Devils 2001 draft evaluation

By Jared Ramsden

Having just missed out on winning back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships, the New Jersey Devils had hoped to put some of that bitter taste out of their mouth with a strong and successful draft. The Devils had gathered an abundance of draft choices and selected some exceptional prospects in the 2000 NHL Draft, and the Devils headed into the 2001 draft with a good number of draft choices and by the end of the draft, had made 11 selections. However, unlike the previous year, the Devils did not have the same amount of success in terms of drafting and developing those prospects into NHL-caliber players.

Of New Jersey’s 11 picks, none of the players have established themselves at the NHL level, three are currently ranked in the Devils Top 20 prospects rankings at Hockey’s Future and two others are with other organizations. Six of these picks can be labelled as draft busts.

This draft class has played a total of only 81 NHL games for an average of just below eight NHL games per pick. Of the five remaining choices that are still prospects, only second rounder Tuomas Pihlman is substantially close to reaching the NHL with the Devils. The 2001 draft wasn’t a very strong one for the Devils as many of their selections have simply not panned out.

Adrian Foster, C – 1st round, 22nd overall (Saskatoon, WHL)
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

The Devils took a huge risk and went way off the board after trading picks with Florida and moving back four spots in the first round. With their top pick, New Jersey selected oft-injured, but supremely talented centerman Adrian Foster out of Saskatoon from the WHL. Foster, who was unranked by the Central Scouting Bureau, had an incredibly tough time trying to overcome an abdominal injury suffered all the way back in 1998 and as a result had only played 12 WHL games at the time of his selection.

It was hoped that with proper rest and rehabilitation, Foster would recover and turn into a legitimate NHL prospect. That however, has been far from the case as Foster has continually suffered from a wide range of injuries in his time in the Devils system. Those injuries ranged from abdominal pulls to shoulder problems, and to a concussion that wiped out the majority of his most recent season that saw him only suit up for eight games with Albany of the AHL. The Devils still have a glimmer of hope for Foster, but with each passing season and each injury setback in, it is becoming quite likely that Foster will never turn into the player the Devils had hoped.

Igor Pohanka, C – 2nd round, 44th overall (Prince Albert, WHL)
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

With the first of two second round draft choices, the Devils went back to the WHL for their next pick by selecting lanky and skilled Slovak center Igor Pohanka from Prince Albert. As a rookie in the WHL, Pohanka put up some impressive numbers and continued to progress as a player throughout his time with Prince Albert.

Before Pohanka even got a chance to play in the Devils organization, he was part of a package in a blockbuster deal with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in the summer of 2003 that saw the Devils trade Petr Sykora and acquire Jeff Friesen and Oleg Tverdovsky. Since the trade, Pohanka bounced between the AHL and ECHL for two seasons before finally establishing himself as an AHL regular with Anaheim’s farm team in Cincinnati. However, he is still a fair bit away from establishing himself as a legitimate NHL prospect and at this point in time, it looks unlikely that he will ever make much of an impact as an NHL’er.

Tuomas Pihlman, LW – 2nd round, 48th overall (JYP Jyvaskyla, Finland)
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 13

The Devils went the European route with their next choice by taking a solidly built Finnish winger by the name of Tuomas Pihlman. Pihlman had the type of qualities the Devils coveted and it could have been argued at the time that he was already physically ready for the NHL. The Devils hoped that Pihlman would eventually develop a touch of offense to go with his superior defensive awareness. Pihlman scored a career-best 19 goals in Finland before the Devils signed him and brought him across the pond to North America.

Pihlman just completed his third full season in the AHL in what could be best described as an up and down season. Pihlman started strong, earning an 11-game look in New Jersey the first quarter of the season. During his brief stay with the Devils, he recorded his first ever NHL goal. Upon his return to Albany, he struggled before finishing strong down the stretch. Pihlman’s overall play to date has been very inconsistent and he is close to levelling off in terms of his development. He stands a decent chance to crack the Devils as a fourth liner next season, but will be in a battle to do so. Pihlman has yet to realize his full potential, and this upcoming year may be a make or break it season for Pihlman in the Devils organization.

Victor Uchevatov, D – 2nd round, 60th overall (Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, Russia)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

The Devils traded into the bottom of the second round with the Ottawa Senators and with their pick took hulking Russian blueliner Viktor Uchevatov. Drafted as more of project, it was expected that Uchevatov would remain in Russia for a few seasons before being brought to North America. The Devils however had different ideas and signed him right away with the intentions of playing him in the AHL with the River Rats as an 18-year-old. Uchevatov played two full seasons with Albany before being dealt to the Panthers in the 2003-04 season. He played one full season in the Panthers system, and started this past season in Rochester before returning home to play in his native Russia with Cherepovets Severstal. With Uchevatov now back in Russia, it appears that this is where he will remain for the remainder of his hockey career. This project pick by the Devils never developed into a serious NHL prospect.

Robin LeBlanc, RW – 3rd round, 67th overall (Baie-Comeau, QMJHL)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

The Devils dipped into the QMJHL with their first pick in the third round by selecting Swiss winger Robin LeBlanc. LeBlanc scored at a point a game clip in his second full season with Baie-Comeau and was known as more of a finesse player with speed and skill. The Devils hoped LeBlanc would put on a few pounds and pick up his physical play as he matured as a player, but that never happened, and he never ended up signing a contract with the Devils. LeBlanc maxed out his remaining junior eligibility, but did not garner any interest from other NHL teams. In 2004-05, he played a few games with Long Beach in the ECHL before returning to Switzerland to play with B league team Ajoie. It is more than safe to pronounce LeBlanc as an NHL bust.

Brandon Nolan, C – 3rd round, 72nd overall (Oshawa, OHL)
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

With their sixth and final choice on Day 1 of the draft, the Devils continued to go CHL-heavy, this time going to the OHL to draft a potential playmaker in Brandon Nolan. The son of former NHL bench boss Ted Nolan, Brandon has just completed his rookie season with the Oshawa Generals. Over the next two seasons, Nolan produced 30+ goals, but was unable to do enough to convince the Devils to sign him to a contract. He re-entered the 2003 NHL Draft and was selected by the Vancouver Canucks in the fourth round. Nolan has bounced between the Canucks’ AHL and ECHL affiliates in three minor pro seasons, and to this point has not progressed much in terms of his overall potential. There remains a slight chance of him emerging, but at this point he may not get past the AHL level.

Andrei Posnov, LW – 4th round, 128th overall (Krylja Sovetov, Russia)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

On Day 2 of the draft, the Devils started things off by selecting Russian left winger Andrei Posnov. Posnov was somewhat of an unknown to most casual observers, but soon became known as a scrappy and well-rounded forward that could contribute at both ends of the rink. However, Posnov’s play over the past few years was very up and down, especially offensively. Even though he attended a few Devils training camps, he’s remained in Russia since he’s been drafted and has bounced around different teams in the Russian Senior Men’s League, not sticking with one team for more than two seasons. It appears that Posnov is unlikely to make the jump to North America at this stage of his career. His development has stalled after another not so great season in 2005-06 and the Devils likely do not have much interest in offering him a contract.

Andreas Salomonsson, LW – 5th round, 163rd overall (Djurgardens, Sweden)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 71

At a time when drafting overage Europeans was quite popular, the Devils decided to go that route with their fifth round draft choice when they drafted hard-working 27-year-old Swedish winger Andreas Salomonsson. After playing more than 10 seasons in his native Sweden, Salomonsson was mature and developed enough that the Devils decided to give him a shot to make the team right out of training camp for the upcoming season.

He managed to get into 39 NHL games with the Devils during the 2001-02 season, scoring four goals and five assists for nine points, but couldn’t remain in the line-up or with the team for that matter on a consistent basis and as a result, also saw time with the Devils AHL affiliate in Albany. The next season he ended up in Washington with the Capitals and had a very similar season, playing a handful of games in both the NHL and AHL. After not being able to nail down a regular NHL job, Salomonsson decided to return to Sweden for the 2003-04 season and he has remained there ever since.

James Massen, RW – 6th round, 194th overall (Sioux Falls, USHL)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

After scoring at a point a game clip, including 37 goals in the USHL with the Sioux Falls Stampede, the Devils took a late round flyer on burgeoning power forward James Massen, who committed to North Dakota to begin his collegiate career. After a decent rookie season, Massen exploded with 15 goals his second year with the Fighting Sioux and looked to be well on his way into developing into a big goal-scoring winger. That never materialized though as Massen stumbled through his final two seasons at North Dakota and was never offered a contract by the Devils. He hooked on with the ECHL’s Augusta Lynx this past season but was released before their regular season started and there is no record of him playing professional hockey during 2005-06. Massen had a ton of potential, but never blossomed as the Devils had hoped.

Aaron Voros, RW – 8th round, 229th overall (Victoria, BCHL)
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

With their next to last pick of the 2001 draft, the Devils took a flyer on a 6’4 winger named Aaron Voros, who had just wrapped a strong season in the BCHL with the Victoria Salsa. The next step in Voros’ career was to jump to the NCAA with Alaska-Fairbanks. As a rookie, he led the team with 18 goals and made the CCHA All-Rookie Team. Voros’ next season was much more tumultuous. He had to undergo surgery to remove a bone tumor from his leg and that caused him to miss much of the 2002-03 season. Voros bounced back next season scoring 16 goals, and at the end of the season, got into a few games with the Albany of the AHL. He then decided to forego his final year of college eligibility and turn pro.

Voros was able to get a sense of what to expect in the AHL after a playing a handful of games late in 2003-04. He started the 2004-05 season on fire, scoring eight times in his first 10 games, but slowed down considerably, only recording three goals in Albany’s remaining 61 games. He also managed to rack up a whopping 220 PIM’s, showing a nasty side to his game. This past season, Voros slightly improved on his 2004-05 numbers, scoring 16 goals and 14 assists for 30 points in 73 games, and again racked up a high amount of penalty minutes with 180.

Considering what Voros has had to overcome in his young career, the Devils have to be thrilled at how he has developed. Now standing at 6’4, 190 lbs, Voros is an intimidating presence and has shown the ability to contribute offensively at times, while slowly improving the defensive aspects of his game. Voros may need at least one more year of development time in the AHL, but he appears to be on the right track to forging out an NHL career as a role-playing checker that can contribute in a variety of ways.

Evgeny Gamalej, D – 8th round, 252nd overall (Russia)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

With the third last draft pick in the draft, the Devils went to Russia for a third time when they took defenseman Evgeny Gamalej. The now 6’4 Russian blueliner has remained in Russia since being drafted and there is no record of him playing hockey since 2003-04 when he played 12 games with the Russian club team Soviet Wings. Most selections made this late don’t often pan out, and Gamalej is definitely an example of that.

Summary

The 2001 draft did not churn out the type of players that the Devils had hoped. Tuomas Pihlman and Aaron Voros are the only two players selected by the team that are remotely close to making it in the NHL, and when or if they do make it to the big show, they likely won’t be more than role or bit type players. This Devils draft class saw an unusually high amount of bust picks, something that normally does not happen to a franchise that prides itself in having success at the draft table.


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