The New Jersey Devils must have listened to their fans, because they went for offense in this year’s entry draft.
Of the Devils’ 12 draft picks, 10 were forwards. That’s a change of pace for
GM Lou Lamoriello, who usually likes to draft defensemen and goaltenders. As
it was, Lamoriello used his first pick (26th overall) to take a defenseman —
Mike Van Ryn of NCAA champion Michigan.
The most intriguing pick the Devils made came in the fourth round when they
brought Pierre Dagenais back into the fold. Jersey had let Dagenais (whom they
selected in the second round of the 1996 draft) back into this year’s draft
pool after they couldn’t sign him to a pro contract. But despite a 133-point
season with Rouyn-Noranda of the Quebec League, Dagenais slipped untouched
until the Devils took him 105th overall. Whether Dagenais slipped because he
didn’t sign the first time or because so many other NHL teams were busy
raiding the European market is a moot point. The Devils must make every effort
to sign him this time around. Otherwise, they will be passing up on a future
The other thing that can be said of this year’s draft is that you won’t be
seeing many of these players in the Jersey farm system any time soon. Half of
the players picked by the Devils are North American junior league players who
haven’t reached their 20th birthdays yet. Van Ryn and right winger Brian
Gionta of Boston College are only entering their sophomore year of college
hockey. And the four Europeans Jersey took — center Christian Berglund (2nd
round), defenseman Mikko Jokela (4th round), left wing Anton But (5th round),
and center Marko Ahosilta (8th round) — all have less than three years of
experience in the junior leagues on their side of the Atlantic.
So, who will be in the Jersey system come September? As long as the Devils
can sign him this time, Dagenais will be either in Jersey or in Albany (AHL).
There is also the possibility that Berglund and But will be signed and sent to
the minors. After that, everyone else remains property of the Devils, but
that’s about it.
As for what offensive help the Class of 1998 can provide, there’s no question
Dagenais is the key. He scored a career-high 66 goals in 60 games last season,
and he balanced that total with 67 assists. Gionta had a solid freshman season
at Boston College with 30 goals and 32 assists, and Berglund showed vast
improvement with Farjestad in the Swedish Junior circuit with 42 points in 29
games. There is also potential with But and with Jersey’s other first-round
pick, center Chris Gomez (27th overall).
Here is the complete list of New Jersey’s draft picks:
Player 1997-98 Team Round (position)
Mike Van Ryn (D) Univ. of Michigan 1st (26th pick)
Scott Gomez (C) Tri-City (WHL) 1st (27th)
Christian Berglund (C) Farjestad (Sweden) 2nd (37th)
Brian Gionta (RW) Boston College 3rd (82nd)
Mikko Jokela (D) IFK Helsinki (Finland) 4th (96th)
Pierre Dagenais (LW) Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL) 4th (105th)
Anton But (LW) Yaroslav 2 (Russia) 5th (119th)
Ryan Flinn (LW) Laval (QMJHL) 5th (143rd)
Jacques LaRiviere (LW) Moncton (QMJHL) 6th (172nd)
Erik Jensen (RW) Des Moines (USHL) 7th (199th)
Marko Ahosilta (C) Kalpa (Finland) 8th (227th)
Ryan Held (C) Kitchener (OHL) 9th (257th)