New Jersey Devils selected several solid players in 2007 NHL Draft

By Jared Ramsden
Photo: Though Nick Palmieri has played over 70 games in the NHL, he is still very much a prospect in terms of development. (Photo courtesy of the NHL)

Despite being without a first round pick at the 2007 draft after trading it along with Vladimir Malakhov to the San Jose Sharks for some much needed salary cap relief, the Devils managed to come up with a pretty respectable draft class.

Though Nick Palmieri has had a tough sophomore NHL season bouncing between the AHL and NHL, he’s still a part of the Devils future. Matt Halischuk was traded to Nashville last summer for Jason Arnott and has established himself as an NHL regular for the Predators. Both Mike Hoeffel and Corbin McPherson are viable prospects in the organization and more will be known about their long-term potential as they continue to develop. Only two of the picks can be considered busts.

Considering the Devils were without a first round pick and only had six picks all together, things have turned out pretty well for the team from this draft class, with the potential for even more in the future.

Mike Hoeffel, LW, U.S. NDTP (U-18 Team) – 2nd Round, 57th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

The Devils dipped into the US National Development Team Program with their first pick of the 2007 draft when they drafted left-winger Mike Hoeffel. A torn ACL suffered in the second half of the season fluctuated Hoeffel’s draft stock considerably. He still managed to put up 23 points in 44 games though.

Hoeffel was an elite scorer in high school, but the consensus from most was that he’d be more of a two-way checker once he fully matured. Top amongst Hoeffel’s strengths was his skating and physical style of play.

The Minnesota native began his collegiate career right in his own backyard with the University of Minnesota in 2007-08. He led all Golden Gopher freshman in scoring with nine goals and 10 assists. He finished with 12 goals and eight assists in his sophomore year and also suited up for Team USA at the World Juniors.

His junior and senior seasons were nearly identical across the board (24 points in both seasons), while he continued to develop into a sound, two-way forward. Hoeffel signed an entry level contract with New Jersey in March after his senior season and finished the year in Albany with the Devils AHL affiliate, where he scored two goals in 10 games.

Hoeffel’s first full pro season started on a bit of a sour note as he missed over a month with an undisclosed upper-body injury but has since returned to the line-up as a regular for Albany.

Given his somewhat limited upside and type of style that he plays, Hoeffel might not need much development time in the minors. Solidly built and now filled out at a rugged 6’4, 205 lbs, Hoeffel has the requisite skills to be an effective checking line winger at the NHL level. By this time next year, the Devils should really know what they have in him.

Nick Palmieri, RW, Erie (OHL) – 3rd Round, 79th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 75

With a pick obtained from the Calgary Flames in a trade for defenseman David Hale, the Devils selected burgeoning 6’2, 200 pound power-forward Nick Palmieri from the OHL‘s Erie Otters. Palmieri stood out on a poor sub-par Otters team, scoring 24 goals and 21 assists in 56 games.

He finished up his junior career with quite a flourish in 2008-09, scoring a combined 41 goals in both the playoffs and regular season for the Otters and Belleville Bulls, the team he was traded to mid-season.

It was off to the Devils AHL affiliate in Lowell to start his pro career and he did so with a flourish, scoring 21 goals and 15 assists, while also getting a brief look in New Jersey, suiting up in six games. He started off his second pro season slowly in 2010-11, but eventually earned a re-call to an injury stricken New Jersey team and stuck with them for the rest of the season, scoring nine goals and eight assists in 43 games.

While he wasn’t guaranteed a roster spot going into 2012, it was expected Palmieri would stick. However his play was very sporadic and couldn’t earn the full trust of new Devils coach Peter DeBoer, alternating in and out of the lineup. He was eventually dispatched to Albany, but has been re-called a couple of times, only to be sent down again.

Despite the setback, Palmieri is still young enough to bounce back and make an impact at the NHL level. He has a great size/skill combination, but needs to continue to upgrade his foot speed, defensive play and intensity. It’s likely best for him to stay in the minors for the rest of the season and start with a clean slate next year.

Corbin McPherson
, D, Cowichan Valley (BCHL) – 3rd Round, 87th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

In typical Devils fashion, they went off the board with their second 3rd round pick when they selected towering Northern California native Corbin McPherson of the Cowichan Valley Capitals of the BCHL. He put up four goals and 10 assists and 63 penalty minutes in 45 games.

After one more year in the BCHL in which he posted similar numbers (three goals, 14 assists, 84 penalty minutes) McPherson moved on to the NCAA where he began his collegiate career as a member of the Colgate Red Raiders in 2008-09. He played a lot as a freshman, dressing in all 37 games, recording five assists, 50 penalty minutes and an even plus/minus rating. His numbers slightly improved as a sophomore as he scored his first two career goals. The Red Raiders struggled mightily early on in McPherson’s junior season before turning things around with a playoff run. He put up 10 points and showed glimpses of being a strong defensive player despite a minus-18 rating.

McPherson is currently in his senior season with Colgate where he is the team captain. The 6’4, 220 pound defenseman skates very well for his size and has shown good improvement in his all around game in his three-plus years with the Red Raiders. While not a standout amongst a deep group of Devils defense prospects, McPherson has a lot of raw upside. He’ll need some minor pro seasoning, but there is a lot to like about McPherson’s potential.

Matt Halischuk, RW, Kitchener (OHL) – 4th Round, 117th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 99

The Devils went back to the OHL for their fourth round pick when they drafted diminutive, but feisty forward Matt Halischuk from the Kitchener Rangers. He broke out in his third junior season, his first with Kitchener after coming over in a trade from St. Michael’s, scoring 33 goals and 33 assists in 67 games to catch the attention of NHL teams.

His final junior season was a memorable one as he suited up for Team Canada gold medal winning team at the World Juniors, and helped get Kitchener to within one game of winning the Memorial Cup. He had 59 points in 40 regular season games before exploding in the playoffs with 21 goals and 20 assists in 25 games (Memorial Cup games included).

He had a fairly successful first pro season in the AHL with Lowell in 2008-09 with 29 points in 47 games, and followed it up with 22 points in 32 games next season. He did get into 20 games with New Jersey that year as well, where he scored his first professional goal against the Washington Capitals.

Before the start of the 2010-11 season, Halischuk was traded to the Nashville Predators along with a second round draft pick for Jason Arnott. He was on a yo-yo between Nashville and their AHL affiliate before finally establishing himself as an NHL regular. This season he’s already set a career high with 12 goals.

While not a superstar by any stretch, Halischuk has carved out a role with his speed, tenacity and timely offense to become an NHL caliber player.

Vili Sopanen, LW, Pelicans (Finland) – 6th Round, 177th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

In the sixth round, the Devils selected their only European prospect with the drafting of big 6’4 Finnish winger Vili Sopanen, a popular sleeper amongst draft pundits. He spent the majority of the season with the Pelicans junior-A team, scoring 18 goals and 21 assists in 33 games. He also played in seven games for the senior team, and he also represented Finland at the World Juniors, though he didn’t play much.

Despite solid seasons with the Pelicans senior team from 2007-10, including a 21 goal season in 2009-10, the Devils opted not to sign Sopanen. While he’s proven to be a good player in the Finnish SM-Liiga, the Devils likely didn’t see enough improvement in his skating and defensive game to consider him a viable NHL prospect. It’s safe to label Sopanen as a bust as he likely will spend the remainder of his career in Europe.

Ryan Molle, D, Swift Current (WHL) – 7th Round, 207th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

With their final selection of the 2007 draft, the Devils drafted stay-at-home defenseman Ryan Molle from the Swift Current Broncos of the WHL. In his first full season with the Broncos, Molle scored once, while adding four assists and 52 penalty minutes in 61 games.

As was the case with Sopanen, the Devils opted not sign Molle in 2009 when the signing deadline for 2007 picks came and went. While he had good size and was a responsible player in his own end, he just didn’t have any other tools to make you think that he’d be able to succeed at the next level.

After wrapping up his junior career in the WHL with the Kootenay Ice in 2009-10, Molle didn’t turn pro and opted to go to the University of Waterloo and while he’s playing hockey for the team there, he’ll likely be done with hockey once he graduates from the University.