Devils 2003 draft evaluation

By Jared Ramsden

Coming off the franchise’s third Stanley Cup championship in 2003, the New Jersey organization was obviously on a high. The good feeling continued at the draft as the Devils were able to trade up a few spots in the first round to select Zach Parise, a player the team thought very highly of. So far he has lived up to the hype and then some, evolving into one of the top players on the Devils. The Devils didn’t have the bounty of selections they had at the previous two drafts, but the team struck gold with Parise.

Of New Jersey’s seven picks, only one of the players has established himself as an NHL regular.  This draft class has played a total of 245 games, but 244 have come from Parise. Petr Vrana is a highly-touted prospect in the system from this draft who could make an impact as early as next year, and Ivan Khomutov remains a pedestrian prospect at best who has an outside shot at a career in the NHL. The remaining four picks can be labeled as busts.

Zach Parise, C – 1st round, 17th overall (University of North Dakota, NCAA)
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 244

The Devils were able to snag a falling star when they traded up five spots with the Edmonton Oilers to the 17th and drafted University of North Dakota center Zach Parise. It cost the team a second-round pick in the draft in order to move up, but it was well worth giving up the extra pick, as Parise has arguably emerged into the top goal scorer on the Devils after only three NHL seasons. Parise stared at the infamous Shattuck St. Mary’s Prep School, before moving to the college ranks in 2002-03 where he led North Dakota scoring in his freshman year with 61 points in only 39 games. He returned to North Dakota for the 2003-04 season, before deciding to turn pro. He might have played in New Jersey if not for the lockout in 2004-05, but ended up getting valuable development time with the Devils AHL affiliate in Albany, scoring 58 points in 73 games.

Parise, as the brass in New Jersey had hoped, made the 2005-06 opening night roster. While he had his ups and downs, he finished the season suiting up in 81 of 82 games, scoring a respectable 14 goals and 18 assists. Parise built confidence as the season wore on, and a position change from center to left wing seemed to agree with him. The next year saw Parise emerge into a legitimate NHL goal scorer, leading the team with 31 goals and finishing second on the team with 62 points. He took his game to another level in the playoffs, scoring seven goals in 11 games. This past season, he again led the team in goals, this time with 32, but also led the team in scoring with 65 points. Parise’s small stature caused him to slip in the 2003 draft, but he has overcome that with his supreme offensive skills and excellent work ethic. He should continue to be one of the Devils top offensive catalysts for the foreseeable future, as he is signed through the 2010-11 season.

Petr Vrana, C – 2nd round, 42nd overall (Halifax, QMJHL)
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Though the team ended up dealing a second-round pick to move up to take Parise, the team did have two picks in the round and used the remaining pick to select Czech center Petr Vrana, who had just come off a fantastic showing with the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads. The then 17-year-old finished with an impressive 37 goals and 46 assists in 72 games and also managed 20 points in 24 playoff games. Vrana spent two more fairly productive, yet somewhat injury-plagued, seasons with the Mooseheads before signing with the Devils after the 2004-05 season. His leadership qualities were quite evident in the fact he was team captain of the Mooseheads for the 2004-05 season, as well as captaining the Czech Republic entry at the World Junior Championship that same season.

Vrana’s first season of pro hockey was a little bit rocky, but considering that he was a rookie playing on a struggling AHL team in Albany, his 12 goals and 23 assists in 74 games was nothing to shake a stick at. Those numbers were good enough to place him fourth on the team in overall points. Year two in the AHL, with the Devils affiliate now in Lowell, saw Vrana’s point total drop from 35 to 32, but that did not really reflect the overall improvement in his play. He gradually shook off the inconsistency issues he showed as a rookie back in 2005-06. He often sported an “A” on his jersey as well. This past season with Lowell, saw Vrana broke out in a huge way. He played in all 80 games, was Lowell’s lone representative at the AHL All Star game, and led the team in scoring with 20 goals and 41 assists. Vrana has little left to prove at the AHL level, and assuming the team re-signs the pending RFA, he stands a fairly good shot at earning a full-time gig in the NHL next season. He may be slightly undersized, but he is versatile, hard-working, and can contribute at both ends of the rink. While not likely to be a star, Vrana should eventually develop into a highly effective two-way player.

Ivan Khomutov, C – 3rd round, 93rd overall (Elektrostal Elemash, Russia)
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

New Jersey came into the draft needing to add depth up the middle to the organization, and with the selection of Russian Ivan Khomutov, the Devils used their first three selections in the 2003 NHL draft on centers. The highly talented and skilled center didn’t get much exposure as a young player playing in Russia, but he was able to showcase his talents at a variety of tournaments throughout the season and obviously caught the eyes of the Devils scouting staff. He was then drafted in the import draft by the OHL’s London Knights, where he spent an injury-plagued 2003-04 season, scoring a modest 21 points in 40 games.

Surprisingly, Khomutov turned pro for the 2004-05 season and was one of the youngest players in the AHL. He saw limited ice time and as a result, he only scored 17 points in 66 games. He had a little better showing in 2005-06, scoring 12 more points in six fewer games. He showed occasional glimpses of his talent, but still struggled with consistency issues. The next year was almost a write off for Khomutov as he started the year with Lowell, returned home to Russia early on, before returning to North America to play in five games with the Devils ECHL affiliate in Trenton. Last season, he had his best pro season to date, scoring 13 goals and 19 assists in 72 games for Lowell. Khomutov is still somewhat of an enigma as a prospect, but there is no doubt that he possesses the requisite skill to succeed at the NHL level. Whether he has the commitment and work ethic to make it though is another story. The Devils haven’t given up on him yet, but the jury is still out on his long-term future.

Zach Tarkir, D – 5th round, 167th overall (Chilliwack, BCHL)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

When the Devils selected defenseman Zach Tarkir from the BCHL’s Chilliwack Chiefs, he became the first Fresno, CA native to be drafted into the NHL. Tarkir was described as a good skater and puck mover and had signed a letter of intent to play at the University of Northern Michigan, where he ended up playing out all four years of his college eligibility. He saved his best for last, scoring seven goals and 13 assists in 41 games for the Wildcats in his senior season in 2006-07. With the Devils accumulating an abundance of blueliners over the course of the past few seasons, the team did not offer Tarkir an NHL contract. He was signed to an AHL contract with the Lowell Devils, but spent the majority of the season in the ECHL with Trenton, playing in 49 games and scoring 15 points. At this point, it appears Tarkir is going to be a bust, and destined for a career toiling in the minor leagues.

Jason Smith, G – 6th round, 197th overall (Lennoxville, QJAHL)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

The Devils went a little off the board when they took their first goaltender of the draft in the sixth round, Jason Smith from the QJAHL’s Lennoxville Cougars. He had just come off a season in which he led the league with a 2.29 goals against average and .920 save percentage. Smith then moved on to the NCAA to play for Sacred Heart, where he spent the first two years as a backup, and appearing in only 13 games combined. Smith took over as the starting goalie in 2005-06 and posted stellar numbers across the board, winning 18 games, posting a 2.24 goals against average and a .927 save percentage. While his overall numbers dropped slightly in his senior season, he still had a solid season, but wasn’t able to earn himself an NHL contract. He signed an AHL-level contract with the Lowell Devils, but spent the whole season with Trenton in the ECHL, where he posted 13 wins, a 3.13 goals against and .899 save percentage. It looks as though Smith can be classified as a draft bust.

Joey Tenute, C – 8th round, 261st overall (Sarnia, OHL)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 1

After posting ridiculous numbers with the Sarnia Sting in his third season in the OHL, the Devils snagged 20-year-old center Joey Tenute with their eighth-round pick. Coming off a season in which he scored 41 goals and a whopping 71 assists, his numbers obviously spoke a great deal about his offensive talent. However, Tenute’s small stature caused many teams to shy away from him in previous drafts, and until he racked up 112 points in 2002-03, his numbers didn’t merit much draft consideration. The Devils decided against signing Tenute though, and signed with Washington as a free agent. He spent all of the 2004-05 season in the ECHL with South Carolina and was promoted to the AHL in 2006-07 and suited up for his first and only NHL game to date thus far with the Capitals. He spent one more season in the Capitals organization, before signing with Phoenix Coyotes for the 2007-08 season. He spent the entire year in the AHL with the San Antonio Rampage, scoring 49 points in 78 games. Tenute is a top notch performer in the minor pro ranks, but likely won’t get a sniff at the NHL again.  He has signed in Finland for next season.

Arseny Bondarev, LW – 9th round, 292nd overall (Yaroslavl Juniors, Russia)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

By virtue of winning the Stanley Cup, the Devils held the last selection in the 2003 draft and with it, they took Russian left winger Arseny Bondarev. Slightly built at only 6’0, 165 lbs, his great skating ability and immense amount of offensive skill attracted him to the Devils. However, he did not progress as much over in Russia, and the Devils did not retain his rights. He can be easily labeled as a bust and will likely continue to play in Russia for the foreseeable future.