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New Jersey Devils: 2008-09 Top 10 Prospects

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Shane Malloy, Prospect Insider
3/16/2009 1:52:05 PM
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In the past, the New Jersey Devils consistently found talent throughout their draft and did not have to rely upon first round successes. They were a blue print for other organizations when it came to finding and developing talent. Unfortunately, their most recent attempts at maintaining that high standard have fallen on hard times. From 1997 to 2003, the Devils have only produced 11 NHL players of note with a 15.9 percent success rate (which puts them at the bottom quarter of the league). The Devils drafted 12 European players in the top three rounds from 1997 to 2003 that did not develop into NHL players and that hurt their farm system. They are hoping that the 2005 to 2008 draft picks will have a greater impact and replenish the organization long term.

The Devils probably only have two or three forwards that are considered to be skilled enough to play on the top three lines, but they do have a nice collection of role players who could fill out the fourth line. The most promising are Niklas Bergfors, Mike Hoeffel, Mattias Tedenby, Patrice Cormier and Matt Halischuk, who could eventually develop into NHL players. The Russian duo of Vladimir Zharkov and Alexander Vasyunov are cutting their teeth in the AHL this season with some success as rookies and it remains to be seen if they will stay in North America. Behind them are Nick Palmieri, Patrick Davis and Adam Henrique, who might be able to fill in some roles on the AHL roster long term.

On the defensive side, the Devils are in a solid position with a fine group of blueliners that could surprise the pundits one day. The first on the list to potentially make some noise are Tyler Eckford and Matt Corrente, who have the capability to play in the top six in the NHL. The remaining group of Brandon Burlon, Mark Fraser, T.J. Miller, Corbin McPherson and Russian Kirill Tulupov are still in early development but all of them have some tools in their tool box. Of those seven defencemen, two will likely be molded into full time NHL defencemen.

Between the pipes, goaltender Jeff Frazee was inconsistent throughout his college and international career and needed a tremendous amount of work to become a legitimate NHL goalie. Fortunately for the Devils, he has played exceptionally well in his rookie season in the AHL and is beginning to put his game together. The Devils are lacking elite offensive talent on defence and goaltending depth and it is their greatest need over the next couple of NHL drafts.

1. Matt Halischuk – Right Wing, 20 (4th round 117th overall 2007)
Currently in Lowell (AHL)

He has played a solid season for Lowell, even though he missed a few games to injury. His hockey sense, skating and work ethic are the foundations of his game and he is a team player. He has good puck skills and makes decent passes with speed and reacts quickly to the tempo. He's not the biggest player at 5-11 and 180 pounds and he will need to get stronger, but to his credit he competes hard. He is a good skater with a quick first couple of strides and has the agility to deke defenders. He has shown offensive spark with 156 points in 168 games in the past three seasons along with his sneaky wrist shot, but he often sacrifices his offensive numbers for defensive responsibilities. Halischuk has shown the ability to elevate his game in the post season and in international play. He could be another potential late-round gem that might become a solid two way third line forward that could provide clutch offense.

2. Niklas Bergfors – Right Wing, 22 (1st round, 23rd overall, 2005)
Currently with Lowell (AHL)

A solid rookie season in Albany and Bergfors showed that he adapted to the North American game quickly with 40 points in 65 games as a 18 year old. Unfortunately, he has not progressed at all offensively in the last two seasons in the AHL, where he has only produced 59 points in 122 games. This season, his production has dramatically improved with 41 points in 49 games. He is strong enough at 5 foot 11 and 190 pounds to handle the physical rigors. His speed and acceleration are his trademarks and he could join the top three lines soon. It looks as though he has adjusted to the speed and tempo and the price you have to pay to play in the NHL. He has the puck skills, shot and talent but it is still untapped and he is responsible defensively. Injuries have been a factor in his development.

3. Mattias Tedenby – Left Wing, 19 (1st round 24th overall 2008)
Currently with Jonkoping (SWE)

He has the ability to be an offensive dynamo, since Tedenby's hockey sense is at an elite level and the fact he can make highly skilled plays at full speed. His puck skills are excellent and he can make tape to tape cross ice passes through traffic. He reads the ice so well that he makes great use of all his options. The kid can stickhandle through traffic like the puck is taped to his stick and leaves defenders watching instead of defending him - which opens up space for his linemates. He never seems to panic with the puck and shows some savvy veteran poise for his age. Remember the scene in Rocky where he is chasing the chicken? Well, that's what it is like trying to contain Tedenby. He is so elusive and has such fantastic agility that he can draw penalties and create time and space for everyone else on the ice by drawing defenders to him. However, he will need to add some weight and power to his frame 5 foot 10 and 176 pound frame and core strength to improve his overall balance and top speed. On the other side of the ice, he is average defensively and will need to continue to improve in this. But he does hustle, so that shows work ethic. Most young prospects need time to work on their defensive game, since it is more structured than offence.

4. Tyler Eckford – Defence, 23 (7th round, 217th overall, 2005)
Currently with Lowell (AHL)

The 6 foot 3, 220-pound defenceman is an excellent passer and has the ability to quarterback the power play and alter the transition game. His vision and skating is solid and his overall puck skills are very good. He has a booming shot from the point and he will contribute offensively. He must continue to work on his conditioning and his defensive game and they're both slowly improving so it should not be a determent in the future. After three years in college, where he posted 71 points in 112 games from the blueline, he was looking for a new challenge as a pro in Lowell. In his rookie season, Eckford has shown promise and offensive potential with 24 points in 57 games. He could be the steal of the 2005 draft for the Devils, since Eckford has the potential to be a top four defenceman.

5. Jeff Frazee – Goalie, 21 (2nd round, 38th overall 2005)
Currently with Lowell (AHL)

The worm has finally turned for the Devils netminder as Frazee is having an excellent season for a rookie netminder in the AHL. An athletic netminder with the quickness and agility to play deeper in his net but he must continue to work on the consistency of his fundamentals. He seems to remain composed and relaxed at times but he has a fiery competitive side that must remain in check. He had played in a competitive environment in college and has international experience but lacked consistency at times. He has good enough size at 6-feet and 201 pounds and can flash a quick glove to make a great save. It will be interesting to see if he can continue on this current developmental path.

6. Matt Corrente – Defence, 21 (1st round 30th overall 2006)
Currently with Lowell (AHL)

Like Frazee this young prospect is having a solid rookie season in the AHL. The defenceman has had a rough couple seasons in the OHL with injuries, playing only 64 games but he did get 41 points which was promising. He has improved on his decision making taking fewer risks with the puck to go along with his improved poise. He has decent puck skills and makes a nice first pass and can generate some offense from the back end. He is improving defensively but still needs some continued work on his gap control and angling players will make his jump to the pros easier. He must get stronger since he is 5 foot 11 and 189 pounds and must be able to consistently handle physical players at the pro level. He has good potential but must control his temper and remaine focused. He could be an NHL defenceman in three seasons.

7. Brandon Burlon – Defence, 19 (2nd round 52nd overall 2008)
Currently with Michigan (NCAA)

He's a smart, underappreciated defenceman who has played very well as a freshman at the University of Michigan and against stiff competition. Although he is not the biggest blueliner, he is solid on his skates and competes hard. He displays good hockey sense along with the puck skills to contribute offensively and the ability to move the puck quickly. He's a strong skater and shows the quickness and agility to cover speedy forwards and avoid the forecheck. His 14 points in 28 games so far makes him the third highest producer on the blue line. If the Devils are patient they could have a fine defenceman in three or four years.

8. Vladimir Zharkov - Right Wing, 21 (3rd round 77th overall 2006)
Currently with Lowell (AHL)

At first glance, you do not see anything special about him. But he does a lot of the little things right, which coaches appreciate more than fans. He shows solid hockey sense and knows where to be to contribute and be effective at both ends of the ice. He is going through an adjustment period after coming over from Russia so it's not a surprise that his offensive numbers are not high as a rookie in the AHL. For the most part, Zharkov is a good skater and has a frame that should fill out in time. It's unclear whether he can make the jump to the NHL, but you have to like his smarts and his willingness to come over to North America.

9. Patrice Cormier – Centre, 18 (2nd round 54th overall 2008)
Currently with Rimouski (QMJHL)

A tough defensive forward that possesses the demeanor and attributes to develop into a coveted third or fourth line checking centre that does all the dirty work. He has the size at 6 foot 2 and 205 pounds, along with good skating ability to keep up and compete physically with top forwards. His hockey sense is strong enough to play at the NHL level but he does not have the puck skills to contribute offense on a regular basis. His experience at the WJC for Team Canada and the Memorial Cup this coming May will go along way in assisting his development.

10. Mike Hoeffel – Left Wing/Centre, 19 (2nd round 57th overall 2007)
Currently with Minnesota (NCAA)
The sophomore has had a good season for the Gophers, tallying 19 points in 32 games. He has good size at 6 foot 2 and 190 pounds and uses it well to block out defenders and fight for loose pucks. He's not the quickest or fastest skater, but has improved that area and it should not be a problem when he turns pro. He has decent hockey sense and vision and does a good job of finding space in traffic. He also has a quick wrist and slap shot that both have some zip. He is solid defensively, has an active stick and keeps his head up and alert. His experience at the WJC for Team USA was a good indication that he has the ability to play at a high level.

11. Mark Fraser - Defence, 22 (3rd round 84th overall 2005)
Currently with Lowell (AHL)

He is slowly developing into a call-up defenceman in case of injury, but he may have the potential as a third pairing NHL defensive defenceman in perhaps two seasons. He has the size at 6 foot 3 and 200 pounds and good skating ability to handle most speedy forwards in the NHL. His puck skills are below average and he must keep his passes short and sweet to avoid risky plays. He almost never shoots the puck, but has some power in his slap and just passes it off. Defensively, he is developing into a reliable blueliner and has shown improvement maintaining his position, keeping his head on a swivel, having an active stick and gap control. He will play physically and is tough to the forwards lingering around the crease and will rack up penalty minutes at times. He still needs some time so perhaps another season in the AHL is necessary.

12. T.J. Miller – Defence, 22 (4th round 107th overall 2006)
Currently with Northern Michigan (NCAA)

The 6 foot 4 and 220 pound collegiate, who originally hails from Southern California, has quietly worked his way up the system after two solid seasons in the NCAA. He played two seasons before that in the BCHL, where he had 60 points in 113 games from the blue line. For a big defenceman, he skates well and shows good agility against quick forwards and uses his wing span to angle off forwards. He can play a physical game, is willing to drop the gloves and make problems. His pucks skills are above average and he can make smart passes, but is more effective if he keeps it simple. Despite his cannon for a slap shot, his offensive numbers from junior hockey have not translated into the pros yet (with 25 points in 95 games), but expect him to be close to a point a game next season. He is a project for the Devils if they are patient.

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New Jersey Devils - NHL Entry Draft Record (1997 - 2003)

When looking at the drafting and developing record of a NHL organization it becomes an interesting blend of statistics and circumstances with perhaps some luck thrown in for good measure. Most of the time the General Manager receives kudos for a teams fortunes at the draft table when in reality it is usually never the case in today's NHL. For the most part there are three aspects that make the whole process work; first is the amateur scouting department's ability to evaluate and project talent which may be the most challenging of all. Next the organizations player development department must attempt to mold the prospects by giving the players tools to enhance his talents. Perhaps most importantly is the prospects responsibility to pay the price and sacrifice which generally requires a tremendous work ethic. If one of these aspects fails then the likelihood of a prospect turning into an asset to his organization and having a NHL career becomes remote.

The reason for the analyzing the years from 1997 to 2003 is to first give each NHL organization five years to develop their prospects as players from different leagues evolve differently. Secondly the years from 1997-2003 are the players that should be the building blocks of the core of your team as they will be in the 23-29 year old age range. What makes each organization unique is what they do with the picks they have as management will often trade draft choices for immediate help on their NHL and AHL teams. Now some players may be real late bloomers and eventually make the criteria set in this analysis down the road but at this stage it is fascinating to see the results.

Criteria of NHL games played that deem a player has been drafted and developed successfully.

 

  Forwards - Defenceman Goaltenders
1997-2001 125-200 NHL Games required 51-100 NHL Games Played
2002-2003 100 NHL Games required 25-50 NHL Games Played
Pending Player - Represents a player who has a legitimate chance to make criteria

New Jersey Devils 1997-2003

Year Draft Picks NHL Players Produced (Round/Pick)
1997 8 (1) (G) Scott Clemmensen (8/215)
1998 11 (3) (D) Mike Van Ryn (1/26), (C) Scott Gomez (1/27), (RW) Brian Gionta (3/82)
1999 8 (1) (D) Mike Commodore (2/42)
2000 13 (3) (D) David Hale (1/22), (D) Paul Martin (2/62), (LW) Michael Rupp (2/62)
2001 11 (LW) Aaron Voros (8/229)
2002 11 (RW) Cam Janssen (4/117)
2003 7 (1) (C) Zach Parise (1/17)

Total: 7yrs – 69 draft picks – 11 NHL Players = 15.9% success rate

Success in the first three rounds (1997-2003)

1st rnd Draft Choices: 7 total picks
JF Damphousse, Ari Ahonen, Adrian Foster
7 yrs – 7 draft picks – 4 NHL Players = 57.1% success rate

2nd rnd Draft Choices: 14 total picks
Stanislav Gron, Christian Berglund, Brett Clouthier, Teemu Laine, Alexander Suglobov, Matt DeMarchi, Igor Pohanka, Tuomas Philman, Victor Uchevatov, Anton Kadeykin, Barry Tallackson, Petr Vrana
7 yrs - 14 draft picks – 2 NHL Players = 14.2% success rate

3rd rnd Choices: 10 total picks
Andre Lakos, Max Birbraer, Robin LeBlanc, Brandon Nolan, Ahren Nittel, Marek Chvatal, Jason Ryznar, Ivan Khmomutov
7 yrs – 10 draft picks – 2 NHL Players = 20% success rate

Total: 7 yrs – 31 draft picks – 8 NHL Players = 25.8% success rate in first 3 rounds

First Three Rounds - Developed vs. Prospects/NA vs. Euro
Developed players: (9) North American, (0) European
Undeveloped Prospects: (5) North American, (10) European

Success in the last six round (1997-2003)

4th rnd to 9th rnd Choices: 38 total picks
7yrs – 38 draft picks – 2 NHL Players = 5.2% success rate

Shane Malloy provides hockey prospect insight and analysis on his Prospect Insider feature on TSN.ca, Canada's leading sports website. Many sports networks, hockey magazines and major newspapers have drawn upon his expertise and knowledge. His passion for the game and involvement in grass roots hockey from the junior hockey to the National Hockey League is evident. He is currently a host and hockey event reporter on XM Sirius Satellite Radio (Home Ice 204) where he co-hosts a hockey radio show on Hockey Prospects and the Business of Hockey.

Prior to joining TSN, Malloy was the columnist-covering prospects for NHL.com for two years and a NHL and prospect columnist Fox Sports.com for six years.

This document is the intellectual property of Shane Malloy and cannot be used or duplicated in anyway without expressed written consent. Any use of this document without the expressed written consent of Shane Malloy will result in public exposure and legal prosecution.

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Matt Halischuk (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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