The New Jersey Devils drafted the number one rated international skater, defenseman Adam Larsson, with the fourth overall pick in yesterday’s NHL Entry Draft.
The organization filled one of their biggest needs with a very talented prospect. He joins an impressive list of young blueline prospects that will form the defensive corps for years to come. But many of those players remain two to three years away from making the NHL. With the lack of offensive talent on the Devils’ blueline, one question remains – can Larsson make an immediate impact on the NHL level?
Many believe Larsson is the most NHL ready defenseman. The 18-year old began playing for Skelleftea of the Swedish Elite League two years ago, becoming the third 16-year old to break into the league. He finished the season with one goal, eight assists and a plus-12 rating. Don’t let those low offensive numbers fool you – Larsson posses some serious offensive potential. Skelleftea used him primarily in a defensive role last season, limiting his production.
Playing against men for two seasons prepared him for the physicality of the NHL. He still needs to add strength, like most other young players. Devils’ president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said he’ll have every opportunity to make the team this season.
“We’ll have an opportunity to see him in the summer camp and training camp,” Lamoriello told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. “All of that will determine it. He’s played two years in the elite league, so it’s not out of the question that he can do that.”
The Devils need immediate offensive help along the blueline. Last year, all defenseman who dressed for at least one game combined to record 88 points. Andy Greene led all defenseman with 23 points as the top offensive threat. That’s a pretty putrid number. New Jersey hasn’t had solid offense from a defenseman since Scott Niedermayer left. It’s a hole they’ve failed to fill year after year. Larsson could potentially be the answer to their never-ending problem.
“Larsson is going to be a top offensive defenseman,” New York Rangers Director of Player Personnel Gordie Clark told Gulitti. “If a team feels that their priority is an offensive power-play D, if he goes one, it’s not a problem with me.”
The problems come with his experience. Like Mattias Tedenby and Jacob Josefson, he needs to gain some experience on North American rinks. Both spent time in the AHL last season, learning how to adjust to the rink and playing style. Both came up and found success later in the season.
There’s no denying Larsson’s potential impact. Right now, he seems like one of the best options for offense along the blueline. His performance in both the prospect and training camp will ultimately decide his fate. He should play in the organization next season, and may see some NHL time.
The New Jersey Devils need depth on the wings.
The team lacks great talent along both wings, with their great prospects manning center. The organization’s two best right-wingers, Mattias Tedenby and Nick Palmieri, both figure to remain in the NHL next season. Despite struggling offensively, Vladimir Zharkov also looks to be a virtual lock as a checking line forward. That leaves a gaping hole of talent needing to be filled.
There’s plenty of talented wingers at the NHL level, so this isn’t an immediate position of need for New Jersey. If the organization feels there’s a need for a right-winger, they can shop around for a decent free agent. They don’t need to use their first-round pick on a right-winger, but should address the issue in this year’s draft.
Without further adieu, The Devils Den presents the less-than-inspiring report on the organization’s right wingers. And here we go:
Albany Devils (AHL)
Nathan Perkovich – 40 GP, 17 points (8 G, 9 A), minus-3 rating
Perkovich slipped into a sophomore slump this season, failing to improve on the potential he showed as a rookie. He collected 33 points last season, including 19 goals. A high ankle sprain severely limited his production, which helped produce those low numbers. Unfortunately, Perkovich is a 26-year old AHLer. Time is running out for him to make an impact beyond the AHL level.
Darcy Zajac – 40 GP, 9 points (4 G, 5 A), minus-9 rating
Zajac struggled to find success at the AHL level this season. He played well with Trenton, collecting 23 points and a plus-8 rating. In Albany, those numbers dipped across the board. Zajac will never be a scorer like his older brother, Travis. He’s a third or fourth line checking forward at best. There’s already a ton of these guys throughout the organization, so Zajac will need to separate himself from the pack.
Trevor Kell – 21 GP, 3 points (1 G, 2 A), minus-8 rating
Kell seems destined to remain in the ECHL for next season. In four years with the organization, he’s failed to stick at the AHL level. He’s shown his offensive potential in the ECHL, where he collected 33 points in 37 games last season. Those numbers fail to transfer to the AHL level. He’s struggled to find any openings in the AHL, and he’s entering his fifth season with the organization. I would doubt his ability to move any higher than the AHL leve.
Mauro Jorg (Lugano) – 50 GP, 12 points (3 G, 9 A), minus-15 rating
The Devils selected Jorg in the seventh round last season, marking the first forward they selected. He doesn’t seem like anything special, considering his limited ability to produce offensively. He may still need some time to develop, and probably won’t turn pro for a few seasons.
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.
The New Jersey Devils stockpiled impressive depth up the middle. The team’s brimming with talent, and many players are ready to take the next step to the NHL.
Travis Zajac leads the brigade, firmly entrenched as the team’s top center. Patrik Elias, a converted left-winger, seems destined to finish his career as the team’s number two center. Jacob Josefson‘s solid rookie debut will undoubtedly lead to a roster spot next season. Rod Pelley will look to fend off Adam Henrique, Tim Sestito, and others for a spot on the roster.
That talent flows right down into Albany. Seven of Albany’s top ten scorers were centerman, an astounding number that shows the true talent in the position. Most won’t develop into first line scorers. But the depth is pretty amazing, and should provide the team with solid players for the future.
Albany Devils (AHL)
Matt Anderson – 76 GP, 55 points (23 G, 32 A), minus-3 rating
Anderson was an All-Star this season, netting a goal in the midseason showcase. He led all centers in every significant category despite never playing with a consistent line. In his three AHL seasons, Anderson improved his performance, posting a career high in points last season. Henrique will get the call first, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Anderson get a look in the prospect camp this summer.
Adam Henrique – 73 GP, 50 points (25 G, 25 A), minus-3 rating
Henrique had one hell of a rookie season. While his 50 points aren’t overly impressive, he managed to produce offensively without a consistent line combination. His 25 goals are a rookie record. He shifted to left-wing for the second half of the season, which probably helped his numbers. His 50 points put him sixth among rookie scorers. He won’t need any more time in the AHL and should compete for a spot next season.
Steve Zalewksi – 81 GP, 44 points (15 G, 29 A), minus-8 rating
Zalewski came to the Devils organization in a February trade, where he found his game. He posted 11 goals and 17 assists in 31 games after the trade. He’s had a taste of the NHL, playing three games with the San Jose Sharks last season. He’s had AHL success, but never found a foothold. He seems destined to be AHL fodder who may get a few games here and there.
Stephen Gionta – 54 GP, 30 points (10 G, 20 A), plus-7 rating
Gionta gained fame for playing against his older brother, Brian, this season. Other than that, he didn’t do much with his NHL callup. He found some success in the AHL, collecting 30 points. He’ll never be a scorer and probably wouldn’t move past the fourth line on the NHL level. He provides good depth but isn’t the first choice for a roster spot next season.
Brad Mills – 53 GP, 24 points (15 G, 9 A), minus-2 rating
Mills made his NHL debut this season, scoring a game-winning goal against the Chicago Blackhawks in November. He’s a decent centerman, but nothing to write home about. His 24 points ranked pretty low, which is odd considering he anchored the team’s top line. Like Gionta, he’s a depth player at this point.
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.
The New Jersey Devils forward strength seems focused on one position: left wing. On the NHL roster, the position runs three deep, with Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and converted center Patrik Elias. Rookies like Mattias Tedenby will only strengthen that position in the future.
The one position where the team lacks depth is right wing. David Clarkson represents the team’s only veteran right-winger, and his offensive potential is limited. Nick Palmieri showed a ton of promise this year, but his offensive success was helped by playing on the first line.
While Albany does a fantastic job of breaking down the forwards by position, the Trenton Devils do not. Since all the forwards are clumped together on the website, this will be a review of all the forwards. Some seem good enough to take the leap, and others seem destined to be ECHL-lifers.
And here we go:
Ryan Ginand – 68 GP, 75 points (29 G, 46 A), plus-1 rating
Ginand was one of the few standouts on the Trenton Devils this season. He was the team’s lone All-Star representative, leading them in every offensive category. He also fired 402 shots on net, the second most in ECHL history. Ginand enjoyed a brief callup to Albany this season, and should find a permanent spot on their roster next year. His offensive skill seems promising, and he could be a can’t miss prospect for the organization.
Ryan Hayes – 63 games, 50 points (23 G, 27 A), 0 rating
Hayes is right behind Ginand in terms of offensive potential. In his first professional season, the forward recorded 50 points, good for second on the team. His transition from the Plymouth Whalers of the CHL (where he played with Tyler Seguin) went better than expected. He’s also big into humanitarian work, which is a plus for any professional athlete. Hopefully he’ll play in the Devils prospect camp this summer so we can get an extended look at him.
Jeff Prough – 48 games, 42 points (25 G, 17 A), minus-13 rating
Prough suffered through some minor injuries this season, playing just 48 games. He still produced 0.88 points per game, which is pretty solid. He’s been with the Trenton Devils for three seasons, so he’s reaching the limits of potential flameout. He twice recorded 30 goals and 60 points, so he’s shown he can produce. Hopefully he gets a shot to move up the organization’s ladder next season.
Matt Lombardi – 66 GP, 33 points (20 G, 13 A), minus-10 rating
Like Hayes, Lombardi made his Trenton debut this season, playing in 66 games. There was no shortage of offense on this team, and Lombardi was the fourth forward to record at least 20 goals. He came from Boston College, working his way from walk-on to assistant captain of two national champions. It was a solid debut season.
The New Jersey Devils will always be a defense-first team. Jacques Lemaire’s first tenure as coach, way back in 1995, began that precedent. Those teams developed the trapping style that brought three Stanley Cups to the Garden State. It seemed the organization possessed unlimited defensive depth, churning out defensive stalwarts like Colin White to compliment the core of Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko and Scott Niedermayer.
Fast forward to 2011. The team still plays solid defense, but gone are the big names. In their place stand overachievers and average defenseman. The mass exodus of the dynasty defense through retirement and free agency left a gaping hole in the Devils’ organization. The inability to find a true offensive defenseman continues to frustrate fans. But there’s hope – a rising crop of defensive prospects, led by Jon Merrill and Alexander Urbom, should return the blueline to its once lofty status.
With a surplus of quality defenseman in this year’s draft, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Devils once again focus on their blueline with the fourth pick. But do they need a defenseman? The bubble of NHL-ready prospects looks ready to burst, providing ample opportunities for New Jersey to plug in holes. In today’s preview, we take a look at the organization’s defensive prospects, from the AHL to those yet to turn pro.
And here we go:
Albany Devils (AHL)
Alexander Urbom – 72 GP, 23 points (2 G, 21 A), minus-9 rating
Urbom continued the recent Swedish movement in the Devils organization. The 20-year old defenseman spent most of the season with the Albany Devils, earning two brief call-ups to the Devils. He led all Albany defenseman in points, and earned significant minutes on the powerplay.
The year of seasoning helped Urbom tremendously. When he broke camp with the Devils, he looked rough and didn’t adjust well to the NHL. But his year in the AHL gave him the ability to play with veterans like Olivier Magnan and Rob Davison. He ended his season on a positive note, tallying his first career NHL goal in the Devils’ 3-2 win. He may find himself back in the AHL next season, but Urbom made a strong case to play on the Devils’ blueline next season.
Rob Davison – 63 GP, 18 points (4 G, 14 A), minus-1 rating
Davison became one of the biggest offensive threats on an underachieving blueline in Albany this season. The stay-at-home defenseman, who compiled 203 NHL games before the season, never found a way to make it to New Jersey. When the organization needed replacements, they routinely called on other players. Davison signed this summer as a depth player, and served that role to the letter.
The unrestricted free agent probably won’t be in the organization next season. He helped with the development of Urbom and gave the team quality minutes. But a guy with over 200-games of NHL experience deserves a shot to make a NHL team, something he may not get with New Jersey.
Olivier Magnan – 50 GP, 13 points (2 G, 11 A), minus-3 rating
Magnan’s shown steady improvement in each season with the organization. The former QMJHL Kevin Lowe Trophy winner (best defensive defenseman) finally got his chance to play in New Jersey last season. In 18 games, he was solid yet unspectacular, failing to record a point. But he couldn’t stick in New Jersey, eventually giving way to Mark Fayne.
Despite solid play for both teams, Magnan may not return to the team next season. With a new crop of defenseman ready to take the reigns, Magnan may be forced out by his inability to deliver on his talent.
The New Jersey Devils enter this year’s draft with unexpected goalie depth. With Martin Brodeur admitting he’s contemplating retiring in the next few years, the organization needed to prepare for the future. All of their other picks, from Ari Ahonen to Jeff Frazee, have failed to live up to expectations. But the newest class shows some promise, allowing the Devils to focus their draft research on other areas of weakness.
In today’s organizational depth preview, we’ll take a look at the goalies throughout the system and those prospects yet to turn pro. If this past season is any indication, the Devils 2009 draft should help produce a solid NHL goalie.
Albany Devils (AHL)
Mike McKenna – 39 GP, 14-20-2, 3.61 G.A.A, 0.866 Save %
McKenna provided valuable depth this season, but not much else. The veteran AHL-er had his first losing season since turning pro, posting abysmal numbers across the board. Albany struggled defensively for much of the season, which is partly to blame for poor showing. But he also won’t become an elite goalie. He’s a great depth piece, and maybe he sticks around. But the Devils won’t look toward McKenna to become a franchise cornerstone anytime soon.
Jeff Frazee – 33 GP, 11-15-3, 2.90 G.A.A, .902 Save %
Frazee seems to be running out of time with the organization. Hockey’s Future ranks him 11th, barely ahead of recent draft selections Scott Wedgewood and Maxime Clermont. After a stellar season last year, Frazee took a major step backward this season. He battled inconsistency and, like McKenna, shoddy defense. He also dealt with several injuries this season, the most notable being a knee injury that required exploratory surgery. He’s a restricted free agent this season, and will probably be resigned by the organization. With Clermont and Wedgewood probably a year away from turning pro, he’ll have one more shot to solidify his position within the organization. Another down year might cost him.
Dave Caruso – 18 GP, 7-8-0, 3.57 G.A.A, .880 Save %
Caruso has never been a standout prospect in the organization. Since joining the Trenton Devils during the 2007-08 season, he’s recorded just one winning season. Despite the lack of success, he’s found a way onto the AHL roster for the past three seasons. He doesn’t seem like a prospect prepared to make a jump past that level. He may spend time in the AHL next season as a backup.
Trenton Devils (ECHL)
Jeff Lerg – 27 GP, 13-12-0-1, 3.15 G.A.A, .903 Save %
Lerg is one of the underrated prospects in the system. The numbers aren’t great, but he has potential to be a solid goalie. He served as captain of the Michigan State hockey team, breaking the CCHA save record and finished second all time in the NCAA in saves. Trenton, like Albany, struggled this season defensively, probably contributing to his pedestrian numbers. It’s his second season in the organization, and if he can improve, he should rise in the organization.