Following a lackluster 2010-11 season that saw the New Jersey Devils miss the postseason, good luck befell the organization as they won the lottery for the upcoming 2011 NHL Draft. Despite having only a 3.6 per cent chance of winning, the Devils moved up four positions in the first round, from eighth to fourth.
Entering the 2011 draft, the Devils had six picks at their disposal. They had traded their second round pick in a previous transaction while one of their two third round picks were forfeited due to the penalty incurred by the invalid contract of Ilya Kovalchuk the year prior.
By the end of the draft weekend, New Jersey took three defensemen, two centers and a winger. Looking back now, the Devils appear to have done well with the 2011 class as five of the six players are still with the organization. One of them has become a prominent defenseman in New Jersey, the winger has just made the NHL club, the two centers have a chance to make the team in next year’s training camp, and the other defenseman continues to develop in the minors.
Adam Larsson, D, Skelleftea (SEL), 1st round, 4th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games: 274
The moment New Jersey won the draft lottery, Adam Larsson was on their radar at fourth overall. The last time the Devils were this high in the draft they selected another defenseman by the name of Scott Niedermeyer, third overall in 1991.
The Devils usually allow their prospects to incubate in their respective leagues before bringing them to the pros, but the talented Larsson was an exception. In his rookie year in 2011-12, the right-handed defenseman showed he could play at the pro level with his fluid skating and puck-moving skills. He finished tied for second amongst NHL rookie defensemen with 16 assists and was fifth in points with 18. It was an educational year for him as the Devils reached the Stanley Cup Finals, but the decision to bring him along so quick would come back to hurt the player and the team.
The next few seasons were tough for Larsson as he struggled to adjust and assimilate to the NHL. He hesitated with the puck occasionally which led to poor decisions that usually resulted in a turnover. For all intents and purposes, the coaching staff had a role to play in mishandling the Swede. They wanted him to focus more on playing defense, but it caused him to get nervous about making mistakes and also appeared to stunt his growth offensively. However, Larsson still made excellent breakout passes and his positioning did become much better.
It was the second half of the 2014-15 season that Larsson had his breakout “year.” When Lou Lamoriello, Scott Stevens and Adam Oates took over behind the bench, they paired the young blueliner with Andy Greene and added a heavier workload of minutes. The move seemed to flip a switch in the defenseman. His decision-making hastened for the better, he began to use the body more often than not, and his puck skills resurfaced. He finished the year with 24 points, a +2 rating and 34 penalty minutes in 64 games.
At 23 years old, Larsson has become a cornerstone player on the Devils. He showed that in 2015-16 as the new coaching staff depended on him to be their workhorse on the blue line. He played all 82 games, recording 18 points, a +15 rating, 77 penalty minutes, and averaged 22:31 time on ice. He still has room to grow into the all-around star he was predicted to become back in 2011.
Blake Coleman, C, Indiana Ice (USHL), 3rd round, 75th overall
NHL Games: 0
Back on the board in the third round, the Devils selected the 2011 USHL Player of the Year, Blake Coleman. The forward was coming off a breakout season where he scored 34 goals and 58 assists for the Indiana Ice. He was known for his tenacious play offensively, but he needed defensive work. New Jersey hoped that the Texas native would develop into a gritty top-nine forward as he went off to Miami University.
After a promising freshman season followed by a sophomore slump, something clicked for Coleman in the offseason of 2013. In his final two years at Miami, he would demonstrate the tenacious offensive style the Devils had hoped would blossom. Not only that, but the center had become one of the best faceoff men in college hockey and improved his defensive play.
Despite missing 11 games recovering from arm surgery, Coleman scored 19 goals and nine assists as a junior and helped the Redhawks reach the inaugural NCHC championship game. Coleman’s senior season in 2014-15 was memorable as his school finally won the conference championship. It was quite the year as he tallied 20 goals, 17 assists, a +16 rating and 99 penalty minutes. Coleman also scored all three of Miami’s goals in the NCHC title game but was suspended for the NCAA tournament first round matchup against Providence.
This season, Coleman made his pro debut with the Albany Devils. Unfortunately, his rookie year lasted only 14 games as he sustained a shoulder injury on Nov. 27th, which required surgery in January and has all but ended his season. Assuming he picks up where he left off, Coleman projects to remain an in-your-face, tenacious worker that can slide into the Devils top nine.
Reid Boucher, LW, USNTDP, 4th round, 99th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games: 73
Heading into the middle rounds, New Jersey went after a true sniper in Reid Boucher. Prior to picking him, the winger had demonstrated his finishing ability with the United States National Team Development Program. Rather than go the college hockey route, the Michigan native decided to join the OHL’s Sarnia Sting in 2011-12.
Boucher’s first season in Sarnia saw him score 28 goals in 67 games, second only to 2012’s first overall pick Nail Yakupov and his 31 goals. He also had 22 assists, but was a team-worst -19. It was good start in junior, but the best was yet to come. The following season was historic for the young Boucher as he broke the OHL club’s record for goals in a season. Boucher scored 62 goals for the Sting, topping Steven Stamkos’ club record of 60 set in 2011-12. He also had 33 assists and was a plus-13 in 67 games. By the end of March, he had signed a three-year, entry-level contract with New Jersey.
Devils fans were excited to see Boucher as he started his rookie year in 2013-14. He ended up playing in 23 NHL games, adding two goals, five assists and averaging 11:21 minutes of ice time. He finished the season with Albany, but outside of his offensive feats (23 goals and 16 assists), Boucher struggled in other parts of his game.
The 2014-15 season was an overall disappointment for Boucher as his confidence fluctuated throughout the season and it affected his play on the ice as he struggled between his offensive and defensive responsibilities. He only dressed in 11 games with New Jersey and scored just once. In Albany, his production dropped to 15 goals and 15 assists, which played a part in the AHL club missing the postseason.
Before the 2015-16 season, the Devils changed their management and coaching staff, which would focus on developing the club’s prospects in a faster, attacking system. Boucher greatly benefited from this change. His invigorated confidence and maturity helped spur his offensive skills and execution. The winger dressed in 39 games for New Jersey and notched eight goals, 11 assists and a -19 rating. He also had 32 points in 34 regular season games for Albany. Boucher carried that strong play to the postseason and is likely to graduate to New Jersey for the 2016-17 season.
Blake Pietila, C, USNTDP, 5th round, 129th overall
NHL Games: 7
In the fifth round, the Devils snagged defensive-forward Blake Pietila of the U.S. NTDP. Ranked 105th overall, Pietila was a member of Team USA at the U18 World Championship. Prior to the draft, he decommitted from Northern Michigan and joined Michigan Tech starting in the fall.
In 2011-12, he scored 10 goals with 14 assists and was a -3, then in 2012-13, he matched that 24 point total as a sophomore. Pietila also suited up for the gold-medal winning Team USA at the World Junior Championship in Sochi. He was effective on the team’s checking line, which shutdown the opposing teams’ top lines and chipped in with timely scoring. Pietila had two assists and was a +5 in seven games.
Entering his junior season, Pietila’s all-around game seemed NHL-ready, but there were concerns about his offensive skills. In 2013-14, he finished as Michigan Tech’s second leading scorer with eight goals, 20 assists, a -4 rating and a team-high 84 penalty minutes. His senior season would prove to be a memorable one for Pietila and Michigan Tech as the school achieved its first No. 1 overall ranking and won 29 games, the program’s most since 1980-81. Pietila himself finished with 16 goals, 14 assists, a +6, and 56 penalty minutes. He was also one of the NCAA’s best at the faceoff dot, just behind Coleman. He signed his entry-level contract with New Jersey following Michigan Tech’s first round loss in the NCAA tournament.
Pietila demonstrated fearlessness in his rookie year in Albany and become an effective energy player. Locked into a bottom-six role for 58 games, he produced 10 goals and seven assists, along with an additional seven games in New Jersey where he scored his first NHL goal. When training camp opens in September, Pietila will get a long look to make the squad for the 2016-17 season.
Reece Scarlett, D, Swift Current Broncos (WHL), 6th round, 159th overall
NHL Games: 0
Prior to the 2010-11 season, Reece Scarlett was considered as high as a potential second round draft pick. Unfortunately, he and Swift Current had a miserable season which dropped his draft stock considerably. The Devils decided to take the chance and drafted the defenseman in the sixth round because of his offensive upside.
Fortunately, Swift Current improved during Scarlett’s remaining two years in juniors, which, not ironically, saw his game grow. He posted back-to-back 49-point seasons in 2011-12 and 2012-13 to lead the team’s defensemen in scoring. He signed his entry-level contract in 2012 and joined Albany after his fourth season with the Broncos.
Scarlett’s pro career started decently in 2013-14 as he became a staple on the power play and a generator of offensive chances. An upper-body injury limited him to only 48 games, but he produced six goals – all of them on the power play – with 14 assists and was +11 with 18 penalty minutes. In 2014-15 an injury early in the season forced Scarlett to miss almost half the season. It took him some time to find his form, but he played a big role in Albany’s late-season playoff push that fell just short. He scored two goals and was second amongst Devils’ defensemen with 23 assists, finishing a +1 with 27 penalty minutes.
This season, Scarlett has provided a steady presence on Albany’s blue line throughout all the promotions and injuries. Scarlett continued his slow development, adding in four goals, 22 assists, a -1 rating, and 64 penalty minutes. The Alberta native has yet to taste NHL ice-time, possibly due to his struggles in physical areas of the game. He still possesses value to the Devils, but the 23-year-old may be running out of time and opportunities going forward.
Patrick Daly, D, Benilde-St. Margaret’s High (Minnesota High School), 7th Round, 189th overall
NHL Games: 0
At the time he was drafted, Patrick Daly was a finalist for the Mr. Hockey Award, given to the most outstanding high school player in Minnesota. He was also committed to playing at the University of Wisconsin. However, he only played in 11 games his freshman year and was a healthy scratch for the other 26. After the 2011-12 season, Daly chose to forgo his hockey career. Sensing that the NHL was not in his future, he left the sport in order to focus on his academics.
Notable Playoff Performances
The Albany Devils managed to reach the second round of the AHL playoffs to take on the Toronto Marlies. Boucher was one of Albany’s leading scorers with 10 points. Blake Pietila also impressed with six points. Both dressed in every game. Pavel Zacha also played in the postseason, but he remained sidelined after being injured earlier in the series against Toronto.
Goaltender Scott Wedgewood was in fine form after returning from a preseason injury. He was a rock for the Devils, giving his defensemen the confidence to jump up into the action. Expect him to give Keith Kinkaid a battle for the backup job next season.
Meanwhile, Adirondack also made the second round of the ECHL playoffs where Ken Appleby and Ben Johnson contributed. Since he returned to hockey, Johnson has slowly found his game. He was a role player this postseason for the Thunder with two goals and five assists. As for Appleby, he remains a consistent competitor between the pipes. He stood tall in the first round against Manchester but had a fight against the South Carolina scorers. Overall, his save percentage wound up at .920, so he is doing his job. He could be in line for a promotion to Albany next year.
Prospect of the Month
The last non-pro Devil in postseason contention, John Quenenville has been nothing short of remarkable. Once again, he has stepped up his play in the postseason and was one of the top scorers in the WHL playoffs, finishing with 16 goals and 27 points in 21 playoff games for the WHL champion Brandon Wheat Kings. Quenneville and the Wheat Kings are now competing in the 2016 MasterCard Memorial Cup tournament.
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