David Conte at the Draft: Devils Picks Since 1994

The name of this blog comes after Lou Lamoriello, the general manager, team president, and CEO of the Devils, who has overseen and molded the Devils into the perennial contenders that they are today.   As I understand it, Lou likes to get involved in various aspects of the organization, even to the point of stepping behind the bench.  However, Lou does delegate one important task: the NHL Entry Draft.  The man in charge? Director of Scouting, David Conte.

While the majority of posts within the last month or so have focused on free agents, the 2009 NHL Entry Draft is approaching and deserves attention. The Devils will be, as usual, selecting in the bottom third of the first round looking for another talented youngster in the hopes of becoming an impact player in a few years. Conte has been with the Devils for over 25 years, serving as the Director of Scouting since August 1993 according to the Devils' website.

With the 2009 Draft approaching, let's take a closer look at the demographics of the picks made since the 1994 Entry Draft, Conte's first draft as Director of Scouting. We'll take a look at who the first round picks were since 1994 - as well as who was arguably the best player from the Devils' draft.  You'll find they are not always one in the same.  We'll also see where the prospects played (positionally and by league) as well as their nationality.  Perhaps there is a tendency or two?  For reference (as well the sources for this aggregation of data), take a look at the history of the Devils' draft picks through the NHL and at Hockey DB.

First off, let's take a look at who the Devils selected in the first round since 1994.  In theory, the first round prospects should be the best prospects as they are selected ahead of many others.  However, in practice, some prospects selected earlier in the NHL Draft don't prosper, whereas players taken later on surprise many when their game is raised beyond anyone's expectations.

 

Year First Rounder Best Player Honorable Mention
1994 Vadim  Sharifijanov (RW, 25th) Patrik Elias (LW, 51st) Sheldon Souray (D, 71st)
Steve Sullivan (C, 233rd)
1995 Petr Sykora (C, 18th) Petr Sykora Alyn McCauley (C, 79th)
1996 Lance Ward (D, 10th) Colin White (D, 49th) Willie Mitchell (D, 199th)
1997 J-F Damphousse (G, 24th) Scott Clemmensen (G, 215th) N/A
1998 Mike Van Ryn (D, 26th) Scott Gomez (C, 27th) Brian Gionta (RW, 82nd)
1999 Ari Ahonen (G, 27th) Mike Commodore (D, 42nd) N/A
2000 David Hale (D, 22th) Paul Martin (D, 62nd) Mike Rupp (LW, 76th)
2001 Adrian Foster (LW, 28th) Aaron Voros (RW, 229th) N/A
2002 No First Rounder Cam Janssen (RW, 117th) N/A
2003 Zach Parise (C, 17th) Zach Parise N/A
2004 Travis Zajac (C, 20th) Travis Zajac N/A
2005 Nicklas Bergfors (RW, 23rd) N/A N/A
2006 Matthew Corrente (D, 30th) N/A N/A
2007 No First Rounder N/A N/A
2008 Mattias Tedenby (LW, 24th) N/A N/A

 

Overall, I'd say the Devils have done OK with their first round selections.  I'm not ready to judge the later rounds, but 6 of those 10 first round selections from 1994 through 2004 have made it to the NHL for significant lengths of time - and two of them have excelled or continue to excel (Sykora, Parise).  Not bad at all considering they have only selected above 20th overall 3 times in Conte's tenure as Director of Scouting; and one of those involved a trade up (Parise, not sure about Sykora).  

Yet, the best players from these drafts have tended to come in later rounds.  Some of these draft years weren't all that successful, namely 1997, 2001, and 2002.  And it may look like that some years were one-hit wonders like 2003 and 2004, though that remains to be seen.   Yet, you cannot argue that the Devils don't get anything out of the draft and there's still plenty to be excited about with the more recent first rounders - and not just because they are listed high at Hockey's Future's list for the Devils.  Bergfors and Corrente should have the opportunity to make it in NJ in preseason in the fall (they got long looks last year), and Tedenby is flying and pulling off sweet moves with HV71 in the SEL.

Now, Conte and his staff has made 144 picks from 1994 through 2008 and I think you'll find that positionally, you could say that the Devils will almost definitely draft at least one defensemen.  There has not been a draft where the Devils do not select any defensemen; the fewest they ever drafted was one in 2003 (Zach Tarkir) and the most was eight in 1996 (out of 14) A third of the Devils' first round picks have been defensemen and just under 35% of all

Devils picks were defensemen. 

Draftpositionchart_medium

If you think the Devils one type of forward over another, then I'm sorry, this chart doesn't agree with you.  If you feel the Devils don't draft enough goaltenders, then this chart is your evidence. Only 11 in these drafts and only Chris Mason and Scott Clemmensen actually broke through into the NHL.  Not that I'm saying Jeff Frazee has no shot at making it to New Jersey, yet it's telling that he was the last goaltender drafted by the Devils and that was back in 2005.   Maybe Conte and his staff will surprise us and draft a netminder this year.

In terms of where the players come from, it seems that recent trends tend to cloud people's thinking.  Earlier this decade, with the selections of Hale, Martin, Barry Tallackson, Parise, Zajac, etc., it seemed that the Devils loved to draft prospects either in college or about to go to college from Canadian Junior A leagues, US high schools. With more recent selections like Frazee, Mike Hoeffel, Brandon Burlon, and David Wohlberg, that argument holds some weight. Yet, breaking down the leagues where prospects come from since 1994, the Canadian Major Junior leagues actually have been dominant. Just over 43% (62 players) of all Devils draft picks have come from either the OHL, QMJHL, or WHL (in order of most to least).   Admittedly, I'm not sure what the big differences are between the three major junior leagues; but by numbers, the Devils favor the OHL.

Draftleaguechart_medium

Interestingly enough, the Devils have made quite a few picks right out of the Junior A leagues like the BCHL and AJHL.  That tells me that if they feel a player is talented enough, playing in a league below the major junior leagues is not an issue for them.  Incidentally, some players stay in those leagues to retain their NCAA-eligibility as I understand it.  I did notice (and did not count, oddly enough), a majority of the players selected from U.S. High Schools, the USHL, those Junior A leagues, and the USA Hockey developmental teams do go into college. If we assume that's always true, then they combine for 28.47% of all picks (41 players)

With respect to Europe, over the years, Russia has been the country of choice for the Devils with 15 players coming from Russian leagues.  Finland is the second most popular with 9.  Oddly, I'm trying to remember the last Russian or Finnish prospect to have made an impact and been drafted by New Jersey since 1994.  Vadim Sharifijanov from 1994 is the only one I can think of for Russia, I can't think of any for Finland, and the draft history organized by Hockey DB seems to back me up.  Quantity over quality so far, but that can change should Lowell Devils Vladimir Zharkov or Alexander Vasyunov step up their game.   You might say that the SEL is favored with Bergfors and Tedenby seen as top prospects in the organization, but that's all from the SEL in recent drafts.  They'll select someone from the SEL or Russia-2 or elsewhere if the player's talent warrants the pick; but leagues in Canada and the US have dominated the Devils drafts with a combined 71% since 1994.

Lastly, that one IHL player on the chart? That's Petr Sykora.  He was drafted from the Detroit Vipers.

As the leagues are broken down as they are, it shouldn't surprise anyone that the Devils have drafted significantly more North Americans - 66 Canadians and 33 Americans.   Europe represents a diverse blend of players with the Devils making picks of players born in Switzerland (Robin Leblanc), Kazakhstan (Max Birbraer), and Austria (Andre Lakos).  In total, Europeans make up 45 picks, or 31.25% of all picks since 1994.  

Devilsnationchart_medium

So what does all of this mean?  Well, here's what I conclude:

  • In the past, the Devils are OK with their first round picks, but they tend to find solid players in the second and third rounds. (e.g. Elias, Gionta, Martin) Their more first round picks have turned out to be excellent and those who have yet to break through still have significant potential: Bergfors, Corrente, Tedenby.  Even then, the lower round picks from those years should not be ignored, such as Vasyunov, Matt Halischuk, Burlon, and Patrice Cormier
  • While they have (and will) select who they feel are talented regardless of nationality and league, the Devils tend to select North American players, mostly from Canadian junior leagues.
  • Expect at least one defenseman to be selected in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
  • Don't necessarily hold your breath for a goaltender unless Conte and his staff really likes someone.
  • Most of all, this doesn't tell us much about what the Devils will do in the 2009 Draft.

The New Jersey Devils are willing to trade up for players (e.g. Parise in 2003) as well as trade down for players (e.g. Tedenby in 2008).  They don't necessarily follow conventional wisdom and truly try to take the best player available.  When was the last time a Devils prospect jumped right into the NHL?  Even Parise played another season with the University of North Dakota after he was drafted.  So it makes no sense to have the first round or even the seventh round pick try and fit a current positional need. 

Hopefully this has provided some background on what David Conte and the Devils' scouting staff has done since the 1994 NHL Entry Draft.   With the 2009 NHL Draft approaching, now is a good idea to pursue and peruse the various mock drafts and prospect profiles out there. 

Feel free to offer your thoughts on how the Devils have drafted, what you would like to see, who the Devils should draft at 23rd overall, and all other NHL Draft-related thoughts, both past and upcoming.

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