2011 New Jersey Devils Off-Season: A Post Draft Recap With Kirk Luedeke And Other Devil Draft Thoughts

ST PAUL, MN - JUNE 24: (EDITOR'S NOTE: This image has been digitally altered) Mr. Larsson will be helping the Devils to their FOURTH Stanley Cup Championship (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Before sitting down to write about the draft, I needed some time to process it.    For an event with such a build up, it was over rather quickly wasn't it?  After tracking various prospects for over eight months it was nice to step back and realize how lucky the Devils were to be able to select Adam Larsson.   As editor John Fischer pointed out many months ago, it's nice to root for a team that didn't tank their season and was karmacilly rewarded with a lottery win that put them in a position to pick Larsson.   Admittedly I jumped ship for a while to Team Couturier as I may have been enamored with the possibility of a stud center, but as I watched the draft I realized it was Larsson was who I wanted back in early January when I thought the Devils would likely have the first overall pick and on draft night I found my senses and realized he was the best pick.

I am ecstatic that he fell to New Jersey.  When you think about Adam Larsson, remember one number: 23. That was the average number of minutes that Larsson played in the SEL playoffs last season. You don't play on the second best team in the SEL for that many minutes a night at that age if you aren't going to be a really good player.

Should he be on the Devils roster next year? Yes, if he is one of the top six defensemen in training camp. The cap room can be there and if he is ready I would like to see him follow the path Victor Hedman did. If he isn't one of the top six defensemen, he should go back to the SEL. Albany is already jam-packed with young defensemen who won't get enough ice-time. Either Larsson should be playing 12-15 minutes a night in the NHL or 22 minutes a night in the SEL.  Unfortunately the answer to the question above isn't black and white.  With salary cap concerns, labor strife on the horizon and other non-hockey issues influencing his entry-level-contract there will be many factors that Lou Lamoriello considers if Larsson competes for a roster spot in the fall.

But Larsson competing for a roster spot is a few months off, so let's focus on the draft.  After the jump I add some thoughts on the Devils selections and I have enlisted friend of the blog, draft/prospect expert, and editor of http://bruins2011draftwatch.blogspot.com/ Kirk Luedeke to get his thoughts on the Devils and other draft-related topics.

First, let's check in with Kirk Luedeke and get his thoughts about the draft: 

Tom Stivali: You were on the ground in Minneapolis for the draft.  What’s that scene like? Is it worthwhile from a fan perspective to attend?

 

Kirk Luedeke: The Minneapolis/St. Paul did a great job with the festivities. The draft is fun in that it's the one event of its kind in professional sports where all of the teams, their top brass, some star players, scouts and all of the key prospects come together in one location. I remember seeing Adam Larsson signing autographs for Devils fans on the second day, as he went to the Xcel Energy Center to support his Swedish friends. That underscores the level of interaction fans can have with the prospects and team personnel if they can recognize them, and reminds you of the fact that hockey people are the most affable and approachable in pro sports.

Tom: The first round didn’t have too many surprises, Mark Scheifele going 7th or Nathan Beaulieu falling to 17th might have been the biggest ones.  What was your general impression of how the first round played out on Friday night? 

Kirk: The first round was pretty straightforward, but the Scheifele pick did set things up nicely for Philadelphia and Boston, both of whom benefited from landing a pair of high-end prospects in Sean Couturier and Dougie Hamilton because the Jets went off the board for Scheifele. The thing is, Scheifele could end up justifying the pick because he's a late-riser with considerable upside. Overall, there wasn't as much surprise and variance as I thought there would be, but we'll see in time which players will rise to the top.

Tom: Adam Larsson.  New Jersey Devils.  For most Devils fans, and Devils management this seemed like the pick everyone wanted.  Was Larsson falling to the Devils their dream scenario?  Knowing the Devils organization as well as you do, will Larsson follow Victor Hedman’s path and jump right to the NHL or will Larsson get some more time in the SEL to develop?

Kirk: Contract situation aside, I think Larsson is physically and mentally ready to play in the NHL right away. Based on what I saw from the Devils D last year, and after having watched him in the WJC, I thought that Larsson could have been a cinch to play for them given his mobility, puck-moving skills and big shot. The question will be better answered when the team gets a look at him at development camp and beyond. Larsson seemed to think he can play right away, and I would think that the Devils would welcome him. Beyond that, it's tough to speculate about the impact he would have as an 18-19 year-old next season. Even if he doesn't play right away, I believe he's a lock for 2012-13 at the latest. Too much ability, maturity and upside not to go straight into the mix.

Tom: Let’s speculate for a moment:  Florida picks Larsson.  In your opinion what would the Devils have done?

Kirk: They probably would have gone with Jonathan Huberdeau. He was a hot a scorer as any available at that point, and I think he's going to have a lot of success in the NHL. One darkhorse guy for them at the fourth spot would have been Dougie Hamilton-- with his size and two-way ability, he might have been an option, but given that the Devils are pretty big on going with the best available player, I'm not sure that they would have had Dougie ahead of Huberdeau on their board.

Tom: Having followed your blog it was nice to see that you professed your love for Reid Boucher early on. We know that he has one helluva shot, and has been uber-clutch in big games.  Tell Devils fans in what areas he needs to improve and develop upon in the next few years to make the jump to the professional level.

Kirk: Well, Boucher's undersized so he needs to add strength and mass, as most kids his age normally must do. He's also a pretty average skater, so he needs to work on trying to pick up a step or two. I actually like his short-area quickness, but he could stand to improve his top gear. He's a pretty average player in a lot of respects, except when the puck is on his stick with a game on the line- then he morphs into someone exceptional. If he can be that guy at the NHL level, the Devils will have a real steal on their hands. 

Tom: I will be candid and say I wasn’t a fan of the team drafting Blake Coleman in the third round.  Coleman can score, but is a bit older than most of this draft class (’91 birthday), doesn’t have great size and didn’t seem to create much buzz going into the draft.  Wouldn’t he have been there in the fifth or sixth round?  For a team that hasn’t had much success in ‘reach picks’ this pick was rather frustrating.

Kirk: Far be it from me to criticize Lou Lamoriello, David Conte and staff for the pick. If you like a player enough, you take him and don't wait and hope he's available later. So, obviously, the Devils saw enough of him to go ahead and grab him where they did. Lousy teams play the waiting game and hope players fall, usually missing out on their guys. It all comes down to where a team values a player and why they work from a list, so if the Devils liked him enough there, then they probably had their reasons. Because Coleman was an overager, we didn't focus on him much for the blog.  He should have the opportunity to prove himself from this moment forward, and there is no denying that he was part of a real productive group there in Indiana. The USHL is more of a defensive league, so it's saying something that he racked up 90+ points. Remember, just because there wasn't a buzz in the media over Coleman doesn't make him a bad pick or value, but he probably does carry some risk because he's a late-bloomer who was previously passed over. Either way, you can't really judge it until you see how he performs from here on out.

Tom: Blake Pietila is another American kid who the Devils drafted in the 5th round. In a post on your website you commented that he was ‘A relentless forechecker who has a knack for anticipating the play and intercepting errant passes, or forcing bad decisions because he's got such excellent closing ability and agility.' It seems a lot of his game will not be relayed through the box scores but in watching him on a daily basis. What does he need to do at Michigan Tech in the next 3 to 4 years to become a better professional prospect?

Kirk: Pietila just needs to keep doing what he has thus far: Working hard, keeping his feet moving and outhustling the opposition. He doesn't have the high-end skill level to be much of a pro scorer, but he has potential to be the kind of player all winning teams possess- a guy who can do the little things and be a key penalty killer. John Madden did that for Jersey in the past- not saying Pietila is the same player Madden was, but he does play a similar style and has the right kinds of attributes that coaches love and put trust in. Plus, he's a winner.

Tom: Any thoughts on some of the players who ‘slipped’ in the draft or that were passed up entirely?  Specifically guys like Seth Ambroz, Jeremy Boyce-Rotevall, and Scott Oke who many thought were going to be 2nd or 3rd round draft picks.

Kirk: Again, teams do their own scouting, so guys who were highly-touted in media circles or on public scouting lists don't matter a whit to the NHL teams. From reading the blog, you know we had some concerns about Ambroz from his skating to his work ethic, but he fell even further than we predicted. One mistake that fans make more than any other when it comes to the draft is that they assume that because certain players grade out well from Central Scouting, that NHL teams see them in the same light. Every year, there are surprise players who fall completely out of the draft, and you can't really account for it. Jeremy Boyce-Rotevall was one of those surprises because in our view he had the wheels and hands to be at least worth a late-round flyer, but it isn't always about the talent. If a team has reservations about a player's physical attributes or he just doesn't click with them during the interview process, that can account in part for a slide.

It's a subjective process for the most part, though certain teams have more stringent criteria for drafting players than others. On the other hand, you have overage guys like Coleman or T.J. Tynan, Andy Andreoff, Chase Ballisy and Brian Ferlin to name a few, who end up being selected in later drafts and occupying slots that might have gone to someone like Boyce or Scott Oke. It happens every year, so it will be interesting which guys get signed as free agents like Michael Sgarabossa a year ago, and those who go back in and get picked up in 2012.

Tom: If there was an overall theme to the draft would you say that it might be that more teams were paying attention to US Hockey and the USHL in particular?

Kirk: Not really, Tom. I mean, go back and look at how many draft picks from the NTDP and USHL at large have been made over the past five or six drafts and you'll see that it isn't exactly a new trend. The overall theme of the draft I would say is that Ontario and Sweden are the premier talent producers and that will likely continue in the coming years. There were a record 28 Swedes taken in 2011, and 46 players came out of the OHL to lead all CHL leagues by a significant margin (the WHL had 33, QMJHL 25).

There were only 39 Europeans taken from all other countries combined, so a delta of 11 over Sweden's total really hits home just how dominant that country was in terms of representing the Europe class this year. I can't really account for this in specific terms, but I think the OHL and Sweden pipeline tot he NHL is the more noteworthy theme than anything else.

As always, I want to thank Kirk for his time.  I know he is busy getting ready for the Boston Bruins development camp and his insight is greatly appreciated.

Draft Thoughts: (With link to player posts on their selection)

First Round - Defenseman Adam Larsson-Top defenseman available with the 4th overall pick?  Can't beat it.  As mentioned above I hedged a bit on Larsson during April/May but I am really excited about this addition.

Third Round - Center Blake Coleman-I am trying to like this pick based on Kirk's comments above but I just can't.  To me, the Devils shouldn't be reaching with their third round pick for a guy who went undrafted the previous year. He did light up the USHL, but to me that is not enough considering his age and size. 

Fourth Round - Left Wing Reid Boucher-As much as I disliked th Coleman pick I love this pick 100 times more.  I had hoped he would be around for the Devils fourth round pick and luckily he was.  A year in the USHL and a few at Michigan State should get him ready for the professional ranks.

Fifth Round - Left Wing Blake Pietila-Probably not a ton of offensive upside with this pick, but considering the intangibles he brings, it's a good value pick for the fifth round.

Sixth Round - Defenseman Reece Scarlett-Sounds like he should be a GI Joe character doesn't it?  Slated to go in the second or third round based upon the central scouting rankings he fell to the Devils in round six.  In a Talking Red podcast with Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus, David Sarch and I talked to Corey extensively about Scarlett and why he dropped.  I don't want to spoil that interview so I encourage you to check out the podcast when it's available.

Seventh Round - Defenseman Patrick Daly-Daly will join 2010 Devils draft pick Joe Faust in Wisconsin next year. The book on him touts his skating and offensive ability.  I wonder if future Devils coach current Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves gave the Devils a detailed scounting report on him.

All said and done, I can quibble about the Blake Coleman pick but I think the Devils picked up good value later with the picks of Boucher and Scarlett.  Perhaps they should have focused a bit more at forward, but overall I think the draft was strong.  Judging the draft class as a whole won't be done for a few years, but with Adam Larsson at the top of the class you can't go wrong.

Seeing as how there has been a shakeup in the top Devil prospects with the draft and the trade of David McIntyre for Maxim Noreau, I will be re-evaluating the In Lou We Trust top 20 prospect list just in time for the opending of the Devils development camp which begins on July 11th.

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