The New Jersey Devils selected Graham Black with their first fifth round pick, 135th overall, in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. According to his prospect card at NHL.com, Black is officially listed at 5'11" and 173 pounds, he turned 19 in January, he's a left shooting center, and he just completed his first full season with the Swift Current Broncos of the Western Hockey League. Here are his stats from Elite Prospects:
Black was certainly productive in his first full season with Swift Current. He finished fourth on the team in scoring and tied for ninth in points for all rookies in the WHL in 2011-12.
Black is an overaged draft pick since he's 19. There are some who believe that he's a sleeper pick since he appears to be a late-bloomer.
I've found a little more information on Graham Black, so please continue on after the jump to learn a little more about the Devils' first fifth round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft. (Note: The original post was up at 11:50 AM, it has since been updated.)
A Few Outside Opinions on Graham Black
One of the few profiles available on Black comes from Ross Bonander at The Hockey Writers. Here's a snippet of what he has written about the player:
One of the more impressive aspects of his numbers this past season is his 5-on-5 scoring–namely, that he did not play on the team’s impressive first power play unit, and of his 50 points, only eight (2g, 6a) came with the man advantage. A gifted skater with great speed, Black’s tenacious forechecking creates turnovers in the offensive zone and he’s fast to jump on loose pucks. His wheels even earned him a penalty shot in a home game against Prince Albert; it was an opportunity he didn’t waste, showing great poise and creativity in deking goalie Luke Lee-Knight to the ice before burying a wrist shot into an open net.
Black did experience a pretty hard-core scoring slump over the winter, going goal-less in 22 straight games between 27 December 2011 and 18 February 2012 and earning just eight assists in that time. That said, in a stat that speaks to his skills on defense, he was only a -3 in that span, despite the team winning just seven of those games.
That Black suffered such a long goalless streak and still finished as high as he did in points suggests he can contribute in more than just scoring. Bonander's general conclusion of Black is consistent with that suggestion. He says Black is a two-way center who can skate well, perform well on faceoffs, and can forecheck aggressively. He also says Black needs to work on his size (no surprise since he's 173 pounds) and his shot. This is all well and good for a prospect and getting such a player in the fifth round can be good value. Of course, Bonander thinks very highly of the player.
Bonander cited Cody Nikolet of WHL From Above, which focuses on prospects in that league. Here's Cody's full post on Black, which was written a little bit before his goalless streak ended:
I've had the chance to see him three times this year, with my fourth viewing taking place tonight. One thing has become apparent from this left-handed centre from Regina, he's one of the best defensive draft eligible players from the WHL. He's a very strong skater with excellent edge work, acceleration and overall speed. I've seen him use his speed breaking up the middle or down the wing, he can burn you in a variety of ways. He also uses his excellent skating to show off his committed defensive play, often backchecking hard and defending his ice well. He's got strong playmaking skills and enough size and reach to use his body to shield the puck from defenders. He's not the biggest of players at only 6'0 and 173 pounds, but it doesn't stop him from playing physical and being a very good defensive player.
Since Cody's the color commentator of the Saskatoon Blades, it stands to reason that he wouldn't have seen him too many times. Still, an outside opinion from someone who sees a lot of player offering some praise isn't worthless. Again, size is an issue as is potential since he's already 19 but he's got a lot to rave about from his skating to his play in both ends of the rink to making plays. It's all very good, especially for a fifth round draft pick.
Lastly, Kelly Friesen interviewed Black at Buzzing the Net, the Yahoo! Canadian junior hockey blog. In that post, Friesen reveals that Black was diagnosed with Graves' disease, which undercut his earlier development. Black says he's over it, making him an actual late-bloomer of a player. He was pleased that he made it to the Swift Current roster as well as that Central Scouting Services ranked him 83rd in their rankings. Though, he fell from 53rd - I guess the slump hurt? Still, he has to be nothing but happy with being drafted by the Devils.
A Final Opinion & Your Take
Given what others have said about him, it's hard for this Devils fan to be unhappy with this pick. He skates well, he plays well in both ends, scoring slumps don't render him useless, and he apparently has good vision to make the plays that generate goals. Getting someone like this in the fifth round can be valuable down the line. I understand he's not big, he's 19, and, most of all, he fell past four rounds for a reason. I'm not going to start proclaiming the Devils found a gem in the middle of the draft. I will say that they did make a good use of a late pick. The scouts found someone who performed well and has the opportunity to build on it next season. Black will be eligible to jump to the minor professional leagues soon and we'll see whether he continues to bloom.
That's my take on this selection, now I want to know yours. What do you think of Graham Black? How do you think he'll develop even though he's already 19? Are you happy the Devils drafted him in the fifth round? What do you expect from his as a Devils prospect? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on the pick and the player in the comments. Thank you for reading.