With a late-season surge, the New Jersey Devils ended up winning their division, which was a great accomplishment considering how badly things went in the first half of the season. That put them in a very familiar position, drafting in the bottom half of the first round. The Devils were in dire need of adding some quality blueline prospects to the system, and the way most prognosticated the first round of the draft to go, the Devils were likely to get a shot at selecting one at the 25th spot.
When it came time for the Devils to select, GM Lou Lamoriello must have believed the player he wanted would fall, because he picked up an extra third round draft choice from the St. Louis Blues and moved down to the very bottom of the first round.
With that pick, the Devils went a little off the board, which is something that Lamoriello and head scout David Conte are accustomed to doing. They did select a defenseman, however, when Conte called the name of Matthew Corrente at the draft podium in Vancouver. Corrente had been advised by his agent to not attend the draft, so there was no unveiling of the newest member of the New Jersey Devils.
Corrente was the first of five blueliners selected by the Devils during the draft proceedings, as the Devils were able to successfully address their glaring need for defensemen in the system. The Devils also added a couple of highly-skilled Russian wingers and a centerman to round out their 2006 draft class.
Below is a summary of the eight selections the Devils made at the 2006 draft.
Matthew Corrente, D — Saginaw (OHL)
1st pick, 1st round, 30th overall
After trading down with the Blues to the end of the first round, the Devils did not surprise many by selecting a defenseman, but did surprise when head scout David Conte announced the Devils selection of hard nosed Matthew Corrente from the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL. Having not been expected to go in the first round, there was not the traditional jersey presentation at the podium.
After being selected second overall by Saginaw in the OHL’s 2004 priority draft, Corrente was thrust into the spotlight immediately with the Spirit and as expected, there were some growing pains in his first full season in the OHL. He posted a respectable 6 goals and 9 assists in 62 games in his rookie year, but had a dreadful plus/minus rating of -38.
Corrente told Hockey’s Future just before the draft, and was asked at what point in his rookie season he felt comfortable, if at all.
“I would say around Christmas of that season,” he said. “I had a lot of help from Paul Bissonnette (PIT). He was eventually traded over to Owen Sound, but he helped me a lot those first few months. He took me under his wing and showed me how to get it done. We would stay after practice and he would show me how to work on the things that I would need night in and night out.”
Corrente was visibly much more comfortable in his second OHL season with Saginaw, but admitted that the added pressure of being draft eligible had some effect on the way he focused and approached the 2005-06 season.
“I felt a lot more stress than anything else with the scouts watching me closely every night. It’s part of the process though. I just went out there and played my game and hopefully it was good enough that I kept on catching their eyes. Through all of it, the team comes first though.”
The right-shooting Corrente’s doubled his offensive output from the previous year, from 15 points to 30, including 24 assists. He even got some international experience playing for Team Canada at the World U18 Championship. Also notable among statistical improvements for Corrente in Saginaw was his +2 rating, a drastic improvement from his revolting -38 of the year before. Corrente was asked what the biggest contributing factor was in that turnaround.
“The extra year helped a lot. During my rookie year, I was getting a lot of ice time, but we were struggling as a team. I think a lot of it had to do with the inexperience on my part. Coming back this past year with the experience definitely helped out a lot. I had a better feel for the game.”
With Corrente’s aggressive, pit-bull style mentality, superior mobility and offensive upside, it is obvious that the Devils did their homework on the 5’11, 189 lb. defender. Corrente does not let his small stature get in the way his style of play. He loves to initiate contact and play physically. Corrente makes opponents think twice about crossing the blueline and when he hits, he hits hard and always finishes his checks.
Offensively, Corrente is only going to get better with more experience. He is a fantastic skater, with above average top end speed. He has a rocket of a point shot (he registered the hardest shot at the CHL Top Prospects skills competition), but he must work on improving his shot accuracy. His passes are crisp and usually on target but Corrente wants to work on improving this aspect of his game.
“I really want to keep working on getting the puck up ice quicker. It’s something that I’ll be working on all summer long. You have quick feet movement so you can get to that open puck a second or two faster which would give you an extra half second to make the plays. That is the key.”
Corrente is competent and works hard in the defensive zone, but does tend to run around some. That is something that is likely to improve with experience. His quickness and mobility allow him to stick with his man and follow them all over the ice. Despite being undersized, Corrente is able to handle bigger forwards along the walls and in front of the net due to his tenacity and surprising strength.
Corrente is a potential breakout candidate going into his third full OHL season and could contend for a spot on Canada’s World Junior squad this December. He now arguably becomes one of the top defense prospects in the Devils organization and while he still has not reached his full potential, the improvements he showed in his game throughout the 2005-06 season bode well for his future. Corrente steadily improved each and every game this past year and his long term potential is outstanding. The Devils may have surprised some by taking Corrente in the first round, but the Devils likely saw something in him that other teams did not and expect Corrente to contribute in New Jersey in the not too distant future.
Alexander Vasyunov, LW — Yaroslavl 2 (Russia)
2nd pick, 2nd round, 58th overall
The Devils dipped into Russia for their second round selection when they drafted offensively talented right shooting left winger Alexander Vasyunov. Likely the most talented sniper among eligible Russian players at the draft, Vasyunov’s magnificent wealth of offensive gifts is his calling card and was a big reason for him being ranked as a first round draft choice by some publications. Vasyunov put up impressive numbers with Yaroslavl’s junior team, scoring 29 goals and 6 assists for 35 points in only 29 games. He also contributed for Team Russia at many international competitions this past season, including the February U18 Five Nations Tournament where he scored 3 goals in 4 games and was named best forward of the event.
Vasyunov has a dizzying array of absolutely tremendous offensive tools. The 6’0, 189 lb Vasyunov is a fantastic skater, showing great acceleration and top end speed. He is a wonderful stick-handler who possesses spectacular one on one skills, showing the ability to beat defenders off the rush and drive hard towards the net. He is more than capable of finishing in and around the net and shows the where with all to hold on to the puck for that extra split second to outwait and beat the goaltender. Vasyunov’s shooting arsenal is off the charts. He has a lightning quick release on both his wrist shot and snap shot to go along with a hard, accurate slapper. As evidenced by his 29 goals, he is not afraid to shoot the puck. He is a good passer but needs to learn to use his line-mates better and try not to do everything on his own.
While Vasyunov’s offensive gifts are unquestioned, unfortunately there are many other question marks surrounding the rest of his overall game. As previously mentioned, he far too often ignores his line-mates and often appears to be a puck hog, trying to rely on his individualistic skills to get things done in the offensive end. Vasyunov’s work ethic and defensive play also leave much to be desired. When the puck is not on his stick, he often appears unmotivated and lazy. His drive and determination from shift to shift often wanes.
Vasyunov’s lack of commitment and desire defensively leaves many labelling him as one-dimensional. He does not work hard at all in the defensive end and when in the defensive end he shows a tendency to cheat at the blueline. While he is getting stronger physically, he frequently shows little or no desire to get involved physically and often goes out of his way to avoid contact.
Vasyunov’s offensive talents are simply outstanding and there is no doubting he has the ability to become a bonafide NHL sniper. However, if he is to realize his full potential, he has a few things to work on, especially if he wants to earn regular ice time in with Yaroslavl’s senior level squad this fall and play a big role with Team Russia at the World Juniors this winter. Most important for Vasyunov is to improve his drive and desire on not just a game to game basis, but a shift to shift basis and play harder in the defensive end. Vasyunov already is now without a doubt, the most gifted goal scorer the Devils have in the system, and it will be up to him whether or not he maximizes his outstanding potential. The Devils took somewhat of a gamble on Vasyunov, but it is a gamble that they hope will pay major dividends down the road.
Kirill Tulupov, D — Alemetjevsk (Russia)
3rd pick, 3rd round, 67th overall
A virtual unknown at the beginning of the season, the Devils took quick rising Russian blueliner Kirill Tulupov. Not even ranked by CSS, the U18 Championship was the hulking 6’3, 220 lb. Tulupov’s coming out party after spending most the past two seasons playing for the Toronto Rattlers, a private club team in the Toronto area. While with the touring Rattlers during the 2005-06 season, Tulupov scored 16 goals and added 28 helpers for 44 points in 40 games to go along with a solid +23 rating.
After his season with the Rattlers was complete, Tulupov was invited to play for team Russia at the Five Nations Tournament and then at the U18 Championships in Sweden where scouts took notice of the physically imposing defenseman. Playing for the Rattlers really limited his exposure, but he opened the eyes of scouts around the hockey community with a well above average performance at the U18 tourney. He was even able to sneak into a few games in the Russian Senior Men’s League with Alemetjevsk to finish off his impressive season.
While still raw at this stage in his development, Tulupov’s has a vast array of tools that make scouts salivate. His great defensive zone play to go along with his imposing stature, mean streak and physical presence though are his most appealing assets. Tulupov loves to get involved physically and throw his weight around, especially in his own end. He does a fantastic job of keeping the crease clear of attacking forwards and by clearing traffic from in front of the net, makes life much easier for his goaltender. The aforementioned traits also make him an outstanding penalty killer. He also is quite adept at dropping down and blocking shots before they reach the goaltender.
Tulupov brings more to the table then stellar defensive play, such as good work ethic, decent mobility and untapped offensive upside. For a man of his stature, his skating ability is above average, though his lateral speed needs improvement. Tulupov’s hard, accurate slap shot is his best offensive tool at this point and he shows a willingness to pinch in at the offensive blueline and move into the slot for scoring opportunities.
Tulupov may very well be the draft’s ultimate sleeper selection. While he is still incredibly raw and will need a fair amount of time to mature and refine his overall game, Tulupov’s overall package of size and skill is quite enticing and is one of the reasons why the Devils selected him in the third round of the draft. Since Tulupov has already played in North America, he is considered a defected Russian and this season will play in the QMJHL with Chicoutimi after being selected in the CHL import draft. If Tulupov develops as the Devils hope, he may very well rocket up the Devils prospect ladder and on a team that lacks quality defense prospects, Tulupov has an outside shot to emerge as the best of the bunch.
Vladimir Zharkov, RW — CSKA 2 (Russia)
4th pick, 3rd round, 77th overall
The Devils made it three Russian-born players in a row, when they selected swift and skilled right winger, Vladimir Zharkov. Zharkov spent the majority of the season with CSKA 2, a step below the senior squad and scored 17 goals and 22 assists for 39 points in 48 games. During the World Junior Championships this past December, Zharkov suited up for four games and saw limited action with CSKA’s senior team. For a player of his age Zharkov fared quite well. He also played at the U18 Championships for Russia, though his ice time was quite restricted.
Much like countryman Alexander Vasyunov, Zharkov is blessed with a tremendous amount of overall skill and offensive talent. One of the best skaters in the draft class, the 6’0 187 lb. Zharkov has an explosive first step and terrific top end speed. He is able to handle the puck well while in top gear, and shows great on ice vision and awareness while in the offensive zone. He uses his linemates well and is a solid playmaker who does not panic when the puck is on his stick.
Unlike most Russians, Zharkov has no problem driving to the net. He plays without fear and does not shy away from traffic and contact in the corners and in front of the net. Zharkov has a quick release on his wrist shot and while his slap shot is only average, his shot accuracy is well above average. Zharkov sometimes fails to convert on all his scoring opportunities created by team-mates or by himself, but he is fairly adept at finishing around the net.
Where Zharkov is much different from Vasyunov is his on ice passion and willingness to compete. He can be easily frustrated at times, but that just shows how high his competitive juices sometimes flow. Zharkov is especially aggressive when in pursuit of the puck, keeping his feet moving at all times and working hard to fight through checks. He more often than not returns to the defensive zone, but is still raw in terms of his overall defensive awareness. However, at the U18’s, Zharkov was put in a more defensive role, and while he was not able to shine offensively as he is accustomed to, he showed some improvement in his defensive game, especially on the penalty kill.
Zharkov’s offensive gifts are not in question and he came on strong as this past season progressed. Like Vasyunov, the sky is the limit in terms of his overall offensive ability. Often compared in his style of play to Los Angeles Kings forward Alexander Frolov, Zharkov’s high end skill combined with his still improving work ethic and defensive zone play makes him a little less risky of a pick than Vasyunov, but he still is a wild card. Zharkov will also need to become stronger, especially if he wants to earn regular ice time with CSKA’s Senior Men’s team this season. Also look for Zharkov to merit strong consideration for Russia’s entry at the World Junior Championship this December. The Devils will likely need a couple of seasons to get a better read on Zharkov, but by using a third round draft pick to select him, they clearly believe that he has the ability to eventually become an NHLer.
T.J. Miller, D — Pentiction (BCHL)
5th pick, 4th round, 107th overall
The Devils defensive heavy draft continued with 1986-born California native T.J. Miller. Miller played in California bantam and midget leagues before coming to Canada to play the 2004-05 season in the BCHL with South Surrey alongside fellow New Jersey prospect Tyler Eckford. This season, the 6’4, 200 lb. Miller had an outstanding season while playing for the BCHL’s Penticton Vees, a season which saw him notch 16 goals and 32 assists for 48 points in 60 games. Those numbers, along with his strong overall play netted him the BCHL’s Defenseman of the Year award.
Miller, who will begin his career in the NCAA with the Northern Michigan Wildcats this fall, excels at the offensive end of the rink. The left-shooting Miller has a great combination of size and speed as his mobility for a man of his size is impressive. He is not afraid to handle the puck and is more than capable of leading the rush up the ice. Miller displays good on ice vision and possesses a hard an accurate shot from the point. While Miller has great offensive tools, his defensive play could use improvement. He could also stand to get more involved physically and use his size more to his advantage.
Miller looks to be in the same mold offensively as the aforementioned Eckford, who starred in the BCHL before taking his act to the NCAA. While there is no doubting his offensive ability from the blue line, Miller is still quite raw defensively. Miller, again much like Eckford appears to be a project type pick, but with his size/skill package, he definitely has the potential to blossom into a good prospect. The Devils will be quite content to let him refine his overall game with Northern Michigan for at least two or three seasons before seeing if he is ready to play hockey at the professional level.
Olivier Magnan, D — Rouyn Noranda (QMJHL)
6th pick, 5th round, 148th overall
The Devils dipped into the CHL in the fifth round when they selected 20-year-old defenseman Olivier Magnan from the Rouyn Noranda Huskies. A bit of an odd selection considering his age, Conte and Co. obviously saw something in Magnan that made them want to pounce before other teams had a shot at signing him as an undrafted free agent.
The well-rounded Magnan just completed his third full season in the QMJHL as captain of the Huskies and put up career-best numbers with 14 goals and 27 assists for 41 points in 69 games. Magnan is a strong puck mover and has the ability to contribute offensively as his numbers attest. He also is not shy about getting involved physically as he tailed more than 65 PIM’s in all three of his seasons, including 97 last year.
The 6’2, 190 lb. Magnan also contributed in his own end, showing great defensive awareness. His strong defensive play won him the Kevin Lowe Trophy in the QMJHL, a new award that is annually awarded to the defenseman who is judged to be the best defensive defenseman in the QMJHL, quite a feat for a guy who played on a team that did not even make the playoffs.
With Magnan turning 20 in May, he likely will get a chance to start his pro career right away with the Devils new AHL franchise, the Lowell Devils. With New Jersey lacking in defense prospects at that level, Magnan will have a good chance to make an immediate impact. While it may take a while to determine what kind of role Magnan will play as a pro, his ability to play both ways greatly enhance his value and will go a long way in helping Magnan increase his prospect status and ability to reach the next level.
Tony Romano, C — N.Y. Bobcats (AJHL)
7th pick, 6th round, 178th overall
The Devils more often than not draft more than one player from the NCAA, or a player that is NCAA-bound. In the sixth round, they added a second collegiate bound player when they took undersized but offensively gifted center Tony Romano from the New York Bobcats of the Atlantic Junior Hockey League. Romano will be suiting up for the Big Red in Cornell starting in 2006-07.
The 5’10, 170 lb Romano lit up the AJHL to a tune of 50 goals and 52 assists for a league leading total of 102 points. He was a huge factor in helping lead the Bobcats to the AJHL Championship, and he also participated for Team USA in some international tournaments, including the Viking Cup. While he was not on the radar of many teams coming into the draft, his play at tournaments like the Viking Cup improved his standing in the eyes of scouts.
Like many players his size, Romano possesses great quickness and speed and unlike most players his size, he does not shy away from traffic. He has top notch hands around the net and has the attacking mentality of a sniper. He is just as adept at setting up, as he is scoring goals and evidenced by his 52 assists. One challenge for Romano next season as he starts his collegiate career is to prove that his dominance of a league that would best be described as average, can translate to a higher level. The other challenge for Romano is to become more well-rounded as a player, something that he will no doubt get plenty of time to work on with the Big Red.
The Devils have plenty of depth at the center ice position in the system, and therefore have the luxury of letting the highly-skilled Romano mature at the NCAA level. Not many sixth round draft picks ever make it to the big show, but Romano could be one of the Devils’ late round diamond in the rough selections.
Kyle Henegan, D — Shawinigan (QMJHL)
8th pick, 7th round, 208th overall
The fifth and final defenseman selected by the Devils on draft day was gargantuan enforcer Kyle Henegan from Shawinigan of the QMJHL. Standing at 6’4 and tipping the scales at 204 lbs, Henegan’s obvious strength is his intimidating physical presence. He used that presence to pile up a whopping 200 PIM’s in 68 games in his second season with the Cataractes. Henegan’s father Darrell was a former world kickboxing champion, and he likely has taught his son a few tips to help with his fisticuffs on the ice. That has also aided in making Henegan one of the most feared fighters in the QMJHL.
While Henegan’s imposing physical stature is his best asset, it also can be somewhat of a hindrance in terms of overall mobility. Henegan must work on improving his all-around foot speed and show the Devils that he can be more than just an enforcer. The Devils know he can scrap with the best of them, but in order for Henegan to forge out a career in the NHL, he must become more well-rounded, especially with the way the NHL game is played now.
One dimensional fighters are becoming a thing of the past as the NHL game focuses more on speed. If Henegan can improve his overall mobility, his chances for success at the next level will be much higher. The Devils will watch him over the next two seasons to see if his play merits a contract for the pro game.
Jeff Dahlia, Sergei Balashov and Eugene Belashchenko contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.