It is never easy to predict what the Devils will do come draft day, and this year was no different. The Cup champs of 2003 were scheduled to pick 22nd in the first round. However, when the Devils saw a falling star, they did not hesitate to move up to grab him. That falling star was undersized, but super skilled center Zach Parise. The Devils made a deal with the Edmonton Oilers to move up five spots to snag the ultra talented Parise. To snag a player of Parise’s caliber after winning the Stanley Cup was something GM Lou Lamoriello and chief scout David Conte likely only dreamed of. This wasn’t the only deal that the Devils swung on draft day, as they finally were able to deal disgruntled center Mike Danton. He was dealt to the St.Louis Blues in a deal that also involved a swap of third round selections in the draft. The Devils main focus at this draft was to address the center ice position, as evidenced by the first three selections all being centers.
Below is a summary of the seven selections the Devils made in the 2003 draft. The Devils took one goalie, one defenseman, and five forwards.
1st pick, 1st round, 17th overall, C Zach Parise, North Dakota (NCAA)
Many feel that the Devils got one of the steals of the draft in Parise, reminiscent of when they snagged Petr Sykora, at the 17th slot in ’95, the season after they won their first Stanley Cup. The 5-11, 186 lb. Parise was falling steadily in the first round, mostly due to concerns over his smallish frame. The Devils had to move up to get him, and it cost them a second rounder this year, but Devils brass wouldn’t have moved up to get him if they didn’t think he was the real deal. In his first season with the North Dakota Fighting Sioux, Parise made the transition from high school to the NCAA look easy. After scoring an eye-popping 174 points including 101 assists in his last season of high school hockey, Parise lead the Fighting Sioux in scoring with 26 goals and 35 assists for 61 points in only 39 games. He also preformed well at the World Junior Tournament this year, leading Team USA in scoring with 4 goals and 4 assists for 8 points.
Parise, whose father J.P. played in the NHL, may be small, but his offensive skills are top notch. He has exceptional playmaking skill, is a strong skater and sees the ice very well. Despite his small frame, that does not prevent Parise from getting his nose dirty. He is a very competitive player, always giving it 110% and is reliable defensively. There are some who think that Parise’s size may limit him at the next level, but when you combine his offensive arsenal and his competitive nature, that should be enough for him to succeed at the next level. Parise has “superstar” written all over him.
2nd pick, 2nd round, 42nd overall, C/LW Petr Vrana, Halifax (QMJHL)
The jury on Vrana is somewhat divided. He was ranked as high as 12th in some publications to as low as 68th. Like Parise, his small frame (5-10, 174lbs.) was what caused some concern. However, there is no denying the fact that Vrana is blessed with offensive skill. In his first season in North America, Vrana lit up the “Q” with 37 goals and 47 assists for 84 points in 72 games. Vrana is lightning quick on his skates and has an abundance of offensive talent. He is an amazing stickhandler, has great on ice vision and has soft hands around the net. Vrana’s toughness has been in question, but he seems to be the type of player who does not back down from bigger opponents. He will need to add some bulk to his frame though. His defense is nowhere near the level of his offense, but Vrana is still a competent defensive player. Much like Parise, he will be scrutinized because of his size, but with his dynamic offensive tools, he will have a good chance to succeed at the NHL level.
3rd pick, 3rd round, 93rd overall, C Ivan Khomutov, Elektrostal (Russia)
In Khomutov, the Devils added yet another center to the fold. The lanky 6’2, 198 lb. Khomutov has all the tools you look for in a front line forward; size, skill, and speed. He is an above average stickhandler, and has a good, accurate shot. Khomutov has the ability to create plays off the rush, and has good hands around the net. He also possesses strong hockey sense. The big knock on Khomutov is his drive and intensity, which tends to waver from game to game. He played in many of the U-18 tournaments, but due to his poor relationship with the Russian U-18 head coach, Khomutov saw limited action. In 20 games for his Russian club team, Elemash Elektrostal, he had 1 goal and 1 assist for 2 points. If Khomutov improves his weaknesses, he will have a very good chance of succeeding in the NHL. Khomutov will likely play next season in North America as he was selected in the CHL Import Draft, 15th overall by the OHL’s London Knights.
4th pick, 5th round, 167th overall, D Zach Tarkir, Chilliwack (BCHL)
The 6-1, 180 lb. Tarkir became the first Fresno, California native to be drafted by an NHL team. He scored 5 goals and 28 assists for 33 points in 53 games for the BCHL’s Chilliwack Chiefs. He is described as a strong skating, puck moving defenseman, and he has signed a letter of intent to play hockey next season with the Northern Michigan Univeristy Wildcats of the CCHA.
5th pick, 6th round, 197th overall, G Jason Smith, Lennoxville (LHJAAAQ)
The Devils went off the board when they added the 6-1, 170 lb. Smith to the fold, but he posted very impressive numbers, and played a big part in his squad finishing atop their league in the regular season, with a remarkable 41-5-2 record. Smith led the league in GAA with 2.29 and save percentage at .920. With Martin Brodeur manning the net in New Jersey for the foreseeable future, Smith will be given plenty of time to develop.
6th pick, 8th round, 261st overall, C Joey Tenute, Sarina (OHL)
After being bypassed in previous NHL drafts, the Sarnia Sting’s leading scorer was nabbed by the Devils. The 20-year-old Tenute racked up 37 goals and 61 assists for 98 points in his first season with the Sting, after coming over in a trade from Barrie over the summer. Standing at only 5’9.5, 180 lbs., Tenute will have to overcome his small stature to make it at the next level.
7th pick, 9th round, 292nd overall, LW Arseny Bondarev, Yaroslavl (Russia)
With the last pick in the NHL draft, the Devils took a chance on the thin and wiry Bondarev. At 6’0, 165 lbs., Bondarev will have to put on some pounds to make it at the next level. Bondarev is a one-dimensional player, and that dimension is offensive. He has a very accurate shot, can stickhandle well and is an electrifying skater. Besides needing to bulk up, Bondarev will have to improve vastly on the defensive side of his game if he wants to have success at the NHL level.