The 2009 draft has already yielded some dividends to the New Jersey Devils. Both 1st Rounder Jacob Josefson and 3rd Rounder Alexander Urbom have already made their NHL debuts and some other picks are performing well in their respective leagues. One of those players is 2009 5th Round Pick, Left Wing Derek Rodwell. Drafted after a decent season from the AJHL's Okotoks Oilers, Rodwell played the following year in the same league as an overage player having a breakout year. He had committed to the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux (who have helped produce current Devils Zach Parise and Travis Zajac) and began his college career this year.
I wanted to get a better insight to how he has performed so far this season so I reached out to Brad Schlossman who is the Fighting Sioux beat reporter at the Grand Forks Herald. He has a great blog which I encourage you to check out for information on Rodwell and other WCHA activity. If you recall the WCHA has Devils prospects at Minnesota (Mike Hoeffel, Seth Heglesen) and Wisconsin (Joe Faust). You can also follow Brad on twitter @SchlossmanGF
After the jump Brad graciously answers my questions on Devils Left Wing prospect Derek Rodwell.
Brad: Prior to his arrival, all of the scouting reports on Rodwell talked about his tenacity, grit and physical play. The first time I met him, his listing as a 6-2, 200-pound kid seemed wrong. He looks a lot bigger than that. When he took his first shift as a Fighting Sioux against Alaska (Fairbanks) and knocked a guy over with a big check, it wasn't all that surprising. That's what was expected of him. I never heard anything about his speed, though, so when he blew past a Maine defenseman for a shorthanded goal a couple weeks later, I couldn't believe what I saw. Devils head of scouting David Conte was in the building that night and I'm sure his mouth was watering a little bit. So, to me, his physical game and grit were expected. His speed has stood out because it was so unexpected.
What were your expectations of his role this year? From a UND preview here
he wasn't mentioned as an impact freshman and yet it seems he is playing on the first line. Is he generating any special teams time? From descriptions of his speed I can see him on a PK unit.
Brad: Coming into the season, I thought he would be a third/fourth liner all season. The way UND has lines set up right now, any one of the top three could be considered the "top line." Matt Frattin (TOR) is the top goal scorer and he's on the "third line." Jason Gregoire (NYI) was the team's top returning scorer and Corban Knight (FLA) is the team's top current scorer. They are on the "second line." Rodwell is playing with Brad Malone (COL), a senior power forward, and Danny Kristo (MON), a gamebreaking, skill forward who was the league's rookie of the year last year. Without Rodwell's emergence, UND probably wouldn't be able to have a setup of three scoring lines. Rodwell also is killing penalties. He was not during the first couple of games of the season, but has earned a spot on that special teams unit.
Tom: From what I have gathered when looking at description of Rodwell's play the word tenacious pops in my head. Is that a fair one word description?
Brad: That's a good word for him. He doesn't take shifts off. He loves physical play. He loves standing on top of the crease, picking up the garbage and setting screens.
Tom: 'Devils Prototypical Player' is typically a phrase that means a 'forward who understands defensive responsibility'. Is Rodwell an effective player in his own end?
Brad: Perhaps one of the reasons why guys like Zach Parise and Travis Zajac have fit in so well in New Jersey is because North Dakota is a program that expects its players to be reliable. If the coaches don't feel that a player is reliable -- no matter how high he was drafted -- the coaching staff won't play him. That's especially the case for freshmen. If Rodwell wasn't reliable, he wouldn't be in the lineup.
Tom: While his freshman season is surprising he is a bit older (20). Ideally, he has a major impact for ND towards the end of this year and next year. Is this something you can foresee? Too early to tell? Or is he just a solid role player for the Sioux?
Brad: He's a guy whose role will increase throughout his time at North Dakota. It has already increased from the first month to the second month. I don't think he'll ever lead the team in scoring, but he's a guy UND will count on to kill penalties, make hits, make life miserable for opponents and to chip in on the scoresheet with some consistency. I do think that he's a guy we'll see standing on top of the crease on the PP, ala Ryan Smyth, in the future.
Tom: Finally, let me ask about a former Fighting Sioux, Darcy Zajac. Zajac has been assigned to the ECHL Trenton Devils. He never really lit up the scoreboard when he was at North UND. What type of player was the alternate captain during his time at North Dakota?
Brad: Think John Madden. Zajac will never make a run at any scoring titles, but he has good enough skills to score when he gets a chance. He loves to hit. He's not 6-4, so he's not knocking guys off their skates all the time, but he can do it. Most of all, he's reliable. I said earlier that North Dakota makes its players be reliable. Well, Zajac was the most reliable guy on the team. He always made smart plays with the puck. He always made smart plays without the puck. He's so tenacious that he's got to be miserable to play against. He was one of the team's top penalty killers for two or three years. We continued to say in the press box last year that if the WCHA had a Selke Trophy, Zajac would be a top contender. He would have had my vote. So, in a nutshell, that sounds a little bit like John Madden, doesn't it?
I feel like that is a good way to end the article. So thoughts on Rodwell or Zajac? Sound off below and thanks for reading.