With the draft lottery looming this coming Saturday, and with inspiration from John's article from yesterday, I decided to take the opposite approach that he took. The first two rounds of each draft class are seen as an important way for teams missing the playoffs to change their ways and for teams who make the playoffs to stock their pipeline so that they can continue to win, even though that may not be the case in both situations. First and second round picks don't always pan out as John's article yesterday showed, and as the past season and season before has shown us, free agents can share that fate.
Sometimes you have to go a bit deeper down the rabbit hole to find players that will help to make your team successful; in deep draft classes, third rounders can be the equivalent of second rounders in weaker classes. Some teams have a knack for finding players in very late rounds, and while the Devils aren't necessarily the best team in terms of finding those players, they aren't too shabby either. Without further ado, here are some of the gems that New Jersey has found in later rounds, whether they played for us for a while or not:
Sheldon Souray (1994) - Souray starts our list here and while he would wind up being a good NHLer, he didn't really start to play to his full potential until after he left New Jersey. A 758 game veteran, Souray has amassed an even 300 points, including a 64 point campaign for the Montreal Canadiens in 2006-07 and a 53 point one for the Edmonton Oilers in 2008-09. While his numbers speak for his offensive prowess, Souray wasn't a terrible defender either, and his longevity in the league speaks of this. He had wrist surgery back in January of 2014 and while he has not retired, he has also not played a game since then.
Brian Gionta (1998) - A good soldier for a long time, third round pick Brian Gionta to this day holds the Devils record for most goals in a single season with 48. Listed at 5'7" though possibly shorter, Gionta has used every bit of his skill to stake out a nice career for himself; as of the end of this season, he has played 845 games and recorded 520 points. He has also been the captain of both the Montreal Canadiens (only the second American-born player to do so) and now the Buffalo Sabres, showing that not only can you find talented players in later rounds of the draft, but you can find good leaders as well.
Mike Rupp (2000) - I was hesitant to add Rupp to this list, but 600+ games as a bottom six forward means you're doing something right. Oh, and there was also this moment which alone merits at least a brief mention on this list. He is currently an unrestricted free agent and sits one point shy of the century mark for his career.
Adam Henrique (2008) - The most current example on this list is one of the few forwards on our current squad that majority of the fan base feels positive about. Henrique joined the 2011-2012 New Jersey team due to a long-term injury to Travis Zajac; centering Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise in his place saw Henrique break out and earn rookie of the year considerations. The very same season he would also provide us with some memorable playoff moments, including one that will provide solace to many fans during the 2015 playoffs. A young veteran of 269 games with 153 points so far, Henrique looks to be a key building block for years to come, and could wind up being the best example on this list in terms of players that the Devils employ for an extended period of time.
Cam Janssen (2002) - Another name that I was iffy on placing here is The CamJam himself. Known primarily as a puncher of faces, Janssen has somehow managed to appear in 336 NHL games to date, posting a paltry 14 points but boasting a mighty 774 penalty minutes. His average of over 2 penalty minutes per game for his career might be his most impressive stat; that or at one point during the 2013-2014 season he had more goal than Claude Giroux: take your pick.
Matt Halischuk (2007) - Another player that didn't really make noise with the Devils, Halischuk's biggest claim to fame for New Jersey is probably being traded to the Nashville Predators to bring A-Line member Jason Arnott home. He has succeeded in a bottom six forward role for both Nashville and the Winnipeg Jets, managing to chip in points here and there while being fairly responsible defensively, at least from what I've seen of him. Late rounders seem to usually project as either "boom or bust" players, or guys who have some skill and hopefully won't be a liability on the ice; Halischuk definitely fits the latter and if that's all that's expected of him, then both his career and draft position should be considered a success.
Mark Fayne (2005) - One of my favorite Devils defensemen before his departure to join the Edmonton Oilers, Mark Fayne was a prime example of a late round pick that paid off. While his numbers are unimpressive, he has managed to play 316 games over 5 NHL seasons, including one shortened by a lockout and one where he spent time in Peter DeBoer's doghouse. He also was part of the Devils top defense pair during the 2012 Stanley Cup run with Andy Greene, and while Greene was certainly the better half, Fayne was no slouch of his own; the two constantly played against top competition and shut down other teams top scorers on a seemingly nightly basis. If there was any way to get Mark back as a second veteran presence along with Andy for next season (and it didn't require parting with any significant assets) I would do it in a heartbeat.
Deryk Engelland (2000) - The final name that I initially hesitated on adding to this list is Engelland, however he has carved out a respectable little career for himself. While defensemen are typically late-bloomers, Engelland was very late, not becoming an NHL regular until he was 29. By this time, he was part of the Pittsburgh Penguins organization; he would spend 243 games with them before moving on to join the Calgary Flames this season bringing veteran leadership to a young team.
None - trade all seventh round picks, we just strike out with them.
Rounds That Do Not Exist Anymore
No eighth rounders either - I would make the same (bad) joke I made above about seventh round picks, but the eighth round (thankfully?) no longer exists.
Steve Sullivan (1994 9th Round) - It's taken a little while, but Sullivan is one of if not the best example on this list. Drafted 233rd overall in his draft year, Sullivan had little time to make an impact during his initial stint as a Devil before he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs. His sixteen year career would see him play an impressive 1,011 games for the aforementioned clubs as well as the Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators, Pittsburgh Penguins and then-Phoenix Coyotes. He would score his last 2 NHL goals and record his last 3 NHL assists during the 2012-13 season in the same red and black Devils uniform where it all started. Steve's career would end with 290 goals and 457 assists for 747 points - not bad at all for a player who had 232 others selected before him in a draft!
For Purpose's Sake
I didn't include anyone on this who was drafted after 2010 as they still haven't had enough time to establish themselves. Some late round picks such as Seth Helgeson and Reid Boucher could one day join this list, but it is simply too early to tell.
Now this list encompasses the same time frame as John's article, yet there are a lot less names here; the fact is that (at least for the Devils) it is rarer to find late round players to make an impact at the NHL level for an extended period of time. Most of the names here made their NHL impact after leaving the Devils, so perhaps that says something about properly investing in and developing players. Maybe it just furthers indicts our drafting under Conte as being really, really bad.
The Devils have had a number of interesting picks in the later rounds in the past few seasons; perhaps when they have some time to develop, someone on this site will analyze them the same way that I've analyzed the above players today, though hopefully the words "while helping the Devils to win the Stanley Cup" will be in at least a few of those blurbs!
If you have any comments about the above players and/or the Devils drafting, please feel free to discuss them in the section below. Thank you as always for reading and don't forget the Draft Lottery is Saturday - Let's Go