The Devils have not been afraid to make a move in the first round in recent drafts, whether it be trading up to acquire a player the team has targeted, or to trade down to accumulate extra draft picks. Last year, they traded down, but this year, they saw a player they liked, and jumped at the chance to draft him.
Just like last year, the team again surprisingly passed on selecting a goaltender, though it was a weak year for draft eligible goalies. Jeff Frazee still remains the only goaltending prospect in the organization. Of the Devils seven selections this year, size and defense seemed to be the theme of the group. The Devils did not select a player under 6’0, and drafted five players standing over 6’3. The Devils selected four defensemen, two left wingers and one center. Four of the picks hail from Canada, two from Sweden, and the other from United States.
After having former coach Brent Sutter leave the team, and become head coach of the Calgary Flames, there were many out there who figured the Flames owed the Devils for hiring Sutter, who still had one year remaining on his contract. Whether it was intentional or not, the Devils and Flames ended up making a draft-day deal, helping the Devils snag the player they wanted. New Jersey traded their own first round choice, plus one of their two third round draft choices to the Flames in order to move up from 23rd to 20th, to select two-way, playmaking Swedish center Jacob Josefson out of Djurgardens.
Josefson, who was the third highest ranked European according to Central Scouting Service, behind fellow Swedes Victor Hedman and Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, just completed his first full season with Djurgardens in the Swedish Elite League. While he didn’t see a significant amount of ice time, seeing mostly fourth line duties, he more than held his own as a 17-year-old in a league full of men. In 50 games, he scored five goals and 11 assists to go along with a -3 rating and 14 PIM’s. He also played on the silver medal winning Swedish Team at the World Junior Championship, but was limited in the tournament due to a stomach flu.
When you look at Josefson’s sound all-around game, you can see why the Devils moved up to selected the talented Swede. The 6’0, 187 lb pivot’s most impressive on-ice skill though would have to be his exceptional hockey sense. He is an extremely cerebral center who reads the play very well in all three zones, not showing any panic or need to rush a play, instead waiting patiently for something to open up while exploring all his options. While he does not have elite level speed or quickness, his strong hockey sense helps alleviate that weakness in his game by being able to think the game at a higher level than his opposition.
Offensively, Josefson is at his best down low and in traffic, battling along the walls, while creating plays for his linemates with his strong on ice vision and top notch playmaking skills. He excels on the hashmarks on the powerplay with his puck distribution skills. Josefson shows a willingness to be involved physically, using his strength to cycle the puck in the corners and drive to the puck with, or without the puck. He has a quick, accurate shot, but he often passes up good shooting opportunities in order to set up his teammates.
In his own end, Josefson shows a strong work ethic, and uses his on ice smarts to always be in good position. He is able to disrupt plays with an active stick and is always willing to help out and support his defensemen down low. He’s strong in the faceoff circle, and as should be expected for a player that has such a high hockey IQ, he is very effective on the penalty kill.
Josefson will return to Djurgardens for the 2009-10 season, and now with a full season in the SEL under his belt, the sky is the limit for the talented centerman.With the way he thinks the game, his development should be relatively quick. He needs to continue to get stronger, and work on trying to be a little more selfish with the puck, but the rest of his game is very mature for his age. He won’t be rushed, and is likely a couple of years away from reaching the NHL level, but once he gets there, the Devils should have a top two centerman, capable of contributing in all facets of the game.
After appearing to strike it rich with last year’s second round choice Patrice Cormier, the Devils decided to dip back into the QMJHL talent pool this draft and select towering 6’4, 185 lb defenseman Eric Gelinas from the Lewison Maineiacs.
In what was another rebuilding season for the Maineiacs, Gelinas saw his ice time skyrocket after getting eased into the line-up in 2007-08. Despite only being in his second year of junior, Gelinas was thrust into a much more prominent role, including that of powerplay quarterback, on what was an inexperienced blueline corps in Lewiston. In 62 games, Gelinas lead all Maineiac defensemen in scoring with 10 goals and 29 assists. He also posted a respectable -9 rating to go along with 80 PIM’s.
With a father who stands 6’8, and an older brother that stands 6’4, it’s reasonable to expect that Gelinas has yet to finish growing and once he begins to fill out and put some muscle on his lanky 185 lb frame, he should be quite the physical specimen. His father is also a former professional baseball player, and his brother plays the sport as well, so it’s clear that athleticism runs in the family.
On the ice, Gelinas’ most notable assets are his size, which has already been talked about in great detail, his mobility, his puckhandling, and his overall offensive skill set. A converted forward, he moves extremely well for a man of his stature, which helps him not only when moving the puck up the ice, but also when defending off the rush. His fluid stride allows him to reach top speed quickly and when combined with his strong puckhandling skills, he can be a dangerous force in the offensive zone. He moves the puck well, has great on-ice vision and while he doesn’t have an over-powering shot, he more often than not finds a way to get the puck on net.
Gelinas uses his mobility and long reach to help neutralize opponents coming up the ice, however he must work on his positional play down low in the defensive zone. He has the physical attributes to be a punishing defender, but needs to show this on a more consistent basis to become a more effective player overall, something his coach Don MacAdam told Hockey’s Future just before the draft.
"When he plays physical he typically plays considerably better," MacAdam said, and pointing out, "he’s got good size. At the moment, not a lot of great strength. I should say great height, he needs to certainly be serious about his training program this summer but he has the frame, the athletic build to really achieve some positives as a result of the physical training side. And when he does that, his skating is very strong now, his passing is excellent, his physical play is getting stronger, needs to get stronger and as he does get stronger, all those areas will improve."
Gelinas will return to Lewiston for a third season of major junior hockey this fall, looking to build off his strong 2008-09 season and improve his physical involvement and defensive zone play. He should see another spike in his numbers and overall play. And if he starts to put on some muscle and gain some strength over the summer, watch out, because Gelinas could be ready to break out in a big way. In three or four years from now, the Devils could very well have the mobile and offensively gifted Gelinas munching up top four minutes on their blueline and contributing on the power play.
It didn’t take the Devils long again to dip back into Sweden, which was absolutely brimming with talented draft prospects this year, when they selected from Djurgardens where he played with Josefsson.
Urbom split time this past season between Djurgardens J-20 team and the senior team, recording five goals, six assists and 45 PIM’s in only 16 games with the J-20 team, while being held off the scoresheet, aside from 2 PIM’s, in 28 games for the senior team.
While he does possess the two-way skills to be effective at both ends of the rinks, Urbom is known primarily as a stay-at-home defenseman. The 6’3, 196 Urbom uses his size and strength to be a very effective defender is his own end. He’s a physical player, willing mix it up along the boards, and engage in battles in front of the net to help keep his goaltender’s line of sight clear. He is also an effective one on one defender.
Urbom skates well, using a powerful stride to help propel himself up the ice. He has good overall mobility, but must work on improving his lateral mobility, especially when defending. He is an adept puckhandler, and while it is definitely not his forte, he is not afraid to lead the rush and jump into the play. His passing skills could use some improvement, but he has good hockey sense in the offensive zone to go along with a hard shot from the point.
After refusing to sign with Djurgardens for next year earlier in the season, he was subsequently suspended from playing for Sweden in any international tournaments. As a result, he has to explore other options for the upcoming season, and one of those options is to come to the CHL, where the Brandon Wheat Kings used their second choice in the import draft to select Urbom. His style of play seems tailor made for the CHL, and at this point in time, all indications are that he will cross the pond and come play junior hockey in Canada next year. Down the road, the Devils should expect Urbom to develop into a solid, bottom-pairing, shut down type defender, with a touch of offense to his game. The team will have a better idea of how far away he is after the 2009-10 season.
For the third selection in a row, the Devils took yet another big bodied defenseman, this time taking 6’5, 220 lb behemoth Seth Helgeson from the USHL‘s Sioux City Musketeers. Helgeson was ranked as the 41st North American skater by CSS. He was also one of the top rated draft eligible players from the USHL.
2008-09 was Helgeson’s second tour of duty through the USHL, and aside from a slight dip in hs plus/minus rating (-4 to -10), his other numbers improved across the board. In 58 games, he recorded four goals and 12 assists to go along with 64 PIM’s, which ranked him third on the club.
The one attribute that obviously stands out for Helgeson is his size. Already possessing an NHL-sized frame at just 18 years of age, Helgeson is steady defensively and thrives playing an abrasive, physical style of hockey. As one might think, he routinely is able to knock his man off the puck and keep the front of his net clear with relative ease. In an interview earlier this season with Hockey’s Future, Helgeson made no bones about knowing that he must play this way to be as effective as possible.
"If you play physical, kids will know that you’re coming and you’ll buy time for yourself like that so I think playing the body is one of my main priorities on the ice,” he smiled. “I’m trying to work on that a lot this year to be even more physical. When you’re big and strong you have to do that so that’s a priority for a big man like me, I have to step up and be a physical presence for the guys on my team.”
For a man of his stature, Helgeson moves around the ice very well, possessing good forward and backwards mobility. While he’s more than capable of leading the rush up the ice, he prefers a more conservative approach, using his defense partner or moving the puck up to his forwards. When in the offensive zone, Helgeson’s blistering shot is his weapon of choice, and he is smart enough to create space for his shot by moving into shooting lanes. He shows much more a slant to the defensive side of the game, but is no slouch at the other end of the rink, showing the raw potential to be able to put up points as he matures and develops.
The Fairbault, Minnesota native will live out a childhood dream starting this season, as he starts his collegiate hockey career at the University of Minnesota with the Golden Gophers. While he is already physically mature enough to withstand the rigors of the NHL, Helgeson will likely spend the next two to three years rounding out the rest of his game. Once he is done fully developing, expect him to be a physically imposing, No. 4 or 5 blueliner who can chip in offensively and contribute on the power play.
Derek Rodwell, LW — Okotoks (AJHL)
5th pick, 5th round, 144th overall
The Devils went off the board with their pick in the fifth round, selecting Rodwell out the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Okotoks Oilers. The 6’1, 190 lb left winger just completed his second year with the Oilers and improved his totals across the board, scoring 17 goals,12 assists and 69 PIM’s in 41 games. Had he not missed time this season due to injury, his numbers likely would have been even better, as he spent most of the season playing on the Oilers second line.
Rodwell is the type of player who often seems to be in the right spot at just the right time. He’s not afraid to crash the net to pounce on loose pucks and rebounds, while creating havoc for opposing goaltenders. He enjoys the physical aspect of the game, but sometimes plays a little too reckless, something that he will learn to curb as he matures as a player. He is an above average skater who has good hands and also excels killing penalties.
As he grows into his body and fills out his frame, Rodwell has the potential to emerge into a mid-tier power forward down the road. With his solid skating ability and fearlessness driving to the net, those are traits that should continue to serve him well in his final season with Okotoks. He has committed to the University of North Dakota for the 2010-11 season, a place that has been kind to the Devils in past drafts. A project type of pick, the Devils will need a few seasons before they really know what they are getting in Rodwell.
Ashton Bernard, LW — Cape Breton (QMJHL)
6th pick, 6th round, 174th overall
A little known fact of the past six Devils draft classes; they’ve drafted four enforcers out of the QMJHL. The most recent addition was 6’4, 197 lb left winger Ashton Bernard of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. He was actually listed as being drafted out of Shawinigan, but he was recently traded to Cape Breton. In 53 games for Shawinigan last season, he scored three goals and an assist, to go along with 111 PIM’s.
Unranked by CSS, the rough and tumble Bernard was somewhat of surprise selection. At this point in his young career, he appears to be one dimensional, and that dimension is fighting, something he is very good at as he has piled up just under 400 PIM’s in his three years in junior. He will have to work on developing his other skills if he wants to make it to the NHL, and at this point, appears to be a long shot. However, as former junior enforcer Pierre-Luc Leblond proved last season in New Jersey, if you work hard enough, you’ll eventually get a shot.
Curtis Gedig, D — Cowichan Valley (BCHL)
7th pick, 7th round, 204th overall
With the final selection in the 2009 NHL draft, the Devils selected defenseman Curtis Gedig from the Cowichan Valley Capitals of the BCHL. If that team sounds familiar, it’s because back in 2007, the Devils selected defenseman Corbin McPherson from the same BCHL club. He has since moved on to Colgate in the NCAA.
Ranked 115th overall by CSS, the 6’3, 190 lb Gedig was acquired by the Capitals from the Merrit Centennials mid-season, and finished the season with combined totals of four goals and 14 assists in 46 games to go along with 18 PIM’s. The left shooting blueliner started last season at the training camp of the WHL‘s Calgary Hitmen, but was a late cut and was subsequently re-assigned to the BCHL. While he has the option of going to the WHL, he also has the option of going the collegiate route, but he has yet to commit to a college at this time.
With a September 14th birthdate, Gedig just made the cut-off for being eligible for this year’s draft, and hence was one of, if not the youngest player selected in the draft this year. The 17-year-old moves the puck well and already has good size. Once he begins to fill out his sizable frame, he should eventually emerge into an intimidating force on the backend. He’s another project choice for the Devils, but he has plenty of time to develop, given his age and the depth the Devils currently have on the blueline in the system.
Guy Flaming and Kevin Forbes contributed to this article.