New Jersey Devils 2011 draft preview

By Jared Ramsden

Photo: Sean Couturier has been among the top ranked prospects for the 2011 draft for over a year. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

Top 10 prospects:

1. Jon Merrill, D
2. Mattias Tedenby, LW
3. Jacob Josefson, C
4. Alexander Urbom, D
5. Brandon Burlon, D
6. Adam Henrique, C
7. Eric Gelinas, D
8. Nick Palmieri, RW
9. Matt Corrente, D
10. Alexander Vasyunov, LW

The Devils won the 2011 NHL Draft lottery back in April, and as a result, they moved up from 8th, all the way to 4th overall in the first round. The last time the Devils had a first round draft choice in the top five was all the way back in 1991 when they selected defenseman Scott Niedermayer.

Team Needs

Unfortunately, the Devils again have to look for a new head coach to guide the team. First-year coach John MacLean was fired in late December after the team got off to a terrible start, and was replaced by Jacques Lemaire, who sparked a remarkable turnaround, only to see the team just fall short of the post-season. He announced at the end of the season he would not return behind the bench, leaving GM Lou Lamoriello to search for his fourth coach in the last five years.

The Devils most important priority this off-season is to lock-up restricted free agent star left-winger Zach Parise long-term. As of this writing, there hasn’t been much discussion between Parise’s agent and Lamoriello regarding a new contract, but there is no doubt that this will rank right near the top of Lamoriello’s to-do list.

The immediate needs for New Jersey are on the blue line, specifically, a puck-moving defenseman or two who can help revive a power-play that was downright awful last season. If Andy Greene departs in the summer as an unrestricted free agent, the need for a mobile puck-mover becomes even more paramount. There are prospects in the system that should be able to fill this need down the road, but players like Jon Merrill, Alexander Urbom and Eric Gelinas are still very green and in the case of Merrill and Gelinas, need more development time. Matt Taormina did show well in the early season and gave the Devils a nice offensive dimension from the back-end, but a severe high-ankle sprain that ultimately resulted in season-ending surgery abruptly brought his year to a halt. He should be completely healthy next year, and will be given a shot to pick-up where he left last season.

Organizational Strengths

The Devils have accumulated a deep and very versatile group of defenseman in their system, headlined by Merrill, who is the top prospect in the organization. The majority of them are still a few years away from making an impact at the NHL level, but as whole, this group has a handful of potential NHLers, capable of filling out the second and third defense pairings.

Headlined by Jacob Josefson, who showed well in his NHL cameo last year, the Devils have decent prospect depth up the middle. Well-rounded Adam Henrique had a fantastic pro debut in the AHL with Albany, and should be ready for a promotion to New Jersey next season, while David McIntyre’s gritty two-way play could see him anchoring a checking line and advancing to the NHL within a couple of years.

All of the sudden the Devils have started to accumulate a good looking group of goaltending prospects. At this point last year, all the team had was Jeff Frazee. Since then, they have drafted Scott Wedgewood and Maxime Clermont, and signed collegiate free-agent Keith Kinkaid. The team will still likely look to add more depth over the course of the next few drafts with Martin Brodeur’s career starting to wind down, but the team has finally begun to address what was once a major organizational black hole.

Organizational Weaknesses

With the near full-time graduation of Mattias Tedenby and Jacob Josefson to the NHL, the Devils lack blue-chip talent across the board, with the exception of Merrill. Fortunately, the team will have an opportunity to draft a premium talent with the fourth overall pick this year. For a team that hasn’t drafted very high over the course of the last 20 years, the team must take advantage of this lottery pick, because odds are, they won’t be drafting this high again for quite some time.

Depth at left and especially right wing is something that the team needs to address going forward. With Tedenby and Nick Palmieri seemingly entrenched as full-time NHLers, that leaves Alexander Vasyunov as the only winger prospect with top-six potential, and he is coming off of a down season in the AHL. Luckily for the Devils, this not a weakness at the NHL level at this time so the team has plenty of time to re-stock the position.

Draft Tendencies

The Devils are in much different situation than they are used to in past drafts, and while they could slant a little more to drafting for need with their first round pick, odds are they will stick to the same strategy of taking the player whom they deem to be the most talented.

After going heavy on defense prospects the past few drafts, look for the Devils to add some depth to the forward ranks. That’s not to say the team won’t draft any defenseman, but at the end of the day, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them draft more forwards than defenseman this year. The team may also look to continue deepening the prospect pool between the pipes by drafting another goaltender.

Aside from Swiss-born-winger Mauro Jorg last year and Finnish winger Vili Sopanen in 2007, the only European country the Devils have drafted players from recently has been Sweden. The team has good success, netting Tedenby, Josefson and Urbom, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see the team pluck another Swede or two at the draft proceedings in Minnesota.

Collegiate bound players are always a favorite of Lamoriello and David Conte because the team knows that they have control of that player for potentially four or five years. The team dips into the QMJHL and OHL on occasion, but they have not had much success drafting out of the WHL. The last two players the team drafted from that league, they never ended up signing.

The Devils have six choices in the 2011 NHL draft. They own the 4th, 75th (a 3rd round pick the Devils will get from Dallas assuming they don’t sign Jamie Langenbrunner before the draft), 99th, 129th, 159th and 189th picks. The team is without their 2nd round pick (traded last summer to Nashville for Jason Arnott) and their own 3rd round pick (forfeited as a penalty by the NHL for what the leagued deemed was attempted salary cap circumvention).

Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result :

No. 4: Sean Couturier, C/W
Couturier perfectly slots into the Devils lineup either this coming year or next, providing size, strong two-way play, and once he fills out, an effective power game, giving the Devils a big force at forward.