It's impossible to fully grade or even contemplate the impact of a draft class less than 24 hours after a draft has been completed in the sport of hockey. This isn't the NBA or NFL where the players you see drafted are inserted into the lineup almost immediately. The teenagers drafted in the NHL Draft may not even be signed to a contract with their team for many years. Nor is it guaranteed that we will ever see them at the NHL level. It's a wait and see approach which makes reviewing a draft class this early extremely hard. We will need a few years of hindsight before we can determine whether the Devils were successful or not.
That said, we still have opinions on what they did. Opinions that are based on scout assessments, potential and where the player might fit into the Devils organization.
Before going forward I wanted to point out that as fans sometimes we focus not on the players our team chose, but the players we wanted them to choose. I am guilty of this as much as anyone as I was initially dismayed that the Devils passed over Devin Shore in the second round. I am sure you have a player or two you really wanted to see in the red and black, but they were passed for someone you never heard of and you were frustrated. There is no point now in debating the 'could have dones', instead just focus on the players the Devils acquired and how they develop going forward.
With that said, after the jump we will take an early look at the 2012 Devils draft class.
Note: For more detailed summaries of each pick, check out the In Lou We Trust home page, where John Fischer detailed each pick as it occurred yesterday, and I added a post on Stefan Matteau late Friday night.
1st Round Selection, #29 Overall: Stefan Matteau, Center, US National Development Program
Draft Rankings: Central Scouting Services: 17 Hockey Prospectus: 41 McKeen's Hockey: 26
The power forward will be forever linked to two things. First, his father and the goal his father scored. Second, he will be linked to the fact that he was picked in a draft spot that the Devils arguably should have given up due to the Ilya Kovalchuk cap circumvention penalty. Both links are unfair, but unfortunately they will be brought up by media and fans for a long time.
That said, the crux of whether or not this pick ends up successful will be if Matteau fulfills his potential as a 2nd line player. If he is able to play on the 2nd line, this will be viewed as a successful pick, should he be relegated to the bottom six group of forwards, it's a much more questionable selection.
2nd Round Selection, #60 Overall: Damon Severson, Defenseman, Kelowna Rockets-WHL
I will admit I was surprised when the Devils took a defenseman with their first selection of day two, but by all accounts, they got a good one. Every scouting service projected him being available in the mid/late 2nd round, and with him available at pick #60 the Devils couldn't pass him up, despite their obvious emphasis on forwards this year. By various reports he needs to work on his play in his own zone and it seems his stock was hurt a bit by underwhelming showings in the WHL playoffs and at the Under 18 World Championships where he struggled in a top 4 role. Looking beyond his struggles, Severson is said to be a good skater with an ability to get the puck throught the neutral zone and into the offensive zone either through a good first pass or skating the puck up on his own.
3rd Round Selection, #90 Overall: Ben Johnson, Center, Windsor Spitfires-OHL
Rankings: Central Scouting Services: 52 Hockey Prospectus: 94 McKeen's Hockey: 64
This is exactly the type of player the Devils needed to add to their system. With elite speed and a solid work ethic, Johnson was able to score 17 goals in 44 games after he worked himself into a top six forward role with the Windsor Spitfires. His speed, willingness to agressively forecheck, and physical play (he led his team in hits) could make this pick a steal in the third round. My favorite pick of the draft.
4th Round Selection, #96 Overall: Ben Thomson, Forward, Kitchener Rangers-OHL
Rankings: Central Scouting Services: N/A Hockey Prospectus: N/A McKeen's Hockey: N/A
Passed over in the 2011 draft, Thomson hasn't impressed many and was left off the Central Scouting Rankings entirely this year. Many just see a goon who racked up 173 penalty minutes in 83 games last season. Others see a player who might have finally found some offensive abilities as he scored 5 goals and 10 points in 16 playoff games last year. Perhaps Thomson is somewhere in between. David Conte and the Devils scouting staff obviously saw something in Thomson that made them take him this early instead of waiting until later in the draft, when you would have to think he would still have been available.
5th Round Selection, #135 Overall: Graham Black, Center, Swift Current Broncos-WHL
Rankings: Central Scouting Services: 83 Hockey Prospectus: N/A McKeen's Hockey: N/A
The selection of the 19 year old center is a bit of an oddity based on the Devil drafting history. A CHL prospect with limited eligibility left doesn't seem like the typical Devil pick. That said, I am going to venture a guess and say that while scouting the progress of 2011 6th round pick Reece Scarlett, also on the Broncos, the Devils got a good look at Black and liked what they saw. His scoring numbers don't wow you, but Black is said to offer more on the ice than just scoring as he is a very solid defensive player. He also shares a quality that is shared by many of the draftees on day two: aggressive forechecking.
5th Round Selection, #150 Overall: Alex Kerfoot, Forward, Coquitlam Express-BCHL
Rankings: Central Scouting Services: 165 Hockey Prospectus: N/A McKeen's Hockey: N/A
The only player drafted with the possibility of going to college, Kerfoot was a dominant force out in the BCHL in his rookie season. Kerfoot can score and generate scoring chances for others with good skating abilities and his vision/hockey sense. At 5'10" and 153 pounds, Kerfoot does need to add some weight to his frame to succeed at the next level. He is looking to attend an NCAA school and if he goes that route he would have another four years to develop his game and his physique. He might also head towards the WHL, as his rights are owned by the Seattle Thunderbirds.
6th Round Selection, #180 Overall: Artur Gavrus, Center/Left Wing, Owen Sound Attack-OHL
Rankings: Central Scouting Services: 60 Hockey Prospectus: 44 McKeen's Hockey: N/A
A great risk/reward pick. Gavrus was rated highly by a few different scouting services based on his abilities with the puck and his skating. Unfortunately injury concerns (two concussions, a broken wrist) scared teams off and he fell to the Devils in the 6th round. The adjustment to the level of competition and aggressiveness of his opponents was something Gavrus didn't seem prepared for in his first OHL season, yet he still produced when he was on the ice with 37 points in 45 games. Gavrus needs some luck to stay healthy. Should he get that, he could turn out to be a great pick for New Jersey this late in the draft.
Drafting late in each round is always a challenge for a team. Watching quality players disappear before you get a chance to pick must be frustrating for the team as much as it is for fans. But that's the price of success and I'd much rather the Devils pick in the latter half of each round than where the Islanders or Oilers pick every year.
The Devils went into the draft focused on replenishing their stock of forwards, as many of us thought they would. They accomplished this as six of seven players drafted were forwards. They specifically went after forwards with a strong forechecking presence, which is obviously now a focus for the organization under coach Pete DeBoer.
The Devils also drafted forwards who could be categorized as power forwards (Matteau, Thomson) good skaters/playmakers (Gavrus, Kerfoot) and forwards who were aggressive defensively while still being dangers in the offensive zone (Johnson, Black). Players like Johnson and Gavrus could prove to be dynamic scorers in the OHL this year and watching their progress in their sophomore OHL years will be exciting for Devil fans.
One interesting aspect of the Devils draft is that they didn't draft anyone who is headed to the NCAA (Kerfoot might, but that is still undecided). In the past few years college draftees seemed to be a focus, but this year the Devils went away from that and looked to the CHL to rebuild their forward depth. This will lead to a lot of players from the both the CHL and the NCAA being able to join the Devils system at the same time, which could prove problematic for adequate playing time at the AHL level for prospects. As this possibility will present itself in about two years so it's not a major concern at the moment.
Overall, the draft class has a lot of potential, but every draft class does. We will watch patiently to see if Johnson and Gavrus can dominate competition in the OHL. We will hope that Matteau tears up the QMJHL and finds a better scoring touch than he displayed in the US Development Program and that he will stay aggressive while not being reckless. But at this time all we can do is watch...and wait.
But I am excited to do that. I think the Devils have added a lot of skill to their forward organizational depth with this draft who display all the characteristics of what the Devils are now looking for in their forwards.
Finally, let's hear from some of the Devils top executives with their thoughts on the draft:
"That was the focus, and size and strength," Lamoriello said. "The consensus among all our people was that we couldn’t pass on the defenseman (Severson) when he was there because they liked him so much in every area. So, that stuck out. Then, it was getting types of forwards that are needed in different dimensions. There was a multi-dimension type of situation that because of the way our roster is was perfect."
"All of these guys we did all of our homework on," Conte said. "We did physical evaluations and personal interviews. We had a name on a shirt for every guy. There were no accidents here. Every guy that ended up at the table they recognized who they were coming to and why. We had been through all the conversations. And that’s hard to do at a draft. There’s a lot of names and a lot of homework. You’re lucky when it works out that way.
I encourage you to read the entire article on Gulitti's Fire and Ice Blog with David Conte. He touches on a lot of important items related to the Devils system and their latest draft picks.
What are your thoughts on the Devils 2012 Draft Class? What elements of the draft class are you most excited about? Focus on the players the Devils actually drafted and try to think about what they bring to the organization. There is no point in talking about players that you think they 'should' have drafted.