One of the reasons why the New Jersey Devils have been a Stanley Cup contender since 1995 has been the Devils' success at the NHL Draft, signing undrafted players, and developing prospects. With the Collective Bargaining Agreement designating players who have turned 27 or played 7 years of hockey (whichever comes first) as Unrestricted Free Agents, drafting and developing young talent has become more important than ever in The New NHL(tm). This is not new to the Lou, David Conte, and the Devils organization. Their success can be seen all over the current roster: having drafted and developed players such as Martin Brodeur, Patrik Elias, Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, and Zach Parise; signing undrafted players such as John Madden, Brian Rafalski, and Johnny Oduya. It's important to stay abreast of the current situation with the Devils' prospects and the NHL draft.
First, let's take a quick look at the top Devils' farm team, the Lowell Devils of the AHL. Normally, the Devils' minor league teams are used for development first and success second; which is why the Albany River Rats did poorly and the Devils really didn't care too much. Now that the Devils also own the Lowell team, they've put more of an effort to put a successful product on the ice. Currently, Lowell is in seventh in the Eastern Conference, presumably fighting for a playoff spot. They have 32 wins, 24 losses in regulation, 5 losses in overtime, and 4 losses in a shootout. They've done fairly well recently, compiling a record of 6-2-0-2 in their last 10 games. True to the New Jersey Devils, they are the least penalized team in the AHL with only 907 penalty minutes; and they are among the leagues' best in goals against with only 178 goals given up (and among the leagues' worst with only 180 goals scored).
Unfortunately, I haven't seen the Lowell Devils play at all; so I can't comment on how players look. All I have are stats and here are the stats for the skaters
and the stats for the goaltenders.
Chris Minard leads the team in goals with 24; and Frank Doyle and Jordan Parise have both been solid in net for Lowell. Good luck to them in their efforts in ensuring they make the playoffs.
With the NCAA regular season closing and conference tournaments beginning; as well as the seasons winding down in major juniors and European professional leagues, now is a good time to look at the prospects and see how they are doing. First, take a look at Hockey's Future - your premier source for hockey's, uh, future. Jared Ramsden of Hockey's Future has recently ranked the Devils' prospects last week and he says Nicklas Bergfors is still the top guy in the system.
It may not be obvious with 13 goals and 18 assists in 47 games, but keep in mind he's only 19. There is no reason to disagree with Ramsden's opinion that his talent (and production) will truly shine as he matures. It's good to see Andy Greene as highly regarded in the system, given that he's a de facto regular defenseman now with the Devils. Greene has looked good for the most part and if he can get better, then great. I'm curious at the comparison of Alexander Vasyunov's skill set to Aleksander Suglobov; Suglobov didn't stick in the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs. I'd like to see Vasyunov succeed as more than a borderline NHL player, which Suglobov seemingly has developed into.
Now, what about the draft? The Devils did trade their first round pick to San Jose (which was traded to St. Louis a few weeks ago), so I can't be terribly interested in who the Devils should target. The Devils will have picks later in the draft, and the Devils have had success beyond the first round; so it's not as if it's a lost year with respect to prospects. The International Scouting Service has released it's updated top 30 prospect list for the draft, you can view the list here at Hockey's Future.
While New Jersey has no realistic chance at getting him, New Jersey-born left winger James van Reimsdyk is still a top prospect in this draft with ISS slotting him at #4. If you're wondering where the goalies are, ISS released a list of who they think are the top five goalies available in the draft at TSN.
The Devils don't draft for need, they draft the best player available. That said, given at how much the Devils loaded up on defensemen in 2006, I think the Devils should steer their focus at forwards. Beyond Bergfors and Vasyunov (and if he continues developing quickly, Romano), there does not seem to be a lot of potential NHL scoring talent in the system. Perhaps the Devils scouts can find some more diamonds in the rough in 2007.