Devils 2009 draft preview

By Jared Ramsden

Top 10 Prospects

1. Mattias Tedenby, LW
2. Nicklas Bergfors, RW
3. Matt Corrente, D
4. Matt Halischuk, RW
5. Brandon Burlon, D
6. Nick Palmieri, RW
7. Patrice Cormier, C
8. Alexander Vasyunov, LW
9. Tyler Eckford, D
10. Petr Vrana, C

Team Needs  

It’s safe to say there is likely going to be more change this off-season for the Devils than there was last season. Player wise, the Devils have a plethora of free agents to be come July 1st, led by second line right winger Brian Gionta and defenseman Johnny Oduya, who has quietly emerged into a top-notch blueliner over the course of the past few seasons. What the Devils will do to their team over the course of the off-season depends a lot on who they decide to keep, and who they decide to let go.
After stating last off-season that he intended to shore up the blueline, yet only re-signed impending free agent Bryce Salvador, Devils GM Lou Lamoriello needs to make this area a top priority, especially with the pending UFA status of Oduya. The team is interested in re-signing the free-agent find from three years ago, but his price tag could be quite high. Even if he does re-sign, the Devils still might even look to add another defenseman to the fold. There are some decent names out on the free agent market this time around. Paul Martin and Oduya formed a steady, and underrated top pairing for the club, but the Devils could definitely use another top four defenseman, if they can fit it into the budget. Colin White, Mike Mottau, Salvador and Andy Greene are capable defenders, but would be better off playing fewer minutes, thus making them more effective. 
Travis Zajac emerged as a legitimate, top two center last season, posting career-best numbers across the board. While he’s not likely going to emerge into an upper echelon superstar, he should be able to anchor one of the Devils top two lines for the foreseeable future. After Zajac though, there are a lot more questions than answers up the middle. Dainius Zubrus filled the role of second-line center for most of the season, but like his first year in New Jersey, he was inconsistent, and seems better suited to a third line role. Brian Rolston’s sprained ankle prevented him from really getting comfortable last year, and he could be given a shot at the job, but he may be more comfortable on the wing. Finding a second line center isn’t a complete necessity, but Lamoriello could look at some other options should they become available. With the possible departure of career Devil John Madden, and the retirement of Bobby Holik, the Devils checking line centers are likely to be different in 2009-10. Rod Pelley should get a long look there, but don’t be surprised to see the team add a veteran free agent as well.  

Zach Parise, Jamie Langenbrunner and Patrik Elias give the Devils an above average trio of talented offensive wingers who can be relied upon to put up points on a regular basis. The Devils would like to re-sign Gionta, but it’s not set in stone that he will return, which could open a spot on the right side for someone like Nicklas Bergfors. Again, Lamoriello could address this spot via free agency or trade, but it could be time to give a guy like Bergfors a shot to see what he can do in a scoring role. Rolston should bounce back after a rough return to New Jersey, and David Clarkson emerged as a more complete player as the season wore one. Jay Pandolfo will most likely be back, but his $2.5 million cap hit is tough to take for a player that is not as effective as he once was. Brendan Shanahan and Mike Rupp are also pending UFA’s so it appears that there will be a minor overhaul to the checking lines, whether it be through trade, free agency or promoting someone such as Matt Halischuk to the big club.   

In goal, Scott Clemmensen’s cinderella story replacing Martin Brodeur for nearly four months is likely to earn him a big contract, however it likely won’t be from the Devils who can’t afford to carry an expensive backup goalie that probably won’t play much behind the workhorse Brodeur. Kevin Weekes is also going to be a free agent, and while he is more likely to return than Clemmensen, he may opt to go elsewhere to play caddy. Finding a capable backup, should Clemmensen and Weekes both depart has to be on Lamoriello’s to-do list. 
Organizational Strengths  

The Devils have begun to accumulate some depth and talent within the organization with their last two draft classes, which slowly has the system as whole on an upward trajectory after a few lean years at the draft table. That all being said, the organizational strengths haven’t changed much since last year. 

Just like was the case going into the draft last season, the Devils strength in the system is on the blueline. The talent there isn’t overwhelming by any stretch, but with the progression shown by Matt Corrente and Tyler Eckford after a full year of seasoning in the AHL, combined with the emergence of University of Michigan freshman Brandon Burlon this year, gives the organization something to look forward to in the very near future. The tough as nails Corrente displayed a solid all-around game, and most importantly, remained relatively healthy for the whole season. Eckford had some growing pains, including a team-worst plus/minus rating, but showed that offensive dimension that makes him such an exciting prospect. Burlon had a huge impact in his freshman season for the Wolverines, showing offensive skill and poise beyond his years, and is only going to get better. Mark Fayne, T.J. Miller, Mark Fraser, Matt Delahey and Harry Young add to the unit’s depth and round out a blossoming blueline brigade.  

The Devils are likely going to be seeing a makeover of their checking lines over the next few seasons, and convieniently, that is an area in the organization where the Devils appear to have some up and coming talent. Matt Halischuk missed a large portion of his rookie pro season due to injury, but when he was playing, he performed very well, and looks to be on the cusp of cracking the Devils line-up on a full-time basis. Russian winger Vladimir Zharkov had a splendid pro debut, and while he isn’t a close to making the jump as Halischuk, he’s got the speed and two-way ability to be a fixture on the checking line in the not too distant future. Patrice Cormier probably has an opportunity to be more than just a role-playing checker, but if he settles into that slot, he could be an elite player in that role. Mike Hoeffel had another steady season at the University of Minnesota and is on the right track. Two 2908 draftees, Memorial Cup standout Adam Henrique and David Wohlberg also had exceptional seasons, and have the potential to develop into very effective role players at the next level.
Considering that the center ice position was only four deep going into the draft last season, the depth at this position has improved exponentially since then after the position was addressed at the 2008 draft. Cormier, Henrique, Wohlberg and Kory Nagy all showed great signs of development in their first seasons in the system, and the improvement in play that Tony Romano showed this year in his overage OHL season, combined with the addition of scoring prospect David McIntyre from Anaheim mid-season, and this unit has seen a drastic improvement in not only depth, but a reasonable amount of talent as well. 

Organizational Weaknesses  

Adding the supremely talented Mattias Tedenby to the fold last season gave the Devils the closest thing they’ve had to a "star" prospect since they drafted Zach Parise back in 2003. And while Nicklas Bergfors, Nick Palmieri and Alexander Vasyunov give the Devils hope for future scoring, they are not elite scoring prospects, nor will they likely ever reach that level. Aside from Tedenby, the best the Devils can hope for out of them is that they evolve into second line players, though Bergfors could buck that trend as soon as this season if given the opportunity to play with talented players. So in other words, the Devils need to continue to pluck players of Tedenby’s ilk up front to give the organization some much-needed star power. With the 23rd overall selection in the first round, there should be a talented player there to be had, whether it be at center, the wing, or the blueline.  

Jeff Frazee had a fantastic bounce-back season in his first year as a pro in the Devils organization, setting numerous records for Lowell while regaining the confidence and swagger that he showed at Minnesota in his sophomore season. He is back to being a legitimate prospect in the system, but after opting to not draft any goaltenders last year, this position still has a glaring lack of depth and the Devils can’t ignore this need much longer. The Devils saw what life was like without Brodeur this season, and while they played quite well in his absence, they now have to know that his career is very gradually winding down and need to start looking for future replacements who can challenge Frazee for that all important, future No. 1 goaltender role. The goaltending class in this year’s draft is not considered to be good, but the Devils would be wise to select one, if not two goaltenders from that group. 
Draft Tendencies 

New Jersey will go into the 2009 Draft in Montreal with all of their selections in tow, as well as an extra third rounder from Minnesota in a draft-day deal from last year that saw the Devils move down in the first round to allow the Wild to select defenseman Tyler Cuma

As is often the case when late in the draft, the Devils generally go with the best player available, which was definitely the case last season when they selected Tedenby, who fell a little further than most expected. The Devils would likely prefer to go with a center or defenseman with their top pick because it is a position that needs some star power, but as the rest of the draft goes on, expect a move towards goaltending. 

In the past, the Devils have been known to pull a few surprises on draft day, but lately, they have tended to be more conservative in their approach, looking to replenish a system that was in desperate need of some restocking. However, like last season, there is quite a bit of talent in this year’s draft class, so if the Devils can find a way to move up to grab an elite talent in round one, Lamoriello and head scout David Conte won’t hesitate to do so.  

The Devils usually don’t shy away from any leagues or countries when it comes to selecting players, but have been plucking prospects out of the CHL more than any other league over the past few drafts. They have had a fair bit of success that way, finding players such as Corrente, Palmieri, Halischuk, Cormier and Henrique, four of whom reside in the top 10 group of prospects for New Jersey at Hockey’s Future. 

Hockey’s Future Staff Mock Draft result: Calvin de Haan, D — Oshawa (OHL)

The Devils have a handful of promising defensive prospects in their system but none have the skill level to match Oshawa standout de Haan. The prospect is a classic puck-moving defenseman with smooth skating, fantastic vision, and superior puck-distributing abilities.