Ever wonder why the New Jersey Devils have missed the playoffs just once since 1990, winning three Stanley Cups in the process? It’s not just the system they play; it’s also the hockey smarts of the organization’s brain trust.
Despite the fact the Devils haven’t had a top-15 draft selection since 1996 (where, ironically, they whiffed on Lance Ward with the No. 10 pick), the team has graduated several awesome talents lately, led by dynamic linemates Zach Parise and Travis Zajac.
New Jersey famously traded up from No. 22 to No. 17 in 2003 to nab Parise, leaving the Isles and Rangers to explain to their fan bases why they took Robert Nilsson and Hugh Jessiman, respectively, before the recently minted 94-point man. Looking back at THN’s Draft Preview issue from ’03, the only knock on Parise was his size – he had already completed an excellent 61-point campaign for the University of North Dakota, so skill was no question.
Zajac, coming out of Jr. A Salmon Arm in B.C., was subjected to scrutiny because of his peers – scouts wished they could have seen him play against major junior competition. But what was clearly obvious to New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello was the fact both players had a lot of skill that could be mined.
Similarly, David Perron was knocked for his lack of size when he was coming out of Lewiston of the Quebec League in 2007. Of course, that didn’t bother the St. Louis Blues, who took Perron 26th overall, then watched the speedy youngster make the team in his draft year.
In hindsight, there will always be examples of draft day flubs and steals that we will look back on with incredulity. But in every draft class, whether it be a juicy crop such as last year’s, or the horrific talent drought of 1999, patience is the key to a successful team.
Though NHL teams are nearly unanimous in their claims of following the “best player available” philosophy, that assessment is very much in the eye of the beholder. Just look at the Parise situation: Depending on your preferences, the hot young Devil would only rank behind all or most of a group consisting of Marc-Andre Fleury, Eric Staal, Ryan Getzlaf, Shea Weber, Mike Richards, Corey Perry and Dion Phaneuf from his draft class. That puts Parise as the No. 8 selection – assuming you don’t prefer Jeff Carter – instead of 17th overall.
Which is why the draft is always so exciting – did a GM just mess up big-time, or does he know something the rest of us don’t? This season, both Luca Sbisa and Viktor Tikhonov jumped straight from the draft to the league and made impacts. Neither was taken in the first 15 picks.
Of course, team need factors in to things, but who will be the late first round steals in Montreal this weekend? I’d be looking at players who need a couple years seasoning, someone in a T.J. Oshie mold.
Oshie, future mayor of St. Louis, spent three years at North Dakota before donning the blue note and becoming a fan favorite this season. His teammate Patrik Berglund took two more years in Sweden’s second division before jumping over the pond as well.
So what does this mean for a player such as Swede Jacob Josefson, or college-bound Louis Leblanc? Only time will tell. But for the patient GM, it may be a pick worth the wait.
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Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column – The Straight Edge – every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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