At this point of the season most Devils fans have resigned themselves to the fact that the playoffs aren't a realistic option for 2011. With that being the case, a lot of our thoughts have been focused on the 2011 Entry Draft. For the first time in my lifetime as a Devils fan, I will be glued to the TV set (or maybe even a trip to Minnesota) on Draft Day.
In honor of the Central Scouting Services Mid-Term Rankings being released two weeks ago and Bob McKenzie of TSN releasing his Mid-Term Rankings last week, John, Kevin, Matt and I decided to do an In Lou We Trust Mid-Term Draft Roundtable. It's not a full mock draft because we only care about the Devils and the Devils are currently the worst team in the NHL, meaning we are only picking one player each. Each of us has independently chosen the draft eligible player -or scenario- he thinks fits the organization going forward.
Disclaimer: We know it's early. Other trades the Devils may make or injuries may open up a need that they don't have right now. We also haven't been able to fully research all of the available options out there. There is also a possibility the Devils might continue to play better and end up passing the New York Islanders or Edmonton Oilers, or both, and land a lower pick. Further, we are operating under the idea that this player would not be active at the NHL level next year. For a strong viewpoint as to why that is the best course of action, re-read John's post from last week.
Ok, now onto our Mid-Term Draft Roundtable.
Tom Stivali: Adam Larsson, D, Skelleftea
As I read up on the 2011 draft, I keep reading the same things: "It's a weak draft class", "No generational talent", "Anyone of the top 7 or 8 ranked players could end up being the best". That doesn't really inspire much confidence when drafting first does it? Many feel that a player like Sean Couturier will be a quality NHL player one day, perhaps even a future Selke Trophy candidate. But do the Devils need another player with this skill-set? Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has loads of 'potential' and his vision on the ice has been compared to
Joe Sakic Pavel Datsuyk. But do the Devils want to take a chance that he will be able to physically play at the NHL level? To me the safe, smart pick is Adam Larsson.
Larsson would be added to a nice collection of young defensemen that the Devils have put together the last few years. Thought by some to be better at this stage of his development than Victor Hedman (2nd overall pick in the 2009 draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning), he has the size and skills that make him the top defensive prospect. In New Jersey, he would have mentors both young (Alexander Urbom) and old (Henrik Tallinder) who can help acclimate him to the North American game.
With veterans ahead of him on the depth chart and a number of younger players vying for spots in the near future, his development can be paced to meet his performance. The depth at defense ensures he won't be immediately expected to step in and become the team's savior like John Tavares was for the New York Islanders. There won't be a need to rush him. He can stay in the SEL for an additional year and then play in Albany or jump to New Jersey the following year if ready. On a team with Ilya Kovalchuk and (hopefully) Zach Parise, Larsson will initially be a compliment to the talent the Devils have and be able to grow into a premeir player.
John Fischer: Adam Larsson, D, Skelleftea
The subset of top prospects for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft is Sean Couturier, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog, and Adam Larsson. I wouldn't really complain about the Devils getting any one of these four, but if he was available, I'd be the happiest with Larsson. Unlike the other three, Larsson plays in a professional league and has been a regular for Skelleftea's first team in the SEL since 2009-10. He's not just a defenseman playing against developed players and fully-grown men, he's been doing it for two seasons now. Scouts praise his calmness, his large frame (6'3"), and his two-way abilities.
I'm not convinced that the Devils absolutely, positively need a stud defenseman to be successful; but Larsson is the best shot in this year's draft to be that kind of player. Not that any 18 year old in the draft can immediately make an impact in New Jersey, but Larsson's upside on defense would be a benefit to the system along with Jon Merill. Plus, selecting him comes with the added advantage of a professional status; meaning he can continue as a pro in Sweden or jump right to the AHL and get acclimated to the North American game while his likely-expensive ELC slides for two years, which is what the Devils should do regardless of who they pick. This would be preferable to having Couturier, Nugent-Hopkins, and Landeskog go to juniors for 2 years.
Matthew Ventolo: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C, Red Deer Rebels
If your in that group that wants to see the Devils pick up a potential #1, play-making center, then Nugent-Hopkins is the man for you. In his second full season in the WHL, he's been an assist machine this year for the Rebels. Lauded for his vision and ability to see plays before they happen, he would be a great addition for the ample scoring wingers the Devils possess in their system. His great speed to top off a well rounded scoring touch gives him much promise to be a top 6 forward. Some scouts say he holds the most potential out of this year's draft class. He wants to improve his defensive game and former NHL coach Ken Hitchcock even compares him to Pavel Datsyuk.
He's too young to make an impact in the NHL for next season (he will turn 18 in April), especially with his size (6'0" 165 lbs). He will need to develop further and grow into his frame to be effective in the dirty areas needed to excel in today's NHL. When drafted, another year perhaps two in the Juniors will benefit him. With the entry-level slide option, a team like the Devils should take advantage to give him the time he needs. Just think, he could be quarterbacking a powerplay with Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise a few years down the road.
Kevin Sellathamby: Trading down to draft Ryan Strome (C, Niagara)
With the 1st overall pick, the Devils have the first crack at the likes of Larsson, Couturier and Nugent-Hopkins. I'd love to have any of the three, but the Devils also have another option- trading down. Trading down to re-coup draft picks (or improve the position of the draft pick obtained by Dallas) might be an interesting choice, especially with the talented Ryan Strome, who will likely be available if the Devils do trade down. He's having a breakout season this year with 24 goals and 65 points in 42 games.
Strome has an excellent skillset, and is especially dangerous with the puck. His excellent shot coupled with his playmaking ability and speed makes the 6'1 183 lb Strome a threat on the ice. He's also a hard worker in both the offensive and defensive zone. The one area where Strome is criticized is his physical play, as many scouts have complained about his lack of physicality hurts him when it comes to board battles.
Given another year or two, he might be able to work on this weakness in this game and become a more complete player (and allowing the Entry Level contract to slide). I feel that Strome is more of a project than a guaranteed blue chipper like Larsson, Couturier or Nugent-Hopkins, but in this case the risk might just be worth the reward.
Thanks for reading. Who do you think is the best fit for the Devils? Larsson? Nugent Hopkins? Strome? Someone we haven't mentioned? Sound off below.