Devils 2004 draft preview

By Jared Ramsden

Devils Top 10 Prospects

1. Zach Parise, C
2. Ari Ahonen, G
3. Alexander Suglobov, RW
4. Tuomas Pihlman, LW
5. Adrian Foster, C
6. Anton Kadeykin, D
7. Petr Vrana, C
8. Barry Tallackson, RW
9. Teemu Laine, RW
10. Ivan Khomutov, C

Team Needs

The Devils most pressing need at the present time is for size on the blueline, and lots of it. The New Jersey blueline, especially without Scott Stevens, is where the size is most lacking on the team. Aside from Colin White, the Devils backline features more skill/finesse types like Brian Rafalski, Scott Niedermayer and Paul Martin. More physical, stay home defensemen are what are needed. The Devils defense struggled to control the big Philadelphia Flyer forwards in their first round playoff match-up and that was in large part why they fell to the Flyers in five games. David Hale could be that menacing crease clearing defenseman that steps up to fill the shoes of Scott Stevens, but he is not ready to be a top four defenseman as of yet.

Up front, the Devils also could stand to use a little more size and physicality. Aside from third line grinders Turner Stevenson and Erik Rasumssen, the Devils are very small at all the forward positions. Viktor Kozlov was added at the trade deadline, but he never seemed to fit in and might not be brought back. The Devils need some big, power forward types who can put the puck in the net.

Another team weakness that was exposed as the season wore on and became even more evident in the playoffs was the lack of secondary scoring. Too often Patrik Elias and Scott Gomez were relied upon to carry the offense. A team won’t go very far with only two players scoring on a consistent basis. The Devils have some proven secondary scorers, but they just didn’t score enough last year. Jeff Friesen had an off year, and Jamie Langenbrunner struggled after a return from knee surgery during the middle of the season. It might be time to bring in some fresh blood to increase the scoring output from the second line on down.

None of these needs however are likely to be filled immediately through the entry draft. GM Lou Lamoriello will have to wheel and deal or sign some free agents to upgrade the roster.

Organizational Strengths

Going into the draft last year, the Devils were very thin at center. That position is now deep, and very talented and is the obvious strength of the organization. Atop the organizational depth chart is college phenom Zach Parise, who was signed to a contract after his season ended. He stands a very good chance at cracking the roster next season. Also added in the 2003 draft were Petr Vrana and Ivan Khomutov, two very offensively talented players. Add Adrian Foster to the list and you have four centers with excellent offensive potential. Chris Hartsburg has great potential as a future shut down checker, but he will need a few more seasons before he is NHL ready.

The Devils also boast a strong core of potential power forwards, most notably on both left and right wing. Tuomas Pihlman is the closest to being ready, and may be given a shot at an NHL job next fall. He has the capability to score 15-20 goals down the road. Barry Tallackson has a tantalizing size/skills package and the Devils are very excited about his future. Jason Rynzar, Aaron Voros and Ahren Nittel round and impressive group of big men with bright NHL futures.

Organizational Weaknesses

Now that Paul Martin and David Hale are now full time NHLers, the blueline is not as deep and talented as it once was. Anton Kadeykin and Matt DeMarchi are the top two blueliners in the system, and both likely have NHL futures, just not in the immediate future. After those two, the talent level drops off considerably. The Devils would love to add another stud defensive prospect to the system, and could do just that with their first round selection.

The Devils will also use this draft to try to infuse some offensive talent on the wings. After Alexander Suglobov, who had a good first season in North America, the Devils lack any true game breaking type scoring wingers. The more potential big time scorers the Devils can add to the pipeline, the better.

Though not a huge weakness, the Devils could stand to add another goalie to the system. The Devils do have a top-flight prospect in Ari Ahonen, but the system lacks any other real bonafide NHL prospects. Even though the Devils are set with Martin Brodeur for the foreseeable future, you can never have enough goaltenders.

Draft Tendencies

The Devils tend to be one of the more unpredictable teams when it comes to draft day. Lou Lamoriello and head scout David Conte always seem to have some kind of tricks up their sleeves and aren’t afraid to surprise. The Devils will not shy away from trading up when a top talent falls, like last year with Zach Parise, and on the flip side, they are not opposed to trade down to accumulate more draft picks. They are also quite content just staying put and taking the best player available.

The Devils have lately been more inclined to draft US collegiate players, or players that will be heading to college to play hockey. Overall though, the Devils don’t shy away or favor any particular nationality or position. The Devils have a top notch scouting staff, and are always confident that they will be able to draft impact players from anywhere and at any position.

Player most likely to be taken with first selection (Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result): Mike Green, D, Saskatoon