Exactly a year ago, the Devils were a non-playoff team seemingly on a treadmill to oblivion.
Right now they’re the hockey toast of New Jersey despite a blown-referee’s call and falling two wins short of champagne.
No matter. Coach Peter DeBoer‘s stickhandlers did The Garden State proud and now Pete’s boss, Lou Lamoriello, returns to the Draft table in the hopes of finding another gem in the distant 29th position.
Side by side with his perennial Director of Scouting, David Conte, Larrupin’ Lou — like the fictional Rumplestiltskin — has a reputation for weaving Draft straw into hockey gold.
One of the primary reasons — if not THE one — for New Jersey upsetting Florida, Philadelphia and the Rangers in 2012 playoff succession was just such a Rumplestiltskin move at the 2008 Draft.
Only his name was Adam Henrique. Lamoriello-Conte waited until their fourth pick — 82d overall — before selecting the Brantford, Ontario (as in Gretzky home town) native.
“Adam was certainly a big contributor for us,” says DeBoer who should be found guilty of massive understatement.
Henrique may not go down in history as Lamoriello’s best pick, ever, but he certainly was the multi-saviour of 2011-2012 although buried in Albany at the season’s start.
But at season’s start, when Lamoriello found himself with not one but his two top centers — Travis Zajac and Jacob Josefson — indefinitely sidelined, he promoted unheralded Henrique from the AHL. What’s more, Lou didn’t even flinch when DeBoer placed the rookie between his two aces, Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk. Better still Henrique fit as snugly as the skate guards on his blades.
That partially explains why Henrique went from a Draft no-name to finalist for the Calder Trophy as rookie-of-the-year. Too bad the voting never includes playoffs because the 6-0, 205 pound pivot scored series-winning overtime goals against the Panthers and Rangers, among other feats of legerdemain en route to the Final round.
Another mainstay of the 2012 Cinderella run — but a lot less obtrusive than Henrique — also was a down-yonder pick; and that would be steady, reliable defenseman Mark Fayne. In the 2005 Draft, the Providence College grad was New Jersey’s fifth choice, buried at 155 overall. Without any fuss or fanfare, Fayne has emerged from the shadows as a Top Two Devils defender; not bad for such a low selection.
If Lou and David had their way, the daring duo would somehow do a reprise of the 1990 Draft when they nabbed Martin Brodeur as their first choice (20th overall), arguably the best puck-stopping selection since the invention of goalie skates.
I bring up Brodeur because somewhere between the lines of the NHL Official Guide & Record Book it says that Marty cannot man the New Jersey crease forever. Hey, for all we know Mister Goalie may decide to retire this Summer. And even if he doesn’t call it a career, what does Lou do about a future rubber-stopper?
You don’t need The Maven to tell you that he drafts a goaltender in Pittsburgh as quickly as you can say Andrei Vasilevski, Oscar Dansk or Malcolm Subban, who just happen to be the most luscious grapes on the goalie vine.
Surely one of them will be available but the trick is who and the pick will be chancy because different scouts have opposing views on their respective potential.
The Hockey News Draft Preview favors Vasilevski, a Russian who won’t be 18 until July 25 who one birddog observes, “I don’t know how much better a guy can play at that age.”
Nevertheless, the International Scouting Service rates Vasilevski third behind the Swede, Dansk — ISS likes Dansk best — and the Canadian Subban, kid brother of Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban.
Apart from the fact that Subban reportedly has a weak glove hand, the 19-year-old was a late-bloomer; not moving between the pipes until he was 12. “Some think he’s the best goalie in the Draft,” offers The Hockey News.
No matter which goaltender the Devils pick, rest assured that he won’t make the big club for a while because there are precious few goalies who make the NHL jump directly from the Draft. “They can take eight years to develop,” says Detroit Red Wings assistant g.m. Jim Nill. “You might draft a goalie in the first round and might not see him for a long time.”
With that in mind Lamoriello already began stockpiling goalies two years ago — namely Scott Wedgewood (84th overall) and Maxime Clermont (174). Other possibilities include Jeff Frazee, the club’s second choice, 38th overall, in 2005 who has weathered injuries and traveled throughout the 2012 playoffs with the varsity as practice goalie. Keith Kinkaid, who showed considerable promise at Albany this past season, is a compelling “sleeper” for New Jersey.
Goaltending aside, Lamoriello has to add offense if only to ensure scoring should captain Zach Parise sign elsewhere as a free agent. At 61 overall — last in the second round – New Jersey might be tempted to land Boo Nieves who learned his hockey in the Syracuse area and is an impressive 18-year-old center who played for the Kent prep school in Connecticut. Another option would be Exeter Academy product Brian Hart, slated to play for Harvard next season. Out of Cumberland, Maine, Hart measures 6-2, 216 and also starred at soccer.
None of the above will replace Parise but Lou must stockpile offense for the future. Previous draftees such as Mattias Tedenby and Vladimir Zhukov no doubt will get a look-see at training camp.
Defense is not a Draft issue; not after Lou scored big last year with Adam Larsson plus young Turks such as Jon Merrill, Alex Urbom and Eric Gelinas climbing the ladder.
With a 29th and 61st pick, the odds do not favor New Jersey coming up with a diamond in the rough. But look at what Rumplestiltskin did with mere straw.
Never mind The Big R; how about Larrupin’ Lou who never required even a top 50 to score big. For proof positive go back 18 years to the 1994 Draft. Buried in the 51st spot was a gangly unknown Czech selected by Lou
Signed a year later, Patrik Elias helped win two Stanley Cups and still is going strong.
Bottom Line: When it comes to the Draft, never underestimate the power of Lou!