The 2009 off-season was one of upheaval for the New Jersey Devils. Despite claiming the Atlantic Division title and finishing third in the Eastern Conference, a veteran heavy Devils squad was upset in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In early June of 2009, head coach Brent Sutter left the organization to return home to Alberta and coach the Calgary Flames.
While the bulk of the team remained intact, much work was still to be done in Albany. General Manager Lou Lamoriello was in year two of restocking the organization's farm system. The previous NHL Draft, he focused on adding skilled forwards like Mattias Tedenby, Patrice Cormier, and Adam Henrique.
The Devils had seven picks in the 2009 NHL Draft and used four of them on defensemen. All of them have progressed to a high level and are expected to be a part of the Devils future plans.
Jacob Josefson, C, Djurgarden IF Stockholm (SHL) – 1st Round, 20th Overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 107
The Devils love to draft forwards who can play well in the defensive end just as good as the offensive end. Longtime Devil John Madden was not expected to return, so the team traded up three spots to acquire Josefson. With his playmaking and highly regarded two-way play, it seemed like a perfect fit.
Josefson joined the Devils organization in 2010-11, after a year in Sweden, and appeared to thrive under then-Devils coach Jacques Lemaire. A thumb injury limited his action to 28 NHL games. He started the 2011-12 season in New Jersey, but broke his clavicle early on and was sidelined until February. Upon his return, he started to play well, slowly earning more ice time and responsibility in March, but then he broke his wrist before the playoffs began. He finished the season with two goals, nine assists, and was a plus-10. He was able to return for six playoff games for New Jersey's 2012 Stanley Cup run.
Unfortunately, injuries have taken their toll on Josefson's mindset. Since 2012, he has had little impact on the ice and has lost some of his confidence. He played most of 2012-13 in Albany and finished a minus-10 with the big club. He recently broke 100 NHL games this year, but has yet to find his role under head coach Peter DeBoer.
As the trend of puck-moving defensemen began to heat up, New Jersey got on board by selecting Gelinas. A quick skater that could initiate the rush, he also provided a powerful slapshot and the ability to quarterback the powerplay.
Following an up and down junior career, Gelinas went pro in 2011-12 and made an immediate impact with Albany. He quickly rose into a top-four pairing and skated a career-high 75 games. He scored 16 goals, eight were on the power play, and 21 assists.
In 2012-13, he suffered a jaw injury in pre-season and did not get going until the winter. He ended the season with six goals and 16 assists. When the Devils playoff hopes faded, they brought up the young defenseman to see his potential. He made his NHL debut on April 25th and seemed to make a good impression on management.
It appears that carried over as Gelinas was recalled weeks after the 2013-14 season started. His ability to move the puck up the ice turned the Devils fortunes around and got them back into playoff contention. With his presence on the point, the offense and powerplay improved. Despite his skill with the puck, his lapses on defense show he still has much to learn. But if the Devils record with Gelinas is any indication, then the rookie may be here to stay.
Alexander Urbom, D, Djurgardens (SHL) – 3rd Round, 73rd Overall
NHL Games Played: 34
The organization remained focused on rebuilding their future defense by selecting Urbom. More of a defensive defenseman, he could occasionally generate offense with his skating and above-average shot. He was also the first of the 2009 prospects to sign an entry-level contract. Now, in his fourth pro season, he remains on the cusp of becoming a full-time NHL blueliner.
The bruising Swede joined the Brandon Wheat Kings in 2009-10 and made a quick adjustment to the North American ice. He notched 33 points and a plus-45 rating through 66 games with the Wheat Kings.
In 2010-11, he began the year with New Jersey, but was sent down to Albany after eight games to further develop. He remained one of Albany's top defensemen for the next three seasons while rounding out his overall game. Through 194 AHL games, he has accumulated four goals, 39 assists, 165 penalty minutes and was a minus-15. He also played in six more games with New Jeresy, although they were more for emergency basis.
Before the 2013-14 season, the Washington Capitals claimed Urbom off waivers. He dressed in 20 games but had a hard time competing with veterans for playing time. New Jersey eventually reclaimed him off waivers on January 9th and assigned him to Albany.
With their next pick, New Jersey selected another defenseman, this time the bruising Seth Helgeson. More of a stay-at-home defenseman than Urbom, Helgeson is mobile, active, and more comfortable in his own end.
Helgeson spent four years at the University of Minnesota, serving as a captain in his final year. After a rocky freshman year, he became a mainstay in the Gophers end for the next three years, which included a trip to the Frozen Four in 2012.
Now in his rookie pro season, Helgeson has quickly become one of the team's most dependable and consistent blueliners. That became more evident when a series of injuries and call-ups occurred in the fall. As it stands, New Jersey has an ample amount of defensemen to choose from, but Helgeson has seen his spot rise on the depth chart.
Derek Rodwell, LW, Okotoks Oilers (AJHL) – 5th Round, 144th Overall
NHL Games Played: 0
Quiet but wise on and off the ice, Rodwell is the kind of player opponents hate to play against. Tough on the puck and along the walls, the power forward can be an effective scrapper in limited minutes. With limited offensive skill, he is best suited for a bottom six checking role within the organization.
At the University of North Dakota, Rodwell has primarily played a bottom-six grinder role. His freshman year saw him play in 39 games and contribute five goals and four assists. Unfortunately, his sophomore season was cut short after 19 games following season-ending shoulder surgery. He returned to his usual spot on North Dakota's checking line in his junior year, appearing in 32 of 42 games scoring only three points. In his senior year, he has been limited to 13 games, but has made the best of his opportunity, netting four goals.
Ashton Bernard, LW, Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL) – 6th Round, 174th Overall
NHL Games Played: 0
Bernard was a one dimensional player that was not solid on both ends of the ice. What he could do very well was fight and pay tough. His overall game never developed to the level the Devils were hoping for however, and through five seasons in the QMJHL, he amassed 495 penalty minutes, eight goals, and seven assists.
In 2010-11, he bounced around the QMJHL, MJAHL, BCHL, and SJHL, playing in a total of 24 games. He signed on with Riviere-du-Loup 3L in the LNAH for the 2011-12 season, but only played in 16 games. He was involved in a serious car accident in December of 2011 and while he fortunately survived the crash, his career as a hockey player ended.
Curtis Gedig, D, Cowichan Valley Capitals (BCHL) – 7th Round, 204th Overall
NHL Games Played: 0
Entering the draft, Gedig jumped 50 spots to finish 115th in Central Scouting's rankings. He was one of the youngest players eligible for the 2009 draft and was already 6'3, 197 pounds. With their final selection, the Devils took a chance on a relatively unknown player. Five years later, they have to feel good as the British Columbia native has developed into a well-rounded blueliner.
Gedig joined the Ohio State Buckeyes in 2010-11, following another year in the BCHL. He played in 34 of 37 games in his freshman year, adding 12 assists while earning top-four minutes, and being named to the CCHA's All Rookie Team. Since then, he has constantly improved upon each season. Now a senior, he has become a leader on the team and plays in all situations. He will likely sign an entry-level contract when he graduates this year.