvin immersed himself in the hearts of scouts as a teenager for the Ottawa 67’s. “Teamed with Ian Turnbull on the blueline, the pair became one of the most offensively-gifted duos junior hockey had ever seen,” said hockey author Andrew Podnieks.
Stan Fischler sits down with former Islander captain Denis Potvin, reliving tales from the past and hearing his experiences all these years later.
When Potvin was selected first overall, Torrey & Co. soon realized they landed a once in a generation defensemen. He immediately became the number one D-man for the Islanders at the beginning of the year. In his first season, the 20-year old played 77 games while notching 17 goals and 54 points. He instantly became a star for the Nassaumen and one of the league’s most feared backliners.
New York would finish in last place again in 1973-74, but Potvin’s record campaign earned him the Calder Trophy. That award-winning season was just the tip of the iceberg for Denis. He would go on to captain the Isles to four straight Stanley Cups, win three Norris Trophies and be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1991.
As the Islanders continued to build the foundation for a winner, they decided to draft an undersized kid from Val Marie, Saskatchewan. Little did they know that Trottier would become one of the foremost players to ever don the blue and orange crest.
Trottier was only 18 when the Isles selected him 22nd overall in the 1974 draft. A few months after being drafted, Trottier returned to Lethbridge in the WCJHL for one more junior season. In that ’74-75 campaign, Trottier would amass an astounding 144 points, proving he was NHL ready.
The following year, Trots made the Isles out of training camp and never looked back. He became the newest offensive weapon in a burgeoning arsenal. He was awarded the first All-Star nod of his career in January and would end the season setting an NHL record for the most points by a rookie, scoring 95. That record would stand for six seasons until it was broken by Neal Broten in 1981-82. His 63 assists are still an Islanders record, though Mat Barzal tied that mark this past season.
Trottier was the unanimous decision for the Calder when the season was over. He had the best rookie year in the history of the game to that point and the best season for an Isles freshman in the team’s four-year existence.
Trots’ unforgettable first season was only the beginning of a wonderful career that included nine All-Star appearances, the Art Ross Trophy in 1979, Hart Trophy in 1980 and Hockey Hall of Fame in 1997.
If the Islanders struck gold with Trottier in ’74, they found a diamond with Bossy in 1977. Bossy, from age 15 until he made his NHL debut, was the greatest player to ever play in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Playing in the Q for Laval National, Bossy scored 309 goals in four seasons. But NHL scouts weren’t high on the Montreal Native. That didn’t stop Torrey, who plucked Boss — passed up by 12 teams already — 15th overall in the first round. Isles legendary coach Al Arbour persuaded Torrey to pick Bossy because he believed he could turn him from just a scorer to a checking forward. Just before the season, Bossy predicted he would hit the 50-goal plateau as a freshman.
Playing on the famed “The Trio Grande Line” with Troitter and Clark Gillies, Boss became a force for the Islanders. He garnered Second-Team All-Star honors and was third on the team in points that season with 91. Boss stayed true to his word on his 50-goal prediction, recording 53 goals to lead the team. His superlative year earned him the Calder, third for the Isles in five seasons.
Bossy would go on to become one of the most prolific goal scorers to ever play. 1977-78 was the first of his nine consecutive 50+ goal seasons and the beginning of a Hall of Fame career that ended with 573 goals and four Stanley Cups.
In the late 90’s, rookie defenseman Bryan Berard arrived in Uniondale via a team other than the Isles.
Berard was drafted by the Ottawa Senators first overall in 1995. Expected to jump right into the NHL, Berard was unceremoniously sent back to juniors by the Sens because of the team’s concern about his development. This led the 19-year old to request a trade. Berard was shipped to the Isles in exchange for fellow D-man Wade Redden and goalie Damian Rhodes in the winter of 1996.
After finishing the 1995-96 season with the Detroit Whalers of the OHL, Berard made his way to Long Island. Quickly into the ’96-97 campaign, he became the stud blueliner New York desperately needed. He played all 82 games that year and totaled 40 assists and 48 points. He ended the year as the team leader in points for a defenseman and ninth in the NHL for points by a D-man.
Berard would win the Calder by a small margin over Jarome Iginla.
After that remarkable first year, Berard would play two more years on Long Island before being dealt to Toronto in 1999. His career lasted another eight seasons including another one-year stint with the Isles in the 2007-08 season.
A bust at the start of the 2016-17 season, the British Columbia native became an overnight star a season later. But let’s get back to an earlier time.
When the 2015 entry draft rolled around, Barzal was already recognized as one of the top players in his draft class. His 14 goals and 54 points in his rookie season with Seattle in the Western Hockey League made his stock rise. The Islanders almost had no chance to select Barzal because of the Bruins having the 13th, 14th and 15th picks in the first round.
But somehow, Barzal was not picked and fell to the Islanders at 16.
In October of the 2016-17 season, Mat only played two games with the Isles before being sent back to the Junior level. Looking to prove he could play at the pro level, Barzal tore up the WHL’s competition and helped co-captain the Thunderbirds to a title.
With nothing more to accomplish in juniors, Barzal came to Long Island and secured a roster spot for the 2017-18 season. After a quiet first few weeks, Barzal burst on to the scene and rapidly took the league by storm with his dazzling play. The 21-year old developed into the Isles’ best and most dangerous forward. By year’s end, Barzal had eclipsed the 80-point plateau and tied Trottier’s assist record for an Islander rookie.
Barzal’s rookie season flashed back to the days of Trottier and Bossy. Being mentioned with those iconic names, only proves the future is extremely bright for the young man from British Columbia.