OPINION: Islanders benefited from Pepin/Karabacek fiasco


At the time when 17-year-old Alexis Pepin was traded to Gatineau for two first-round picks and Curtis Scales, it seemed to have been a questionable deal for the Islanders, who were in the midst of true re-build during the 2013-2014 Christmas trade period.

Scales was 16 at the time and was an eighth-round pick of the Olympiques in 2013. He suited up for two games with the Islanders collecting zero points.

Pepin, a former second overall pick by the P.E.I. Rocket, had a slow start to his sophomore season with the Islanders after only scoring eight goals and 17 points in 37 games. With a change of scenery in Gatineau, Pepin managed nine goals and 17 points in 23 games. Pepin added four goals and five points in eight playoff games.

As time moved on it was rumored–and then later confirmed by Islanders GM Grant Sonier–that a player would be coming to the Islanders from Gatineau to complete the deal. Sonier never said any names, but various sources named Czech forward Vaclav Karabacek as the last piece of the puzzle. The 2015 first-round pick that was sent to Charlottetown in the original trade would have gone back to Gatineau at the 2014 QMJHL Draft in May.

Islanders fans got excited when they heard of the acquisition coming Charlottetown’s way. Projected lines showed Karabacek to be playing a top-6 role.

Then “the fiasco” happened.

A new rule had been implemented by the QMJHL for the 2013-14 season that all European players selected in the 2013 CHL Draft cannot be traded for a full year (365 days) after they have been drafted into the CHL. Olympiques GM Benoit Groulx was sticking to the books and told the Islanders he would not give up Karabacek as it was not a full year yet from the time he was drafted.

Karabacek was Gatineau’s 18th overall pick in the 2013 CHL Import Draft which took place in July 2013. If you put math into the equation, Groulx is correct as it was about two months short of a full year since Karabacek was drafted into the league.

The Islanders settled with – as compensation – trading their 12th overall pick to Gatineau for the seventh overall pick, which turned into forward Mitchell Balmas.

Two months later at the CHL Import Draft, the Islanders selected Czech forward Filip Chlapik with the 11th overall pick.

End Result
Chlapik ended up setting two franchise records for the Islanders with most points by a rookie in a single season with 75, and most goals by a rookie in a single season with 33. Chlapik became a big part of the Islanders offence this season, playing primarily on a line with fellow 17-year-old Daniel Sprong and Alexandre Goulet.

Karabacek scored 11 goals and 25 points in 31 games with Gatineau before he was traded to the Baie-Comeau Drakkar for Russian Valentin Zykov during this season’s trading period. Karabacek scored six goals and 15 points in 28 games with the Drakkar. In total, he put up 17 goals and 40 points in 59 games.

Pepin scored 10 goals and 14 points in 24 games with the Olympiques this season before being moved to the Val-d’Or Foreurs where he scored eight more goals and put up 13 more points. Pepin scored the Game 7 overtime winner against the Baie-Comeau Drakkar to send the Foreurs to the third round where they were eliminated in four games.

With Gatineau finishing 14th overall in the QMJHL standings, the Islanders will have the fifth overall pick since they acquired the pick in original trade. At fifth overall, there is still lots of talent to choose from and can acquire a solid piece to the puzzle for the next few years.

As I wrote in the beginning, at first many Islanders fans were skeptical of this trade, as in the end they didn’t get much back except two first round picks which one was expected to go back to the draft for a player.

At the end of the day, I think the trade didn’t end up hurting the Islanders after all.

Chlapik turned out better than Karabacek and have the possibility of having Chlapik for three more seasons. The fifth overall pick will also be a great trading asset if Sonier decides to go that route, since the Islanders are making a run for it this season.