The Devils were without a first-round draft choice this season as they dealt it to the San Jose Sharks as part of the somewhat controversial Vladimir Malakhov trade that enabled the Devils to fit their roster under the salary cap.
In a draft that wasn’t considered as deep and talented as years past, the Devils were going to be hard pressed to land a franchise or elite-level prospect, especially considering that they wouldn’t be making their first selection until late in the second round of the draft proceedings from Columbus.
Of the Devils six draft choices, there were two right wingers, two left wingers and two defensemen. Size appeared to be the theme of the day for New Jersey as five of the Devils six selections were no shorter than 6’2 and weighed no less than 186 lbs. Three of the Devils picks were American, two were Canadian and one was European.
Below is a summary of the six selections the Devils made at the 2007 draft.
Mike Hoeffel, LW — U.S. NTDP (U-18 Team)
1st pick, 2nd round, 57th overall
With the NHL experimenting with a new draft format by having the first round on Friday evening and having rounds two through seven on Saturday, the Devils did not make their first selection of the 2007 draft until late in the second round. When the time came for the Devils to pick, they selected U.S. National Development Team Program forward Mike Hoeffel.
The Minnesota native had a solid season, scoring 16 goals and seven assists in 44 games, but missed a fair amount of time with a torn ACL suffered in the second half of the year. The timing of his knee injury came at a bad time for Hoeffel as it forced him to miss the World Under-18 Tournament, which is heavily scouted. The injury also played a part in his draft ranking fluctuating on some lists.
Hoeffel showed the ability to put the puck in the net last season and back when he was one of the top high school players in the state of Minnesota, but there seems to be a consensus that he will make a much more effective checker than scorer once he is fully developed, because has average hands around the net and his hockey sense is limited at the offensive end of the rink. That’s not to say that he can’t score at all, it’s just that he likely won’t be guy counted on to shoulder a lot of offensive responsibility at the highest levels.
While his offensive ability may be in question, Hoeffel has plenty of other qualities that should help him become and effective role player. He is strong on his feet and is a top notch skater. He enjoys playing an intense, physical style and his motor always seems to be on high as he constantly keeps his feet moving, showing great energy and hustle. At 6’2, 186 lbs, he already has good size and as he grows into his frame and gets stronger, he should become an even more effective forechecker.
The Devils will likely have to show patience with Hoeffel, especially with the offensive part of his game, but he appears to be the type of player that the Devils should be able to mold into an effective checking line winger, possibly along the lines of a Jay Pandolfo. He will begin his collegiate career this fall at the University of Minnesota with the Golden Gophers where the Devils will monitor his progress over the course of the next few seasons.
Nick Palmieri, RW — Erie (OHL)
2nd pick, 3rd round, 79th overall
With the first of two third-round choices, this one courtesy of the Calgary Flames in the David Hale trade at the trade deadline earlier in the spring, the Devils selected big, burly right winger Nick Palmieri from the Erie Otters of the OHL.
The native of Clinton, New York really came into his own in his second full OHL season. On an Otter team that languished near the bottom of the OHL standings all season, Palmieri’s play was a bright light in an otherwise dismal year. In 56 games, Palmieri scored scored a team best 24 goals and finished third in team scoring with 45 points. He also displayed a physical element to his game by putting up 99 PIM’s.
Standing at 6’2, 215 lbs, Palmieri is an imposing figure on the ice and as the season wore on, he gradually starting using his big frame to his advantage and starting driving to the net with more authority. He possesses good, quick hands and can do some damage once he takes up residence in front of the opposition net. However, he is also effective in between the dots and in the slot due in part to an above average shot. His soft hands also allow him to be a creative passer and playmaker.
As a power forward, Palmieri naturally isn’t the fleetest of foot and lacks some top-end quickness, but he does have a strong skating stride and is tough to knock off the puck. Improved conditioning will help improve that aspect of his game. He is sound defensively and is not afraid to play physically. As he grows into his frame and gets stronger, he should become even more effective in that area.
The Devils have taken a lot of power forward types over the past few drafts, and as is usually the case with those types of players, the development period has been slow and gradual. The same should be expected with Palmieri. Going into his third junior season, Palmieri will look to improve on the solid numbers he posted last season, along with improving his consistency, conditioning and defensive play. Like Hoeffel, the Devils will need to show patience with Palmieri, but he has the tools to develop into a decent scoring power forward.
Corbin McPherson, D — Cowichan Valley (BCHL)
3rd pick, 3rd round, 87th overall
The Devils went a little off the board with their second selection in the third round, taking a towering defenseman by the name of Corbin McPherson from the Cowichan Valley Capitals of the BCHL. His big claim to fame now is that he is the highest ever player selected out of Northern California.
A year older than most prospects, McPherson was not ranked by the Central Scouting Service or International Scouting Service. He played in 44 games for the Capitals, scoring four goals and 10 assists to go along with 63 penalty minutes.
McPherson’s best assets are his skating ability and mobility, especially for a guy who stands at 6’4, 210. He also sees the ice well, handles the puck with aplomb and is good at moving the puck up the ice, whether it is by him skating it up himself or by using his above average passing skills. His defensive play is still somewhat raw, but his reach gives him a definite advantage when defending.
He has the size to be effective physically, but this is one area that McPherson must concentrate on improving as he develops. He needs to show more willingness to get his nose dirty and grind it out in the tough areas of the rink.
McPherson will likely return to the BCHL to play for the 2007-08 season but he does have the option of going to the USHL as he was selected by the Indiana Ice in the USHL draft. McPherson won’t begin his collegiate career until 2008-09 and where that will be is still to be determined as he has yet to commit to a college. It will be a while before the Devils really know what they have in McPherson, but as he gets stronger and gets more experience, he should gradually improve his game.
Matt Halischuk, RW — Kitchener (OHL)
4th pick, 4th round, 117th overall
The exception to the size theme in this draft class came with the selection of Kitchener right winger Matt Halischuk in the fourth round.
In his first season with the Rangers after two years with the St. Mike’s Majors, the forward posted breakout numbers in his third OHL season, leading the Rangers in scoring with 33 goals and 33 assists and also recorded 66 PIM’s in 67 games.
Standing at only 5’10, 173 lbs, Halischuk’s small stature likely caused many teams to shy away from drafting him, but not the Devils. What he lacks in size, he more than makes up for with energy and hard work. He’s a good skater and as evidenced by his 33 goals, has good hands and is more than adept at putting the puck in the net. He’s also a stalwart on the penalty kill.
With the size issue, also comes the strength issue and that is something Halischuk will likely have to battle for his entire career. While today’s NHL is geared more towards speed and skill, you still need to have enough strength to not get pushed around.
Halischuk is a character player and is somewhat comparable to current Devil prospect David Clarkson, only less physical. The Devils will likely let Halischuk return to Kitchener for a fourth year of junior hockey where he will look to build off his breakout 2006-07 season. Should Halischuk continue to improve, he could be ready to turn pro as early as 2008-09.
Vili Sopanen, LW — Pelicans (Finland)
5th pick, 6th round, 177th overall
The Devils dipped into Europe in the sixth round when they selected Finnish left winger Vili Sopanen, considered by some draft pundits to be one of the draft’s sleeper prospects.
Somewhat of a late bloomer, the 6’4, 209 lb Sopanen played for the Pelicans, a team based out of Lahti, a city in southern Finland. He spent the majority of the season with the junior A club where he scored 18 goals and 21 assists in 33 games, but also got into seven games with the Pelicans senior club in the SM-Liiga scoring once. He also suited up for Team Finland at the World Junior Championships, but saw limited ice time as the 13th forward.
Sopanen is a big winger focusing on finesse skills. Decent defensively, his skills stand out more in the offensive end. He is comfortable with the puck, able to make good passes or carry the puck himself. As a swift skater, he can combine a fairly abrasive offensive game to a set of abilities which allow him to challenge defensemen successfully.
However, Sopanen doesn’t push to the net nearly as often as his skills would permit. He would need the straightforwardness, as his hockey sense isn’t his greatest strength. Also, his physical play is stifled by a lack of a mean streak. Sopanen has intriguing potential but isn’t very likely to make the NHL as a offensive player.
Sopanen is still quite raw at this stage of his development and will continue to need time to fill out and grow into his gargantuan sized body. If given the right amount of time to develop, Sopanen has the requisite size to eventually blossom into a menacing power forward. Sopanen has until 2009 to earn a contract from the Devils, which is realistic considering that he was drafted at a slightly older age, and thus he stands a chance to reach high enough a level by then. Sopanen won’t be ready for the NHL until the 2010’s, though.
Ryan Molle, D — Swift Current (WHL)
6th pick, 7th round, 207th overall
With their final selection of the draft, the Devils turned back to the Canadian Hockey League to draft WHL defenseman Ryan Molle from the Swift Current Broncos.
The 6’2, 190 lb Molle just completed his first full season with the Broncos. In 61 games, the stay-at-home blueliner scored once, added four assists and also recorded 52 PIM’s. Molle has good size, is a fine skater, and is able to move the puck up the ice well.
With the amount of depth the Devils have accumulated at the defense position over the course of the past few drafts, Molle will have to work extra hard to establish and make a name for himself in the organization. He will return to Swift Current for the 2007-08 season.
Jason Menard and Pekka Lampinen contributed to this article. Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.