Evaluating The Devils Organizational Depth – Left Wing
The New Jersey Devils enter the 2011 NHL Entry Draft with their left-wing depth in flux. There’s talent at the position, but it’s limited to just a few players.
Ilya Kovalchuk headlines the group of left-wingers. Despite a down season last year, he remains a premier scorer in the league. Everyone knows the skill Zach Parise can bring to the table. The restricted free agent has yet to negotiate a new deal, though, and will return from knee surgery next season. As of right now, the Devils young star can’t be considered an absolute shoe-in for the lineup. Brian Rolston rounds out the top talent on the left side. Although he experienced improved offensively last year, he can’t depend the same goal-scoring prowess he did last season.
After those three players, the talent thins considerably. Alexander Vasyunov played in 18 games last season, but didn’t make much of an impact. He also struggled in Albany, posting career lows across the board. With such talented wingers in the league right now, and the possibility of having two great ones on the team, left-wing isn’t a draft need. But if the Devils can manage to upgrade their depth with a later pick, it would help a position dying for a talented prospect.
Albany Devils (AHL)
Chad Wiseman – 48 GP, 44 points (16 G, 28 A), minus-8 rating
Wiseman can light the lamp, but hasn’t had his chance to show off in the NHL. He’s played in just nine games with NHL clubs, recording one goal and one assist. But he’s shown the ability to tear up AHL goaltending. This season, he set or tied Albany individual scoring records in one game. On March 9, he netted four goals against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in 9:03, matching the record for most goals in a single period of play. He also tied the record of most goals scored in a game. Guess that Islanders goaltending is bad throughout the system.
Plenty of guys show their stuff in the AHL, but few have the talent to make it work in the NHL. Wiseman seems like one of those players. He’s a 30-year old career AHL player, and his best opportunities may be behind him. He’s a great depth piece, but not a legitimate NHL candidate right now.
Louis Robitaille – 50 GP, 8 points (2 G, 6 A), minus-2 rating
Robitaille never found a way to move through the organization, and ended his career last season with Albany. He was an enforcer, tallying an impressive 246 penalty minutes last season. But he never rose above the AHL ranks, and would never in today’s game. Enforcers need to possess some offensive skill, which Robitaille did not. He retired after the season to coach the QJAAAHL’s Valleyfield Braves.
Alexander Vasyunov – 50 GP, 25 points (8 G, 17 A), minus-3 rating
Vasyunov once again failed to live up to his offensive billing. We’ve waited for three years to see him become a scorer, and he’s failed to record over 40 points in any season. If he can’t produce at the AHL level, his production in the NHL won’t be anything special. Maybe he can become a checking forward, but he won’t be a scorer. He’ll probably be blocked in the top-six for the considerable future.
Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond – 64 GP, 13 points (8 G, 5 A), minus-14 rating
“PL3” began the season in New Jersey, looking to carve a niche as the team’s enforcer. It took just one dumb incident to banish him back to the AHL. On October 9, with 4:57 remaining in the third period of a 7-2 loss to the Washington Capitals, Letourneau-Leblond attempted to fight Marcus Johansson. That earned him an instigator penalty and an automatic one-game suspension. It also earned him a one-way ticket to Albany. Like Robitaille, he possesses no offensive abilities. He led the team in penalty minutes with 334, or an average of 5.22 penalty minutes per game. Hopefully he remains in Albany, so a more talented left-winger can get his shot.
Mike Hoeffel – 10 GP, 2 points (2 G), minus-1 rating
Hoeffel signed with the Devils after graduating from Minnesota, seeing 10 games with Albany. He’s not projected to become anything more than a third-line checker, but he’s one of the better prospects on the team. His defensive skills are great, and he knows how to use his 6-2, 186 pound frame. He’ll definitely require another season in Albany to learn and improve.
Flin Flon Bombers (SJHL)
Ashton Bernard – 4 GP, 0 points, 21 penalty minutes
Bernard is yet another heavyweight in the organization. He bounced around last season, playing for five teams in four different leagues. In nine playoff games, he collected an impressive 66 penalty minutes. He needs to add more to his game to become an average prospect.
Signed/Amateur College Players
Derek Rodwell (University of North Dakota) – 39 GP, 9 points (5 G, 4 A), 20 penalty minutes
Rodwell began his collegiate career this past season with UND and couldn’t contribute offensively. He was just a freshman, so he’ll take his time to improve over the next three seasons. A fifth round pick of the Devils in the 2009, Rodwell steadily improved in three years with the Okotoks Oilers of the AJHL.
Clearly, there isn’t much left-wing talent throughout the organization. It’s not a crisis now, but the Devils need to address this weakness through the later rounds of the draft.
Ed. Note: The Trenton Devils did not list player positions on the team’s roster. You can check a review of all of their forwards in this preview. Let’s hope they’re better than what Albany offers.