Devils 2005 draft review

By Jared Ramsden

The new era of the NHL was ushered in with the scaled-down version of the league’s annual entry draft, consisting of nine rounds instead of seven. The usual formula of drafting in the order of finish from the previous season was altered, as the draft this year snaked at the end of every round, due to the 2004-05 season being wiped out. And to determine the draft order, a 30-team lottery was held. The New Jersey Devils ended up landing at the 23rd slot in the bottom third of the first round, a position that they are quite accustomed to over the past few seasons.

It’s hard to find a player who can step in right away at the end of the first round, so the formula of best player available for the Devils usually makes the most sense. If a player of great value (think Zach Parise), fell down the draft board, the Devils have shown in the past that they are not afraid to sacrifice later draft selections to move up and take a player that they think is an outstanding talent. With their first rounder this season, the Devils stood pat, and ended up getting very good value and a fine offensive talent with the top rated Swedish player, right winger Niklas Bergfors.

The Devils had a selection in each of the seven rounds of the draft. Since the draft snaked, the Devils ended up with a pick early in the second round, at the 38th slot. At that spot, they ended up getting USA National Development Team goaltender, Jeff Frazee. With the rest of their draft choices, they took three defensemen and two forwards, including a player whose father has some pretty good history with New Jersey in the past.

Below is a summary of the seven selections the Devils made in the 2005 draft.

Niklas Bergfors, RW, Sodertalje (Sweden)
1st pick, 1st round, 23rd overall

With that pick, 23rd overall in the first round, the Devils took Swedish right winger Niklas Bergfors, one of the top rated Europeans in the draft. The main knock on Bergfors was that he is considered undersized, at 5’11, 195 lbs. But, much like Parise, Bergfors hasn’t let his small size prevent him from showcasing his elite offensive gifts, and the Devils may have gotten another great value pick in the first round with Bergfors.

The swift skating and offensively gifted Bergfors lit up the Swedish Junior League with 16 goals and 18 assists for 34 points for his club team in Sodertalje, and impressed enough that he earned a 25-game look with the Sodertalje’s senior team. That is quite remarkable for a player who just turned 18 in March. Bergfors is just not known for his offensive skill set, which includes immeasurable speed and acceleration, a great shot, above average stick handling, and a nose for the net. He is highly competitive, a trait that the Devils always value highly when evaluating talent and he also possesses a keen understanding of the game.

Aside from his small stature, there are a few other things that Bergfors needs to work on to become a complete player. He admitted himself after being drafted by the Devils that he needs to improve his defensive play, something that will likely improve as he gains experience. While he is not afraid of playing aggressively and throwing his weight around, he never will be confused as a player who relishes physical contact. That aspect of his game could use some improvement.

Bergfors will likely get tested in that aspect of his game this fall as he will likely play in the CHL in the Quebec League with the expansion St. John’s Fog Devils after being chosen first overall in the CHL’s import draft. His willingness to come over to North America has to delight Devils management, as this career choice will get him acclimatized to North American hockey right off the bat.

The Devils didn’t really have much in terms of offensively gifted wingers in the system before this draft, but with Alexander Suglobov and now Bergfors in the system, that appears to be much less of an issue.

Jeff Frazee, G, USA (National Development Team Program)
2nd pick, 2nd round, 38th overall

While the Devils had to wait late in the first round to select, the snake aspect of the draft gave the Devils a higher pick to use in the second round. They used that pick to add Minnesota native Jeff Frazee, who played for the USA National Development Team Program this past season. Not since Ari Ahonen was drafted back in the first round of 1999 have the Devils drafted a goaltender as high as Frazee, who will stay home to play college hockey at the University of Minnesota, and could potentially be the Golden Gophers starter as early as next season.

Frazee had an excellent all around season. He posted a 22-7-0 record, along with an impressive goals against of 2.29 and a save percentage of .927, and also posted five shutouts. The athletically gifted Frazee also sparkled at the World Under 18 Championships, leading the US team to a gold medal. He led the tourney with an amazing 1.33 goals against and outstanding .958 save percentage.

Frazee’s athleticism and quickness are the qualities that are most notable when he is between the pipes. The 6’0, 180 lb Frazee seems to thrive under pressure, usually always coming up big when it matters most. His fiery and highly competitive nature is a big reason for that. He is very mobile in the crease, especially post to post. Frazee sometimes seems like he is playing out of control, but his elite athletic ability and dexterity allows him to recover, and this can also cause headaches for opposing players by his unpredictable nature in the crease. Frazee is a reflex goalie that plays a somewhat unorthodox butterfly style. He stays square to the shooter, and has decent puckhandling skills as well. The big knock on Frazee is rebound control, but that is something that can easily be corrected as he matures.

With Ari Ahonen playing in Finland this season, and now at the age were he can’t really be considered a prospect anymore, Frazee now assumes the reins as the top goaltending prospect in the organization, ahead of Josh Disher who was drafted last season. Frazee more than likely is the heir apparent to the goaltending throne in New Jersey. Assuming Frazee plays all four years of college, current Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur will be in his mid 30’s. Brodeur could very well still be playing at a high level then, but just in case, the Devils now have a potential top notch, No. 1 goaltender in the organization to slowly groom through the system.

Mark Fraser, D, Kitchener (OHL)
3rd pick, 3rd round, 84th overall

New Jersey had yet to add a defender to the fold after the first two rounds, but with the Devils needing to address their depth issue on defense in the system, the Devils went with a blueliner in the third round with Kitchener Ranger rearguard Mark Fraser. Fraser isn’t the most spectacular guy on the ice, but for a rookie on one of the OHL’s top squads in Kitchener, Fraser was quite steady and more than held his own. He really came on late in the season and in the playoffs, and really elevated his draft stock with his late season surge.

Fraser will likely never light up the score sheet as his eight points in 58 games this season attest, but at 6’3, 195 lbs, and still growing into his large frame, that likely won’t be of concern to the Devils. He’s a steady, defensive zone presence, much like current Devil Colin White.

Defensively, Fraser already has shown that he’s very reliable in his own end. His long reach and rough, physical style of play are a big reason for that success in the defensive zone. Fraser’s skating and mobility are average, with room for improvement. Fraser plays a safe and simple game, and once he beefs up his lanky frame, he has the potential to turn into a sound, physical, stay at home defender. He will return to Kitchener this fall, and look to build on his solid rookie season.

Patrick Davis, LW, Kitchener (OHL)
4th pick, 4th round, 99th overall

The Devils stayed in the OHL for their next selection, and in fact, drafted a teammate of Fraser’s, when they took 6’3, 210lb Kitchener left winger Patrick Davis. Davis started off the season strongly, but slowed in the second half and in the playoffs. That being said, 20 goals and 50 points in 59 games isn’t anything to be ashamed of. He is somewhat similar in terms of his raw offensive ability and potential like current Devils prospect, and former OHL grad, Ahren Nittel.

Davis possesses a strong combination of skating and offensive skill, but he has a bad reputation for being soft. He’s much more of a finesse player and often avoids physical contact. Scouts seem to agree that he has plenty of offensive ability, and combined with his excellent skating stride, his scoring potential is outstanding. He has great hands and stickhandling ability and is very opportunistic around the net. His vision is outstanding, and his overall offensive instincts are well above average.

Davis put on 15lbs of muscle over the summer, and that, combined with his speed and raw ability likely attracted the Devils to selecting Davis. However, his upside will be some what limited until he shows a willingness to get more involved physically and do the dirty work along the walls and in the corners. With Kitchener losing some key players to graduation, Davis will be expected to improve on last season and he should get plenty of ice time and opportunity to do just that.

Mark Fayne, D, Noble & Greenough (USHSE)
5th pick, 5th round, 155th overall

The Devils went the US high school route in the fifth round when they took 6’3, 200 lb defenseman Mark Fayne. The physically imposing Fayne played at Noble and Greenough, a prep school in Massachusetts. He was drafted by the Halifax Mooseheads back in the 2004 junior draft, but where exactly he will play hockey this season is still up in the air. He has yet to commit to an NCAA program.

Fayne was a three-sport athlete at his high school, participating in the hockey, football and lacrosse programs, so the athletic ability is definitely there. Combine that with his size, and you have an excellent long range project for the Devils to groom for the blueline.

Sean Zimmerman, D, Spokane (WHL)
6th pick, 6th round, 170th overall

In the sixth round, the Devils went to the WHL, a league they don’t often draft from, to nab defenseman Sean Zimmerman of the Spokane Chiefs. Much like the earlier selection of Fraser, Zimmerman is a steady, stay at home type, but seems to have a little more of a physical element to his game than Fraser does.

Standing at 6’1, 220 lbs, Zimmerman definitely has the size to be a physically intimidating force on the blueline. After winning the Chiefs rookie of the year honors in 2003-04, he improved in all facets of the game in year 2 in the WHL. Zimmerman posted 16 points in 71 games this season, including 14 assists. His +4 rating was impressive considering that Spokane struggled for most of the season.

Zimmerman isn’t likely to develop much in terms of offensive ability down the road and his skating is only average at best. However, Zimmerman has a good work ethic, a sound understanding of the game and is very effective on the penalty kill, using his size to his advantage. Zimmerman has a long way to go to reach the NHL, but he does have a lot of intangible qualities that may one day help him make it to the big show. He will return to Spokane this fall for his third WHL season.

Alexander Sundstrom, C, Bjorkloven (Sweden)
7th pick, 7th round, 218th overall

With their last choice of the draft, the Devils took Swedish centerman Alexander Sundstrom, who is the son of former Devil Patrik Sundstrom, who played for the Devils in the late 80’s and early 90’s. What also makes this selection interesting is that Sundstrom was highly touted going into this season. In fact, he was the second highest rated Swedish player, behind New Jersey’s first rounder, Niklas Bergfors in the preliminary CSS rankings.

However, an injury to his kneecap has cost him the majority of the past two seasons, which caused a large drop in his ranking. He was only able to suit of for nine contests this past year. When healthy, the 5’11, 190 lb centerman plays a technically sound and smart two-way game. While not spectacular offensively, Sundstrom has great puck skills and has plenty of potential to become a solid point producing player. He excels in the defensive zone, working hard along the walls, and possessing great ability in the face-off circle.

While his injury history has to be a major concern, the Devils felt that it was worth the risk taking Sundstrom in the seventh round. The bloodlines, with his father having a very successful time in New Jersey also likely played a key role in this selection. Should Sundstrom get over his knee injuries of the past few seasons, the Devils may very well have another late-round gem on their hands.

Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.