The New Jersey Devils used their fifth round selection, the 129th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, on left winger Blake Pietila of the United States National Team Development Program. I was hoping Seth Ambroz, a projected second rounder, would fall to New Jersey here, but Columbus took him just one spot ahead of the Devils. Oh, well.
Clearly, the Devils like this year's class out of the USHL and they don't care much about size. This is their third prospect selected from that league and the third that stands less than 6 feet in height. Per his prospect page at NHL.com, Pietila stands at 5'11", 189 pounds, and hails from Milford, Michigan. Central Scouting Services ranked him 105th among North American skaters at the midterm and dropped him to 112nd in their final rankings, so it can be said that Pietila was drafted about where other scouts thought he would be. Per his page at Elite Prospects, Pietila wasn't a big scorer in the USHL or in the World Under-18 Championships; so I'm not expecting a whole lot of offense out of him. Possibly an energy forward?
As noted in the bottom of Elite Prospect's stat page on the player, Pietila will move on to Northern Michigan for college hockey as he committed two season ago. UPDATE: Oops, he changed his commitment to Michigan Tech, as he explained in this interview with McKeen's. So like Coleman and Boucher, he'll go the NCAA route. This is the Devils' trend in this draft so far: domestic prospects who may not be big, but have some kind of talent and will go play in college where said talent can develop at it's own pace. I can understand that logic.
What do you think of this selection by the Devils? Do you think they should have picked someone else? Have you heard or found anything interesting on Pietila? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on this pick in the comments. Thanks for reading. As I find more on Pietila, this post will be updated as time permits.
Opinions on Pietila
Over at Bruins 2011 Draft Watch, Kirk Luedeke had this to say about Pietila in February:
Blake Pietila, LW-- Another small, speed guy in this group of undersized skill forwards. Although only about 5-10, he's of stocky build and relishes physical contact. Not ultra-skilled in the hands department, he does move well and generate chances with his feet and head. Going to Northern Michigan University next season where he could join B's prospect and NTDP gradJustin Florek.
This falls in line with the notion that he's an energy player. A guy who's not out there to score, but to get physical. Before the World Under-18 Championships began, Luedeke went into more detail about what Pietila brought to the table to the United States squad.
Blake Pietila, F- Stats do not tell the story for this strong defensive forward who brings a very high compete level and outstanding overall feel for the game. A relentless forechecker who has a knack for anticipating the play and intercepting errant passes, or forcing bad decisions because he's got such excellent closing ability and agility. One of the most dependable players on this squad, even if he doesn't put up big numbers. Michigan Tech is getting a good one in Pietila.
After reading this, I'm more and more comfortable with this selection. No, he's not a prospect with offensive capabilities like Reid Boucher or even Blake Coleman. He's a bottom-six forward who's out there to get stops and do the little things a team needs to win games. Chris Peters at the United States of Hockey had a similar take prior to the tournament. Here's what Peters had to say about Pietila after the Americans won gold again in April:
Along with Bardreau and Larraza, Pietila made himself really hard to play against as part of Team USA’s shutdown unit. I’ve marveled at Pietila’s strength and work ethic before, and I saw a lot of that again in Germany.
This line might have been more defensive, but they certainly made an effort on the offensive side. I think they were at their best though when they were keeping teams honest with an aggressive forecheck, with Pietila leading the charge. He played physical, he played tough and he played smart.
When this line focused on the defensive side, they were really tough to beat. Pietila was constantly battling along the walls and did a fantastic job there. He also saw a ton of time on the PK and did well on his defensive zone draws when spelling Bardreau. I think Pietila is a lock for a mid-round draft pick and whoever picks him up will be happy once they get him.
Between what Luedeke and Peters have said, I'm growing to like this fifth round selection. While it doesn't appear he's got potential through the roof, that's not what Blake Pietila does. If he turns out to be a good checking forward at the college level, then he could turn out to be good depth years from now. Defensive forwards who work hard may not be all that enticing as someone who has high offensive potential; but good teams have a mixture of both in their system and their roster. Let's hope Pietila can take it to the next level.