The Devils are just starting to reap some of the rewards for a solid, yet unspectacular 2006 draft class. Matt Corrente and Vladimir Zharkov made their debuts last season and are on the cusp of becoming NHL regulars, while Alexander Vasyunov and Olivier Magnan both had the opportunity to play a good chunk of NHL games earlier on this season when a rash of injuries hit the big club in New Jersey.
Of the eight picks the Devils had in the 2006 draft, four of them have at least had a taste of the NHL, which translates to a 50 percent success rate. Corrente, Vasyunov and Zharkov all stand average or better than average chances of forging out careers in the NHL, while only four picks can be classified as busts. And two of those players that are labeled as busts, Magnan and T.J. Miller, are still in the organization. Magnan debuted this year, but was too old to be considered a prospect at Hockey’s Future.
It’s tough to say just how good this draft class is going to be for the Devils, but with four of the eight players having played in the NHL already for over 100 total games combined, that’s better than a lot of other NHL teams can say about their respective draft classes.
The Devils made a deal with the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the draft, moving back five spots in order to pick up an extra third round pick at the 2006 draft. With that pick, the Devils didn’t surprise anyone when they took a defenseman, but did somewhat surprise when they drafted rugged blueliner Matt Corrente from the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL. Corrente wasn’t really expected to be a first round pick and had been advised by his agent to stay home, so he wasn’t even able to come up to the podium in Vancouver to put on the Devils sweater.
Corrente, who was best described as a mobile, physical, two-way rearguard went through some growing pains in his first year in the OHL with Saginaw in 2004-05, before settling in his draft year and catching some scouts attention with a solid 30 point, 172 penalty minute season in 61 games. His last two seasons of junior, Corrente had plenty of up’s and down’s. From two good training camp showings in New Jersey, off-ice incidents with under-age girls, to a trade to his home town, to an injury ravaged last year of junior, Corrente persevered and by the time he turned pro, was battle hardened and ready to begin his path towards the NHL.
Expectations were quite high for Corrente going into his first professional season in 2008-09, but he was unable to replicate the two previous strong showings at training camp and was assigned to the Devils AHL affiliate in Lowell. He responded well, having a solid all-around season, showing a touch of offense (six goals and 12 assists) and some of his usual snarl (161 penalty minute) in 67 games.
Corrente started the 2009-10 season in Lowell, and got off to torrid start, scoring 11 points in the first two months of the season. That eventually led to his first recall to New Jersey, where he played up-front as a forward, as well as a defenseman. In 12 NHL games that season, he was scoreless with an even plus/minus rating and 24 penalty minutes. He was returned to Lowell in January where he spent the rest of the season before being called-up to New Jersey for their short-lived playoff run, where he dressed for two of their five games.
Despite being a favorite to make the team out of training camp, Corrente was dispatched to the AHL to start the 2010-11 season before being recalled after New Jersey got of to a slow start and needed some reinforcements on the blue line. He’s dressed for 22 games this year, recording six assists, 44 penalty minutes and a minus-five rating in that span. A broken thumb sidelined him for a couple of weeks in November and he is now currently sidelined by a shoulder injury.
His injuries this season have interrupted some of his development at the NHL level, but he is rounding into a solid, third-pairing rearguard. Despite not lighting up the scoreboard, he will chip in a few points here and there and he also gives an honest effort every night. He also provides a physical presence and isn’t afraid to drop the gloves and stick up for his teammates, even if it means putting himself at risk to be injured. Corrente has almost completely established himself as an NHL regular.
The Devils selection of left-winger Alexander Vasyunov was the first of three straight Russians selected by the club in the draft. The offensively gifted sniper had no problem scoring at the junior level in Russia, potting 29 goals, while also showing well at some key international competitions to help enhance his draft status.
Vasyunov was hoping to make the jump full time to Yaroslavl’s senior squad in 2006-07, but he struggled to stay in the lineup, playing in only 17 games and when he did play, his ice-time was very limited. He scored two goals at the World Juniors, but overall had a fairly sub-par tournament. He showed more progress in 2007-08, scoring four goals in 22 games for Yaroslavl, but after a slow start out of the gate in 2008-09, he bolted Russia for the AHL, signing his first professional contract with the Devils, feeling it would help his development as a prospect to cross the pond.
He was quite streaky in his first year in North America, but overall, he fared very well, finishing with 15 goals, which led all Lowell rookies and tied for fourth overall on the club. In 2009-10, Vasyunov struggled again with inconsistency, but still finished with 16 goals and 38 points in 68 games. In Lowell’s short lived playoff run, he was one of the best performers on the team with two goals and two assists in five games.
Big things were expected of Vasyunov going into his third year of pro hockey, and while he got off to a bit of a slow start, he was summoned to New Jersey in late October to make his NHL debut. He ended up staying with the club until mid-December and while he didn’t light the world on fire, he didn’t look totally out of place. He recorded one goal an
d four assists in 18 games with New Jersey.
Vasyunov has come a long ways since being drafted as a one-dimensional sniper back in 2006. He has learned how to play at both ends of the rink and that has helped round him into a better all-around player. He hasn’t put up great numbers in the AHL this year, but he seems to be the type of player that might be better served playing in the NHL with more talented players. He got his first taste of the NHL this year, and if he wants it bad enough, he has the talent to become a fulltime NHLer sooner rather than later.
Kirill Tulupov, D, Almetyevsk Neftyanik (Russia) – 3rd Round, 67th overall
NHL Games Played: 0
The Devils took one of the biggest sleepers of the draft when the selected the towering 6’3, 220 pound Russian defenseman, who actually played two years for a private club team in Toronto. He played the majority of his draft year with that team, while also appearing in the Five Nations and Under-18 Tournament to further boost his draft stock before sneaking in a couple of games in the Russian Senior Men’s League at the end of the season.
Having already played in Canada before, it was no surprise that Tulupov wished to continue his development in North America and was selected by the Chicoutimi Saguneens of the QMJHL in the CHL import draft. He became an instant fan favorite with his physical play and scored 28 points in 54 games in his first season there, but the coach did not really see eye-to-eye with him, which led to him being traded in 2007-08 to the Victoriaville Tigres.
Considering the lack of defense prospects the team had, it was somewhat surprising that the Devils opted not to sign him as the signing deadline passed for him and after one more season in the QMJHL with Victoriaville, he left North America for Europe. He spent the 2009-10 season in Slovakia before returning to his native Russia for the 2010-11 season, where he currently toils in the KHL for Moscow Spartak. It was a bit of a gamble by the Devils when they used a third round pick on the physically intimidating Russian, and ultimately, the gamble did not pay off.
Vladimir Zharkov, RW, CSKA-2 (Russia) – 3rd Round, 77th overall
NHL Games Played: 51
Though not as dynamic and offensively gifted as his fellow countryman Vasyunov who was drafted a round earlier, the Devils took one of the best skaters in the draft when they selected right-winger Vladimir Zharkov with their extra pick in the third round. Zharkov spent the majority of the season with CSKA’s junior squad, scoring 39 points in 48 games, while also seeing action in four games with the senior squad.
While he as able to earn a regular spot on CSKA’s senior team in 2006-07, he saw limited ice time which hindered his development somewhat. That trend continued into the next season, as he only dressed for 30 games compared to the 52 he had played the season before. He worked hard and showed off his blazing speed when given an opportunity to play, but it had become clear that if Zharkov wanted to continue developing as a player, the Devils were going to have to sign him and turn him pro.
Zharkov adapted well to the North American game after signing in the summer of 2008, and was one of the most consistent performers for the Lowell Devils throughout the season. He scored 11 goals and 23 assists in 69 games to go along with a team best plus-23 rating. In 2009-10, he got off to a fantastic start, leading the team in scoring before being re-called to New Jersey where he would remain for the rest of the season. He posted an odd stat line of no goals and 10 assists in 40 games. He didn’t see much action towards the end of the NHL season as the team geared up for the playoffs, but when in the lineup, he provided great speed and was a fore-checking torpedo wrecking havoc on opposing defenseman.
It was widely assumed that Zharkov had the upper hand on a full-time NHL gig to open the 2010-11 season, but he actually opened the season in the minors. Even with all the injuries and struggles in New Jersey, he wasn’t recalled to the club until late December. He finally scored his first NHL goal in mid-January against the Islanders, and has suited up in 11 games since his recall. With his great speed, two-way play and forechecking aptitude, Zharkov is perfectly suited for a third-line role, and looks to be well on his way to establishing himself as an NHL player.
T.J. Miller, D, Penticton (BCHL) – 4th Round, 107th overall
NHL Games Played: 0
The Devils continued their defense-heavy draft when they selected California native T.J. Miller in the fourth-round. Miller had just completed his second season in the BCHL with the Penticton Vees, where he put up 16 goals and 32 assists in 60 games and earned the league’s defenseman of the year award. Miller had a very enticing package of size and skill for a defenseman, and while he was a little bit raw defensively, it was hoped his time in the NCAA would help turn him into a better rounded defenseman.
Miller had committed to the University of Northern Michigan where he began his collegiate career in 2006-07. His first two years were steady, yet unspectacular. He didn’t score much, but he began to become better in his own end and start to use his sizeable frame to his advantage. It appeared he was on the verge of a breakout in his junior year in 2008-09, but he suffered a hip injury early in the season and after trying to play through it, he was forced to undergo surgery and missed the remainder of the season.
He had likely hoped to turn pro after his junior season, but those plans were put to rest as he definitely need to play his senior season for the Wildcats to help him make up for his lost junior year. He played very well, scoring four goals and 11 assists in 39 games, but that wasn’t enough to convince the Devils to sign him to a pro contract. He did however get signed to a minor league deal in the organization. He is currently playing for the Devils ECHL affiliate in Trenton, where he has six points in 22 games.
While he can be labeled as a bust because he is technically only signed to a minor deal, he is still a part of the organization and he will be given every opportunity to work his way up the organizational ladder to the point where he could earn an NHL contract. The Devils are loaded with up and coming defenseman in the system though, so he is definitely facing an up-hill battle.
In the fifth round, the Devils went a bit of a different route when they selected 20-year-old defenseman Olivier Magnan from the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the QMJHL. Magnan’s first two years of junior were relatively unspectacular, but he broke out as captain of the Huskies in 2005-06 with 14 goals and 27 assists in 69 games. That, along with his strong two-way play was enough to get him on the Devils s
couting radar and help get him drafted after being previously passed over.
Magnan jumped right to the pro ranks after being drafted, spending the majority of the 2006-07 season with the Devils ECHL affiliate in Trenton. He spent 45 games there, but also got into 24 games in the AHL with Lowell, and actually finished the season there. Despite a sub-par minus-32 rating in his first full season in the AHL, he established himself as a full-time AHLer, and over the next two seasons, would gradually became one of the more steadier performers for Lowell. From 2007 to 2010, he averaged 70-plus games, 10-20 points and 65-70 penalty minutes.
Going into his fifth year in the organization in 2010-11, Magnan had lost prospect eligibility at Hockey’s Future, which classifies him as a bust. However, he was re-called in late October after a rash of injuries hit in New Jersey and made his NHL debut, suiting up in 18 games. He was held off the score-sheet, but held his own, posting a respectable -plus-4 rating. Magnan has established himself at the AHL level, but there are much more talented prospects nipping right at his heels and at this stage in his career, it’s going to be tough to establish himself as anything more than a depth defenseman.
Tony Romano, C, New York Bobcats (ATL Jr League) – 6th Round, 178th overall
NHL Games Played: 0
The Devils hoped to unearth a gem in the sixth round when they selected undersized, but offensively talented center Tony Romano from the New York Bobcats of the little known Atlantic Junior Hockey League. He led the league with 102 points, including 50 goals and helped get himself on the scouting map with those lofty numbers, as well as a strong showing in the Viking Cup.
Romano was NCAA bound in 2006-07, as he started his collegiate career at Cornell with the Big Red. He made an instant impact, and co-led all Cornell rookies by scoring nine goals and 10 assists in his freshman year. Instead of returning for his sophomore season, Romano jumped shipped to the OHL with the high-powered London Knights, where he was expected to have a big impact. Unfortunately, it was a season to forget for Romano as he struggled to adjust to the change in leagues and was never at a 100 percent due to off-season shoulder surgery. He was held to 22 points in 66 games. He was dealt to Peterborough prior to the start of the 2008-09 season, and he flourished in his overage season, leading the Petes in scoring with 36 goals and 33 assists in 65 games.
Romano was set to begin his pro-career with the Devils, but he was traded to the New York Islanders early in the summer of 2009 for Ben Walter. Romano bounced between the Islanders ECHL and AHL affiliates in 2009-10, and is currently trying to establish himself full-time in the AHL this season with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. While Romano is still considered a prospect, he still has a long ways to go to make it to the NHL and will have to work really hard and catch a break to make jump the next level.
Kyell Henegan, D, Shawinigan (QMJHL) – 7th Round, 208th overall
NHL Games Played: 0
The Devils finished off a defense-heavy draft by taking hulking enforcer Kyell Henegan from Shawinigan of the QMJHL, who was the fifth defenseman the team selected at the draft proceedings. One of the most feared fighters in the QMJHL, the 6’4, 200 pound Henegan piled up 200 penalty minutes in his draft year in 68 games. While not known for much more than his fisticuffs, the Devils hoped Henegan would improve his mobility and all-around play by the time he was done playing junior.
The last two years of junior, Henegan continued to pile up the penalty minutes, while being traded twice and also seeing action as a forward. Ultimately, the Devils decided against signing Henegan when it came time to sign 2006 draft picks. He can safely be classified as a bust as he only recently started playing hockey again with the University of St. Thomas in New Brunswick.