Devils 1999 draft evaluation

By Jared Ramsden

The New Jersey Devils have a good drafting history, but the 1999 NHL Draft was definitely not a draft that the Devils are accustomed to having. The Devils were able to nab impact players in Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta at the 1998 Draft, and in 2000, the Devils landed two top-notch defensemen in David Hale and Paul Martin, along with a few other above average prospects. 1999 was a different story. It was not expected to be a very deep draft, but in other below average drafts, New Jersey usually was able to weed out two or three good to above average prospects. The Devils, coming off a Stanley Cup Championship, often went off the board with their first round selection. This draft was no different, but when looking back at the selection now, it turned out to be one of the better choices in the first round.

New Jersey had eight selections in 1999 draft. Of those eight picks, only one has reached the NHL level, and only one can still be considered an elite prospect. The class has played a total of 67 NHL games, or 8 NHL games per pick. The other six have not seen any action in the NHL and of the six, only one really stands a chance to crack an NHL roster. The 1999 draft will go down as a weak draft year for a normally strong drafting organization.

Ari Ahonen, G – 1st round, 27th overall (Jyvaskyla, Finland)

Status: NHL Prospect

NHL Games Played: 0

The Devils were often accustomed to drafting late in the first round, due to the success of the team during most regular seasons. This year was no different, seeing the Devils pick 27th overall, second to last, in the first round. The team came into this draft with the main priorities being to find some goal scorers, which was nothing new for the club and to add some size to the defense core. So the Devils decided on taking Finnish goaltender Ari Ahonen, a definite surprise in the eyes of many for a team that already had superstar Martin Brodeur manning the nets in New Jersey.

The reason for taking Ahonen was quite simple. In the eyes of Devils scouts, Ahonen was likely the best player available. In a weak draft year, that is often the best strategy to take. When looking back at the first round of the 1999 draft, even though Ahonen has not played an NHL game, he was easily one of the better prospects taken. Of the goaltenders selected in 1999, only one has established himself in the NHL (Martin Prusek, Ottawa). Others such as Sebastien Caron, Ryan Miller and Alex Auld have seen spot duty. But none of them have become front line starters. Ahonen still has an opportunity to become one of the better goaltenders of this draft class.

The only thing standing between Ahonen and the NHL is a guy named Martin Brodeur. If Ahonen had been drafted by another organization, he likely would have seen at least a handful of NHL games by now. Ahonen has spent the last two seasons honing his skills with Albany at the AHL level, and he remains one of the top prospects in the organization. It remains to be seen when he will crack the Devils. Brodeur is not going anywhere, and he still has at least five to six years of quality hockey left in him. Ahonen’s best hope of getting to the NHL in the next year or two would be for him to get dealt to another organization. But until that happens, New Jersey will be quite content to let him continue to play in Albany. Ahonen has a bright NHL future. It just may not be in New Jersey.

Mike Commodore, D – 2nd round, 42nd overall (North Dakota, WCHA)

Status: NHL Player

NHL Games Played: 67

The size and physical potential of Mike Commodore was too enticing for the Devils to pass up in the second round. Commodore stood at 6’4″, but had yet to fill in his frame. With time it was expected that Commodore would add weight to his frame, and indeed he has, tipping the scales now at 225 lbs. The Devils signed Commodore one year after drafting him out of the University of North Dakota, and he made a quick adjustment to the pro game seeing action in 57 games over his first two seasons.

Being deep in defensive prospects, the Devils felt that Commodore was expendable and dealt him in the summer of 2002 in a blockbuster deal with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks that saw the Devils land Jeff Friesen and Oleg Tverdovsky. Things didn’t really work out for Commodore in the Ducks organization, as he was dealt again, this time to the Calgary Flames at the NHL trade deadline that same season. He was able to sneak in six games with the Flames at the end of the season.

In 2003-04, Commodore was in tough to make the Flames due to the depth on the blueline. After a strong training camp, Commodore was dispatched to Lowell of the AHL. However when injuries hit the big club, Commodore was summoned from the minors. He asserted himself well in four games before going down with a shoulder injury. Once he was recovered, he remained with the big club, and was prepared to watch the Flames compete in the playoffs from the press box. After the Flames lost stalwarts Denis Gauthier and Toni Lydman to injury, Commodore was pressed in to duty, and has to this date participated in 20 of the Flames playoff games. Though his ice time has been sporadic throughout the postseason, Commodore has established himself as an NHL regular.

Brett Clouthier, LW – 2nd round, 50th overall (Kingston – OHL)

Status: NHL Bust

NHL Games Played: 0

The hulking Clouthier was drafted with eye towards him being an enforcer who could chip in occasionally on the scoreboard. In his last year of junior, Clouthier was already an established heavyweight and scored 28 goals with Kingston in the OHL, giving New Jersey good reason to believe that he might develop into more than just a fighter. However, after three pro seasons, it appears that Clouthier will unlikely ever make in impact in the NHL, at least not with New Jersey. He saw quite a bit of action in Albany his first two minor pro seasons, but last season, spent time with three different teams in three different leagues. Some organization may give Clouthier a chance to become an enforcer, but it appears that his time with the Devils organization is about to come to an end.

Andre Lakos, D – 3rd round, 95th overall (Barrie – OHL)

Status: NHL Bust

NHL Games Played: 0

The Devils continued their trend of drafting size at the 1999 draft when they selected this monstrous 6’6″ Austrian blueliner, who had just completed his second OHL season in Barrie. Lakos turned pro right after his draft year, and had a decent adjustment to the AHL in Albany. After a few seasons though, Lakos seemed to fall out of favor, and never really developed as the Devils had planned. He was traded to the Dallas Stars during the 2001-02 season, and after playing only five games in the ECHL in 2002-03, Lakos returned to his native Austria for the 2003-04 season, where he is likely to remain for the duration of his hockey career.

Teemu Kesa – 4th round, 100th overall (Ilves Tampere, Finland)

Status: NHL Bust

NHL Games Played: 0

New Jersey took their third defenseman in the 1999 draft when they selected Kesa out of Finland. A stay at home blueliner, Kesa has yet to come to North America, as he has played the last three seasons with Lukko Rauma of the Finnish SM-Liiga. There doesn’t appear to be much of an NHL future for Kesa with other highly touted prospects much further ahead of him on the depth chart.

Scott Cameron, C – 6th round, 185th overall (Barrie- OHL)

Status: NHL Bust

NHL Games Played: 0

Cameron was the first legit offensive prospect the team drafted in 1999. After tearing up the OHL for 80 points in 60 games in 2000-01, Cameron turned pro and hoped to carry his offensive success with him. After struggling mightily in his first season at Albany, he became one of the offensive leaders in 2002-03 with an offensively challenged club. Though he only managed 9 goals and 28 points, he suited up for 80 games and it was thought that he might have an offensive breakthrough in 2003-04. However, after the Devils signed many of their other prospects during the summer of 2003, Cameron could not find a regular spot in Albany, and spend the majority of his time at the ECHL level. He is not likely to have an NHL future.

Chris Hartsburg, C – 7th round, 214th overall (Colorado College, WCHA)

Status: NHL Prospect

NHL Games Played: 0

Hartsburg is the only other prospect aside from Ari Ahonen that is likely to have an NHL future. Drafted out of Colorado College, the son of former NHL’er and current assistant NHL coach Craig Hartsburg, was drafted as a potential shutdown defensive specialist with good leadership qualities. After completing his college eligibility, the former Colorado College captain turned pro for the 2002-03 season. He was having a great season in Albany, scoring 7 goals, including a couple shorthanded markers, before sustaining an injury that plagued him for the duration of the season. In 2003-04, Hartsburg battled injuries again and was shuffled in and out of the line-up throughout the season. With that all being said, Hartsburg still has the potential to become a fourth line checker that can kill penalties at the NHL level. That likely will not happen for at least two or three more seasons though.

Justin Dziama, LW – 8th round, 242nd overall (Walpole, EJHL)

Status: NHL Bust

NHL Games Played: 0

Dziama just completed his college career at Boston College where he posted very unspectacular numbers, never scoring more than 5 goals or 10 points in any of his four college seasons. The Devils have yet to sign him. Though Dziama has good size, his chances of having an NHL career are quite bleak.