While it took some time for the Devils to get benefits from their 2005 draft class, they finally started to reap some benefits this past season. The team was able to get quite a bit of use out of those group of prospects in more ways than one. Their top pick, Niclas Bergfors, finally reached the NHL this year, however he was used in a trade to land Ilya Kovalchuk from the Atlanta Thrashers. Mark Fraser was needed due to a plethora of injuries on the blueline and established himself as an NHL regular. There still could be more to come from this draft class in the next few years as Jeff Frazee and Patrick Davis continue to develop in the AHL, while Mark Fayne just finished up his NCAA eligibility and is ready to embark on his pro career.
While this wasn’t the most successful draft New Jersey had in recent memory, there were more hits than misses at this point in time. They’ve been able to develop two of their first three picks into legit NHL’ers and have a handful of prospects from this draft class still waiting in the wings.
Niclas Bergfors, RW, Sodertalje (Sweden)
1st pick, 1st round, 23rd overall
NHL Games Played: 90
Status: NHL Player
One of the top-rated Europeans for the draft, the Devils snagged the small, but offensively gifted Swedish right winger with the 23rd overall pick in the first round. He lit up the Swedish Junior League, and even saw action in 25 Swedish Elite League games. Not only were the Devils getting a guy with the ability to put the puck in the back of the net, but they were also getting a player who had the work ethic to be successful at the next level.
Bergfors was selected first overall in the CHL import draft by the expansion St. John’s Fog Devils of the QMJHL. However, much to the chagrin of the Fog Devils, the Devils had different plans, and decided to sign him and immediately send him to the AHL, despite being only 18. He was the youngest player in the league, and he adapted quite quickly as scored 17 goals and 23 assists in 65 games for the Albany River Rats.
He wasn’t able to build much off those numbers in 2006-07, as they slipped a touch to 13 goals and 19 assists in 60 games. Next year, he had a fantastic training camp and opened the season in New Jersey. Unfortunately, he injured his shoulder in his NHL debut, and after missing an extended period of time, he was returned to the AHL, where he promptly injured his other shoulder. Needless to say, the 2007-08 season was a disaster. His fourth season of pro hockey turned out to be his breakout season, as he set career-best numbers across the board for the Lowell Devils, scoring 22 goals and 29 assists in 66 games. He also had a brief stint in New Jersey, and scored his first career NHL goal in eight games.
With the departure of Brian Gionta to the Montreal Canadiens via free agency, a spot opened up in the Devils top-six group of forwards for the 2009-10 season. The spot was there for Bergfors’ taking, and after a strong training camp and preseason, he cracked the opening-night roster. He had a great start to the season, but as most rookies often do, he hit the wall at mid-season and went into a goal-scoring slump. He was able to work himself out of his funk, but that was after he was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers as part of a package that saw the Devils net Ilya Kovalchuk. Bergfors finished the season as one of the highest scoring rookies in the league, scoring 21 goals and 23 assists in 81 games.
The Devils have never been afraid to make a big deal, and often it takes a young and gifted offensive player to make a deal like that happen. Bergfors established himself as an NHL player this season and has a bright future ahead of him, but it will be in Atlanta where he realizes that potential, not New Jersey.
Jeff Frazee, G, USNTDP
2nd pick, 2nd round, 38th overall
NHL Games Played: 0
Status: NHL Prospect
The NHL tweaked the format somewhat to the 2005 draft because of the lockout the season before, so the Devils had the advantage of the snaking draft in the second round. With that pick, they selected Frazee, one of the highest-rated goaltenders available in the draft. It was the first time the Devils had drafted a goalie that high since they took Ari Ahonen in the first round way back in 1999.
The athletic and nimble Frazee posted great numbers with the U.S. National Development Team Program in 2004-05, winning 27 games, while recording a sparkling 2.13 goals against average and a .927 save percentage. He also starred for Team USA at the World Under-18 Championship, leading the tournament with a 1.33 goals against and a .959 save percentage. He appeared more than ready for the next step in his career as he was off to the University of Minnesota to play for his home-state Golden Gophers.
He didn’t see much action as a freshman, playing in only 12 games, six of which he won. In 2006-07, with starter Kellen Briggs in his senior season, Frazee saw more action to prepare him for the starter’s role that he was likely to inherit the following season. He saw action in 20 games, winning 14 of them and recording a 2.35 goals against average and .903 save percentage. He did get the starting job with the Golden Gophers next season, however, instead of building off of his solid sophomore season, he faltered badly. He lost the starting job to freshman Alex Kangas (ATL) mid-way through the season, and did not see action the rest of the season after getting pulled in a game after letting in a goal from center ice.
With his disastrous junior season behind him, there wasn’t much point for Frazee to return to Minnesota for his senior year, so he signed with the Devils for the 2008-09 season. The Devils hoped pro style coaching and a new environment would get his development and career back on track. And it definitely did. Frazee set a slew of franchise records for Lowell, winning 28 games, posting a 2.62 goals against average, .920 save percentage to go along with four shutouts. He was unable to carry the momentum of his freshman AHL season into 2009-10, which was interrupted early due to a scary neck laceration suffered in a preseason game. Frazee just wasn’t the same upon his return as his overall numbers slipped and he was unable to wrestle the job away from AHL veteran Mike McKenna.
While he does have NHL ability, it is no sure thing that he’ll make it, even as the only goaltender in the system currently. He will need another year or perhaps even two, down in the AHL before he makes it to the NHL. Time will tell if he will make it to the big show as a No. 1 goaltender.
Mark Fraser, D, Kitchener (OHL)
3rd pick, 3rd round, 84th overall
NHL Games Played: 68
Status: NHL Player
After taking a forward and a goaltender with their first two picks of the draft, the Devils took their first of three blueliners in the 2005 draft when they selected steady and defensively-sound Mark Fraser from the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL. Not known for his offensive skills, Fraser had a strong finish and playoffs for Kitchener, which helped to elevate his stock considerably leading up to the draft.
All Fraser needed was one more season in the OHL before the Devils signed him and turned him pro. In 2006-07, Fraser adapted very quickly to the AHL, especially for a 19-year-old. He suited up in a team-best 71 games for the Lowell Devils, recording a goal and an eight assists to go along with 73 PIM’s. He even got to make his NHL debut, suiting up in seven games for New Jersey.
With a new coaching turnover in New Jersey, Fraser became somewhat of a forgotten man the next two seasons. He slowly evolved into more of a leader down on the farm with Lowell, while playing his usual brand of tough, stay-at-home, defensive hockey. While he only scored 25 points from 2007 to 2009, he proved very durable, suiting up in 153 games and piling up an impressive 248 PIM’s.
Another coaching change in New Jersey brought about a new opportunity for Fraser in 2009-10. After three full seasons in the AHL, he really didn’t have much more to prove at that level. Despite a good preseason and training camp, Fraser was still in a fight to show he could stick at the NHL level. A concussion suffered just before the start of the season that landed Fraser in the injured reserve list ended up being somewhat of a blessing in disguise. By the time he was ready to be activated, the Devils were in need of defensive depth with Paul Martin and Johnny Oduya shelved by injuries. Fraser got an opportunity to play, and despite losing playing time down the stretch, he got better and better with each game. He dressed for 61 regular season games, scoring three goals and three assists to go along with a +3 rating and 36 PIM’s.
It took a fair bit of time, but Fraser has finally developed into just the type of defenseman the Devils envisioned when they drafted him. He filled out his frame to a robust 6’3, 220 lbs, learned the intricacies of the pro game and patiently bided his time in the minors before receiving an opportunity this year. With a trio of Devils blueliners scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on July 1st, Fraser should be in line to claim a spot on New Jersey’s blueline next season.
Patrick Davis, LW, Kitchener (OHL)
4th pick, 4th round, 99th overall
NHL Games Played: 9
Status: NHL Prospect
The Devils went right back to the OHL, and right back to Kitchener in fact, when they selected left winger Patrick Davis with their pick in the fourth round of the draft. Davis took a big leap forward in his draft year, scoring 20 goals and 30 assists in 53 games with Kitchener. He slowed as the season progressed, but the strong skating and offensively talented winger oozed of talent, and possessed tremendous upside, something that the Devils hoped he would eventually realize.
He returned to junior for one last time in 2005-06, scoring 35 goals between Kitchener and Windsor, before beginning his foray into professional hockey at the young age of 19. His first two seasons in the AHL were marred with injuries and inconsistency. He missed significant amounts of time due to various maladies and scored only 12 goals between 2006 and 2008.
His third season was somewhat of a breakthrough, as he suited up in 74 games, while recording 13 goals and 17 assists. He made his NHL debut in December before being returned back to the farm. In 2009-10, Davis emerged as a team leader and solid all-around player for Lowell, scoring 15 goals in 73 games. He earned a more extended recall to New Jersey, getting into eight games. He played quite well in a limited action, and scored his first NHL goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Davis has reached a crossroads in his career. At 22, he is still quite young, but has already accrued four full AHL seasons, which means his potential has likely peaked. With more talented, young and hungry prospects nipping at his heels, this season will be very important for Davis. At this point, it looks like he won’t ever emerge into the sniper the Devils envisioned when they drafted him, but he still has some upside left as a two-way, checking winger.
Mark Fayne, D, Noble & Greenough (USHSE)
5th pick, 5th round, 155th overall
NHL Games Played: 0
Status: NHL Prospect
The Devils went a little off the board with their fifth-round pick, dipping into the U.S. high school program to select behemoth defenseman Fayne from little known Noble & Greenough prep school in Massachusetts. Fayne was a three-sport star at the school, so the Devils knew they were getting a player with some athletic ability.
Fayne had the option of going to the CHL or NCAA and he opted to go the NCAA route, going to Providence College for the start of the 2006-07 after one more year and Noble & Greenough. The Devils were content to let Fayne spend as much time possible developing in college, as they knew he needed time to fill out his 6’3 frame, and develop the rest of his game.
Fayne just wrapped up his senior season with Friars, completing his best all-around season to date, while logging major minutes as an all around workhorse in all situations on the blueline. In 34 games he led all Providence defensemen in scoring with five goals and 17 assists.
Now standing at an imposing 6’3, 220 lbs, Fayne is ready for the next challenge in his career. He has yet to sign with the Devils, but still has time to do so. Fayne’s ceiling may not be as high as other prospects in the organization, but over his four seasons at Providence College, he has rounded into a solid, defensive-minded blueliner. He won’t likely be a top-pairing defenseman, but after a few years of pro seasoning, Fayne should eventually get an opportunity at the NHL level.
The Devils took another defenseman in the sixth round when the selected Sean Zimmerman from the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL, a league that they often neglected as a source. Standing at 6’1, and nearly 220 lbs, Zimmerman’s style of play was very similar to that of Fraser, but with a little bit more of a physical edge. Zimmerman posted 16 points in 71 games in his second year with the Chiefs. He would spend the next two years in Spokane honing his skills before turning pro at the end of the 2006-07 season.
He had a steady, yet unspectacular pro debut for the Lowell Devils in 2007-08, suiting up in 66 games and posting six assists. Before the start of the 2008-09 season, Zimmerman was shipped to the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for Kevin Cormier. He split the 2008-09 season with the Coyotes CHL and AHL affiliates (Arizona and San Antonio) recording two goals and three assists in 55 total games between the two clubs.
He spent the entire 2009-10 in the AHL with San Antonio, scoring two goals and seven assists in 72 games, while also racking up 105 PIM’s. While he played with the same club all season long, he actually was traded to the Vancouver Canucks in March, but he remained in San Antonio.
While he is technically still considered a prospect, it looks as though Zimmerman will likely max out as a career minor-league defenseman. He lacks any special tools to be considered anything more than a AHL depth defenseman.
Alexander Sundstrom, C, Bjorkloven (Sweden)
7th pick, 7th round, 218th overall
NHL Games Played: 0
For New Jersey’s final selection, they made a very interesting choice, selecting the son of former Devil Patrik Sundstrom. Alexander was quite highly rated going into his draft year, however a knee injury caused him to only be able to suit up for nine games, and caused his draft stock to drastically fall. Sundstrom fit the mold of a prototypical Devils player — technically sound, and smart at both ends of the rink.
He spent the next two years in Sweden, playing for Bjorkloven in the Allsvenskan League, a league a notch below the Elite League. He was able to put his knee problems behind him, and even earned an invite to play for the 2006-07 Swedish World Junior team.
After the 2006-07 season, he signed a contract to play with Brynas of the Swedish Elite League, which is where he has played for the last three seasons. The signing window for the Devils and Sundstrom has long gone, so at this point, it looks as though Sundstrom is content to remain in Europe for the duration of his career.