This will be my first draft profile, so be gentle in the comments section. This will come out as more of a recommendation than a profile, but so be it.
I will come out and say this: I believe the best way to build a hockey club is from the defense out. Maybe I was spoiled by the Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko and Scott Niedermayer Devils' teams and the quality that was on our blue line. It's possible that I have also been so disappointed with our defensive corps in recent years that I have a new found desire for the Devils to continually upgrade their defensive corps.
I also believe it is more fiscally responsible to build your defense from within and have all of your defensive players on the same page (you know the exact opposite of the Maple Leafs) and I am excited by some of our defensive prospects in the minors.
Alexander Urbom, Matthew Corrente, Brandon Burlon and Eric Gelinas all have positive attributes that should lead them to being successful in the Devils' system. Most of the defensive prospects have the potential to contribute offensively as well, with some having more offensive talent then others. There is a good mix in the Devils system, but one thing I think the Devils are missing is a true stay at home defenseman. Are Alexander Urbom and Matthew Corrente more defensively focused? The scouting reports would indicate that but they have offensive upside that could be realized.
I want a true defensive defensemen - our own Anton Volchenkov or Rob Scuderi and someone to replace Colin White. If I was in Devils management (and they are probably lucky I am not) I would select defenseman Stephen Johns of Wampum, PA. Read more about Johns after the jump:
Last Team: United States National Development Team Under 18
Statistics: 53 Games Played: 3 Goals, 12 Assists, 55 Penalty Minutes
(note: I am taking these stats from the media guide on the USA Hockey site. I think NHL.com has the wrong stats listed on his profile for the year of 2010-2011)
Hockey News: 48
International Scouting Services: 43
In 2008-2009 he played with the Under 17 team and served as the alternate captain for the team that won a bronze medal in the Under 17 World Challenge. You can check out rosters, game scores, scouting reports and other items here.
In the ‘players to watch' section of the U17 World Challenge Site you will find this scouting report on Johns.
intimidating size and reach ... very good skater for his size ... plays hard all the time ... makes very smart decisions with the puck ... tough and physical ... good sense of all zones ... doesn't often throw the puck away ... very accurate shot from the point ... lots of potential
Johns, ranked 35 in CSS for the 2010 draft (even after not being ranked in the mid-term rankings) also served as one of the four alternate captains for the World Under-18 Gold Medal Champion's team which was coached in the USNDL Under 18 team by former Devils' AHL coach Kurt Kleinendorst.
Kleinendorst had this to say about Johns in the NHL.com scouting report:
"Stephen is probably the best athlete in the group. He has size, good skills and is making better decisions on the ice."
That is very high praise coming from a coach who had potential first round pick Jack Campbell, Derek Forbort, Jarrod Tinordi, Justin Faulk. and Jonathon Merril. He is also scheduled to attend the 2010 USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp to try and play in the 2010-2011 World Junior Championships in Buffalo.
Based on just his accomplishments and potential from his 2008-2009 season playing with the U-17 team in November of 2009 Johns signed a letter of intent (2 year commitment) to play ice hockey at the University of Notre Dame. He will be joining former teammates Jarrod Tinordi and Bryan Rust of the Gold Medal U-18 World Championship Team. Jeff Jackson, coach of the Irish had this to say about Johns:
"Stephen is a big, rugged defenseman with excellent size and reach. From a defensive perspective he's extremely aggressive and will add a physical presence to our defense. He has the ability to jump into the play and be effective offensively. He's got unlimited potential as far as what he can bring to the table for us as he progresses in his career. He's got a good shot with good hands. His grit and physical style of play will be a big factor for us."
Big is a word that I have seen used to describe Johns numerous times. A scouting director you might be familiar with, agreed with the assessment:
But David Conte, the highly respected scouting director of the New Jersey Devils, pointed out recently that it's not the nuances of defenseman Stephen Johns' game that earned him attention going into the NHL entry draft, which will be held in Los Angeles Friday and Saturday.
"You don't have to be a great hockey scout," Conte said, "to see that the guy's as big as a house, and getting bigger."
Further, Conte had this to say about Johns' lack of playing time at certain points during the U-18 tournament. (When coach Kleinendorst went to a 5 man defensive rotation Johns unfortunately was not left with much ice time.)
"He had a very limited role, but how he responded to that limited role was very complementary to his character," Conte said. "He was supportive of his teammates, did what he could do when he played. He was part of the solution, not part of the problem."
So we have high praise for Johns from both David Conte and Kurt Kleinendorst. Kleinendorst should be able to provide a candid review for the team that formerly employed him to advise whether or not he is a good fit for the Devils. This recent article has a few quotes from Kleinendorst but I wanted to highlight the following quote (to give it context it was asked if Johns would be better off moving to forward):
"He does so many things well on the offensive side, but he's a defenseman," Kleinendorst said. "But at that (NHL) level, you're going to have to become comfortable in your end. Once he gets that, I think he can be a very good NHL player.
Additionally, it seems he has a very good attitude about his opportunity in the NHL:
"If I get drafted as the last pick in the draft I will be the happiest kid in the world," Johns said. "It doesn't really matter to me where I'm drafted. And if I don't get picked, I'll just have to push myself a little bit harder."
He does have limitations though as Penguins director of amateur scouting Jay Heinbuck points out:
"He's got some interesting tools because he's a big player who skates well and passes the puck fairly well," said Jay Heinbuck, their director of amateur scouting. "He's rambunctious, likes to hit.
"Sometimes, that pulls him away from where he needs to be, but he's an attractive commodity because he's big and gets around the ice well and has an abrasive edge to him.
"I don't see him being an offensive defenseman, but, if all goes well and he learns the defensive nuances, I think he can be an intimidating player."
So he won't be an offensive defensemen. So what? You know what I want? A player who can get someone away from the front of the net on the penalty kill. I would be more concerned if the thought (expressed in the article noted above) was that he would be better off at forward, which would then probably make him a 3rd or 4th line guy which is not what the 38th pick in the draft should be.
This NHL.com article on Johns mentions his displays of strength to scouts at the scouting combine:
Johns' stock took a few more steps forward at the scouting combine in Toronto in late May when he displayed his outstanding work ethic to scouts. Johns proved to be one of the off-ice stars after finishing No. 1 in leg power, No. 3 in bench press and No. 3 in upper body strength, further proving his standing as one of the draft's most impressive physical specimens
So what do we know? Johns is big, potentially huge and a strong physical presence. Johns likes to hit, looks to hit and can handle the puck. He has a positive attitude, puts the team's best interest in front of his interest and likes being a defensively focused defenseman. We also know that he won't be dazzling the fans and leading a 3 on 2 break or going coast to coast through the offensive zone. That's the tradeoff for taking this type of player. (We also know that he is a die-hard Penguins fan. I won't think about that)
Here is a final reason why I want the Devils to select Johns. The Devils' playoff loss versus the Flyers showed how effective a good forecheck can be against the Devils defense and how they were easily taken off the puck. One thing that I think is fairly obvious from the quotes above: Nobody is moving Johns off the puck.
I will leave you with this quote from Johns himself:
"I want to play a lot like Brooks Orpik," he said. "I want to be just like him."
I would like for the Devils to find out if he can be.
So Devils fans, Will Johns even be available at #38 or will he be snatched up in the first round on Friday night? Do you think we already have enough defensive prospects? Do you hate the idea of a defensive minded defensemen?