I have to start by saying that the 2009 Draft was the first one where I actually did some research beyond the top five prospects. I went full on, putting together a list of the players that I liked in the order I liked them, as if I was prepared to walk out to the draft table myself. The reason for this, aside from the fact that its summer and I find myself with quite a bit more free time, is that the Devils have always been known as a draft monster, an integral piece of the consistent high level of play from the mid 1990s forward.
But for some reason, whether or not it was the depth of the draft classes or just some poor selections—after all, this is an inexact science—the Devils went through a rough patch from 1999 to 2002 where the two most successful draft picks they made were Mike Rupp (2000) and Cam Janssen (2002). A few wasted first round picks—Ari Ahonen (1999) and Adrian Foster (2001)—never did crack the NHL, and the results really hurt the cupboard. This four year gap was enough to cause the Devils to look elsewhere to build around their core players, namely free agency. This is not the way the Devils have ever worked, and so beginning with Zach Parise in the all-time great 2003 draft class, the draft renaissance has begun.
Now, while every GM and fan wishes that every pick they make in a draft would develop into an NHL-caliber player, the reality is you’re probably not going to get more than two out of each draft class unless you really get lucky. For example, Parise & Petr Vrana in 2003, Mattias Tedenby & Patrice Cormier in 2008, etc. So that has become my standard now; if a draft class has at least two players who have the potential to make the NHL one day, I consider it an early success. (Of course time will tell whether or not it was really a success, but I'm talking initial impressions here.)
So with all that out of the way, let's turn our attention to the 2009 draft. While waiting for the Devils to pick at 23rd, I noticed an interesting trend emerging. Minnesota picked Minnesota native Nick Leddy, Montreal picked Montreal native Louis Leblanc...pretty soon I was starting to wonder if Montvale, NJ native Kyle Palmieri would be headed our way. Even though he was ranked 6th on my list, Rundblad had already gone to Columbus, Leblanc to Montreal, so I was confident it would either be Palmieri or Landon Ferraro, my highest ranked remaining player. This is not to say that I didn't like our actual selection, Swedish forward Jacob Josefson. He didn't have the greatest World Juniors tournament in the world, but Dan Labraaten, the Devils' head European scout, had been following him for quite some time, and had seen enough to know the potential this kid has.
But it was more than just the selection of Josefson...it was where the Devils selected him. Originally slated to pick 23rd, the Devils traded up to get Calgary's 20th pick, throwing in the lower of our two 3rd rounders for Calgary’s troubles. (Things that make you go hmmmm...) I suppose we'll never know whether Calgary agreeing to this trade was more a product of knowing that their guy Tim Erixon would not be taken before 23rd, or if it was a small agreed upon consolation for swiping away Brent Sutter two weeks after he resigned.
I'm getting off track here. Despite actually doing my research this time, one thing I've learned is that the Devils will always do what you don't expect them to, so while I really liked the kind of player Landon Ferraro or Kyle Palmieri could turn out to be, the Devils chose Josefson. I happen to love the pick, I just didn't see it coming. A 6'0" forward is a nice change from the constant stream of Gionta-sized players who are typically appealing to New Jersey.
Second round pick Eric Gelinas is a 6'4" defenseman described as a young Chris Pronger. Should he pan out as expected, that right there are your two high potential picks. Rounds 3-7 saw the Devils take three more defensemen and two left wings, all above 6'0". There's no question that size is a priority on the Devils of the future. There appear to be no late round gems a la Cormier, but we may have the huge linemate who can cash in on the rebound from a Cormier shot.
It is worth noting that once again, no goaltenders were selected. Jeff Frazee (2005) remains the last one, and though he is developing well, he's going to need some backup. Lou Lamoriello, to his credit, said that the goalie they had been targeting was gone, so I can only assume they liked Koskinen as much as I did, though he got snatched up 31st overall. It's nice to know they recognize the need there, but sooner or later we're going to actually draft a goalie in the first round to avoid this happening again. I know they don't want to take a goalie just to have one, they really want him to be "the one," but with plenty of depth at forward and defense recently drafted, now is the time to seriously consider taking a goaltender with a first round pick. Drafting on a "best player available" basis for a long time is a great thing, except when you have a serious lack of depth at a certain position. Even if its one quality goaltender and then back to the same old philosophy, Jeff Frazee cannot hold down the farm on his own. Free agency is a fine temporary solution, but with the salary cap in jeopardy for the forseeable future, the more entry level contracts on your books, the better off you’ll be.
That was a lot to say about one problem, I know, and aside from that the 2009 draft was a successful one for the Devils. I'll give it a B+ for two quality prospects.