You really can't properly judge a draft class by a NHL team just after it happened. While we have all sorts of information about the players selected, most of it is about potential and not current skill. We hope these players become the players scouts and other experts project out to, but reality has shown that doesn't always happen. Only with hindsight and several years (five seems to be a good rule of thumb) can we look back at a draft class and pass judgment.
Of course, that doesn't mean we can't react and opine on what just happened over the last two days. I'm providing perspective. I'm just saying that we shouldn't etch any opinions in concrete. Be prepared to have perceptions changed, and don't be too surprised if there are some surprises both good (e.g. Mark Fayne) and bad (e.g. Petr Vrana). What we may appreciate today may turn out to be mistaken years from now. For example: I felt good after the 2003 NHL Draft with Parise, Vrana, and Ivan Khomutov as the first three selections - and as it turned out, Parise was the only player in that draft class to ever be a NHL player, much less a great one. So please take the following review of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by the New Jersey Devils with a grain of salt.
I'll go into some more detail after the jump, but there's reason to be quite pleased with who New Jersey selected at the draft in the past two days.
The New Jersey Devils went into this draft with the fourth overall pick; Dallas' third round pick from the Jamie Langenbrunner trade (and Stars' subsequent not-signing of him prior to the draft); and the eighth pick in each of the remaining four rounds. They did not deal any of these picks. We will not know if anything was seriously considered, and at this point it doesn't matter since the Devils made their selections. They are, in order and with links to the respective posts of that selection:
First Round - Defenseman Adam Larsson
Third Round - Center Blake Coleman
Fourth Round - Center Reid Boucher
Fifth Round - Left Wing Blake Pietila
Sixth Round - Defenseman Reece Scarlett
Seventh Round - Defenseman Patrick Daly
Most of the attention paid to this draft class will be on Adam Larsson, the team's first round selection. I don't think there's a Devils fan who isn't happy about this pick. The many fans at the Devils' draft party in Newark chanted "We Want Larsson," roared in approval when Florida took Huberdeau, and were absolutely ecstatic when David Conte announced the Swedish defender's name. At the draft, Tom Gulitti noticed a lot of happy faces at the Devils draft table when selecting Larsson. In fact, Gulitti noted that David Conte was still smiling about the Larsson pick earlier today. Larsson could very well be the best prospect in this entire draft and arguably the best prospect the Devils selected since they traded up to take Zach Parise in 2003.
However, like 2003, one player does not make an entire draft class. On the second day of the draft, the Devils decided to go domestic. Every one of their five remaining picks were based in North America and only Reece Scarlett was both a non-American and a non-college bound prospect. In the third, the Devils went for 19-year old Blake Coleman, who dominated the USHL regular season, led the league in scoring, and won the USA Hockey Player of the Year award. He'll be going to Miami. In the fourth, the Devils picked up Reid Boucher from the USNTDP - the goal sniping machine from the World U-18 tournament, he'll be going to Michigan State. In the fifth, the Devils went back to the USNTDP and snagged defensive winger Blake Pietila - who is on his way to Michigan Tech. With their final pick, the Devils chose Patrick Daly from Benilde-St. Margaret's in Minnesota, who will be going to Wisconsin. Reece Scarlett was the lone major junior prospect, he'll remain with Swift Current in the WHL.
All of these prospects are projects, players who have an interesting upside and skillset but need the time and patience to have it blossom. The Devils have demonstrated that they will be patient with a prospect and they can afford to be patient with all of their second day picks. They also have no problem with letting a player stay in college for even the full four years, which gives the Devils some flexibility among their ELCs and the player itself even less pressure to put results together right away. These are all defensible draft picks, and the selections of Boucher and Scarlett were particularly good. Both were projected by some to go higher than they were, so getting them in the fourth and sixth round respectively means they utilized those late picks well.
The only real reach of the Devils' draft was Coleman, an over-age player who had a monster USHL season but wasn't touted by many due to perceived intensity and character issues. Perhaps he could have been had later in the draft, but who knows who else was interested in the player. Again, he'll be going to Miami so the Devils can have him take all four years if necessary to see if he can put it together at the next level. Daly wasn't ranked either, but as a seventh round selection, almost anyone is a reach of sorts. While I can't help but wonder whether New Jersey should have taken Matt Killian, Austin Wuthrich, or Gustav Bjorklund; Daly's no small potatoes as he was a finalist for Minnesota's top high school senior award and will be going to go a strong hockey program in Wisconsin.
Basically, I don't have any big complaints about what the Devils did today. They took the best player at #4 in Adam Larsson and picked up two prospects in Boucher and Scarlett who were projected to go earlier than they did. They didn't make any bizarre pick outside of the Coleman selection, and that's allayed by the fact that he had a great USHL season. Considering the Devils got these players along with the fact they didn't have a second rounder or their original third rounder, it's a nice return at the moment. As per Gulitti's post after the draft, David Conte's pleased with the players he got and I think he has every right to be. I think the Devils had a very good draft.
Now we just have be patient ourselves and hope these players - especially Larsson - reach their potential. I welcome Larsson, Coleman, Boucher, Pietila, Scarlett, and Daly to the New Jersey Devils organization and I wish them all the best of luck.
What do you think of the New Jersey Devils' selections in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft? Do you think they did a good job, or do you think they could have done much better? What would you have done at the draft? Please leave your comments and other thoughts on this year's draft in the comments. Thanks for reading.