The first New York Islanders star to congratulate the club’s first pick at the annual Entry Draft on Friday night in Vancouver was none other than Mathew Barzal.
Which was rather appropriate since the top Isles pick — in 23rd position — was Simon Holmstrom who regards Barzal among his favorite National Hockey League players.
“It was great to see Mat and he said he’d been looking at my game,” Holmstrom laughed. “I’d been seeing and liking his game as well.”
Ditto for Islanders boss Lou Lamoriello when it comes to his latest Draft acquisition.
“Our scouts were extremely high on Holmstrom,” the Isles’ President and General Manager asserted. “It was unanimous. We had him rated right where we picked him. We all knew that if Simon still was there at 23 that we would pick him.”
Although the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau had Holmstrom projected to be selected anywhere from 16th to 46th, many Islanders fans were taken by surprise when their favorite team picked the blond, blue-eyed Swede much higher than expected.
So was Simon, who realized that his selection was not as simple as it might have seemed. A lot of thought went into it, especially since he now fortifies the Islanders’ depth along as a right winger. Still, hearing his name called in the first round knocked Holmstrom through a loop.
“I was surprised — really shocked,” said Holmstrom. “It was an unbelievable feeling. What do I want to do for the team? Well, among other things, I want to score some goals.
“I’m an offensive player who likes the puck. I’m very grateful that this has happened to me. I’ll do my best and, hopefully, it won’t take me very long to make the big club.”
Swedish forward Simon Holmstrom speaks to the media after being chosen 23rd overall by the Islanders in the 2019 NHL Draft.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie calls Holmstrom “more a scorer than a playmaker.”
McKenzie added that “One scout actually had him as a Top-15 pick.”
Others compared his selection — along with previous year’s Draft picks such as gifted defenseman Noah Dobson — “as part of the club’s long-term rebuilding program.”
Coach Barry Trotz, fresh from winning the Adams Award as coach of the year, likes Holmstrom. “Hopefully he’ll be a good match, someday walking together with Mathew Barzal. We’re building something special on the Island.”
The Hockey News observation about Holmstrom is to the point: “Injury woes early (slowed him down) but he’s a creative producer just rounding out his game.”
Lamoriello revealed that his club’s medical staff gave Simon the green light and Holmstrom added that he feels ready to help the team.
Further to the optimism, a relevant player evaluation group, Elite Prospects, essentially endorsed the Islander choice with some positive points:
“Holmstrom is offensively skilled and competes hard,” the report noted. “He’s a good skater with good hands and puck-handling skills. Expect him to do the unexpected. He has a good wrist shot and plays a two-way game. He also has great character and is an excellent team player. All in all, he’s been underrated.”
Historically, Swedish underrated long shots have come through on the Island. One of them, defenseman Stefan Persson, was a four-time Stanley Cup-winner.
What we do know in terms of the Holmstrom selection is that Lou Lamoriello knows how to pick winners. He proved it in New Jersey with the likes of Martin Brodeur, among many aces.
Who knows? Looking down the line, Simon Holmstrom could be another Lou winner!