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Five Years Later, a Review of the 2011 New Jersey Devils Draft Class

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The NHL Draft is the easiest and most common way of obtaining young players in the organization. As it was five years ago, this post looks back at who the New Jersey Devils drafted in 2011. It was a good class, led by defenseman Adam Larsson.

Adam Larsson led the 2011 Draft Class for New Jersey - and met many expectations five years later.
Adam Larsson led the 2011 Draft Class for New Jersey - and met many expectations five years later.
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

There was no moving up in last night's drawings of the NHL Draft Lottery. The New Jersey Devils will be picking 11th in the first round and 11th in subsequent rounds.  They did win one in the past.  Five years ago, the Devils won the lottery after a dismal 2010-11 campaign.  At the time, winning the lottery meant an upgrade of four positions in the first round.  That effectively kept the first overall pick within the bottom five teams. The Devils finished eighth from last, so they moved up to fourth overall for the 2011 NHL Draft.  They picked defenseman Adam Larsson.

Here was my premature review of the draft selections made in that year. As it’s been five years, it now a more mature time to look back and give that year’s draft class a proper review.  Five years may not seem like a long time. For a prospect, it certainly is.  Within five years, the player will have performed the bulk of their development.  While a player’s development may not be over at that point, it is after college and junior hockey would end.  In five years, it’s possible the player would be in the pros if not in the NHL already. If the player is not going to turn professional in North America in five years, then it isn’t likely that they will make it in the NHL at all.  Never mind whether they would have met initial expectations.  So let’s take a look at how the 2011 class looks now.

Round 1 – 4th Overall – Defenseman Adam Larsson (Skelleftea - SEL)

At the Time: Many fans wanted Larsson. They got Larsson. They were very happy with this pick.

Five Years Later…: I’d say they were right to be.  While I argued then that Larsson should have stayed in Sweden for another year, he immediately jumped to the NHL and shown he can play at this level.  The following few seasons were not completely smooth as Larsson struggled to adjust to parts of the NHL game. He was prone to taking his time to make decisions, leading to getting hit a lot and ending up making some poor decisions. While his offensive game never really developed, Larsson has shown he can make excellent passes within and out of his end of the rink and his positioning has been solid.  The 2014-15 season was his "breakout" season, as it were.  Larsson was given more significant and difficult minutes alongside Andy Greene and has only justified his role since then.  He makes decisions much more quickly, he’s been doling out more physical play than ever before (sometimes to a fault), and he plays well off the puck. As for the numbers, let's look at the work of a non-Devils fan.  Woodguy55 was interested in finding out who are the better right-handed defensemen in the league as the Oilers need them; and Larsson was right up there among the best. Larsson has justifiably earned his first pairing status in New Jersey and this selection.

Shouldn’t It Have Been Someone Else?: For this question, I’m only going to look to the next five picks or so in that round so this section doesn’t become a repeat of "In retrospect, the Devils and 28 other teams should have picked Ondrej Palat (7th round, 208th overall)."

For this pick, I’m going to say no.  Sure, Mika Zibanejad, Mark Scheifele, and Sean Couturier were picked after Larsson. While the Devils lacked serious offensive prospects in their system at the time, I shudder to think what the defense would look like now if they didn’t pick Larsson here. If it was Jonas Brodin instead, then that would have turned out fine, but that may have been a reach at the time.  I think Larsson was the right choice, all things considered.

Round 3 – 75th overall – Center Blake Coleman (Indiana Ice – USHL)

At the Time: After the Devils picked the USHL Player of the Year in 2011, reactions were mixed. While he certainly was successful at his level, he was an older player as he was born in 1991 (this means he’s turning 25 this November) and still playing in juniors.  He wasn’t tall, but he wasn’t necessarily small either.  The word then was that he was a tenacious player on offense and needed defensive work.  He was a Miami University commit and his future would be largely guided by how that would go.

Five Years Later…: Coleman played all four years at Miami and put up 60 goals and 47 assists in 143 games. That’s not too shabby.  Chris Dilks wrote this post about him in November 2014 during his senior year with Miami. He highlighted his tendency to go hard on the forecheck, on a bodycheck, and after pucks in general.  Even then, Dilks also noted that his skill level was not particularly high and he should be projected to be an "in-your-face" player at the next level. He also thought the Devils should sign him. They did and he was assigned to Albany.  Unfortunately, Coleman only played fourteen games with the A-Devils.  Perhaps those went well given his four goals and three assists in them; it’s something to look forward to – next season. He suffered a left shoulder injury in late November that required surgery in mid-January. With an estimated four to six months of recovery; even with a long playoff run, it looks like Coleman will be back in action in 2016-17. Then he’ll show whether A) he’s got a future in pro hockey and B) anything at all with New Jersey.

Shouldn’t It Have Been Someone Else?: The five picks after Coleman haven’t exactly been slam dunks, but four out of the five have made it to the NHL.  They were forwards Logan Shaw, Daniel Catenacci, and Andy Andreoff and defenseman Klas Dahlbeck.   Among them, I’d say Andreoff and Dahlbeck would have been nicer picks.  In the middle of the third round, though, getting any NHL player should be seen as a victory.

Round 4 – 99th overall – Left wing Reid Boucher (USNTDP)

At the Time: Boucher was touted as a sniper, which was certainly garnered some praise for the pick. An offensively-challenged organization drafted someone with offensive potential.  In the fourth round, who couldn't dig it?

Five Years Later…: Boucher eventually garnered the most hype outside of Larsson in this draft class. His shot was touted as being excellent ahead of turning professional.  More importantly, Boucher set a record in Sarnia for goals scored in a season.  The previous holder of the record was Steven Stamkos, one of the premier goal scorers in the NHL today.  Granted, Boucher scored 62 in 68 in his 19-year old season, which put a bit of a damper on the hopes that he would be an offensive star for New Jersey.  Still, it was something to like.  After that season, Boucher went professional in 2013-14 and immediately put up a decent level of production with Albany in 56 games.  He also got 23 NHL games, where he wasn’t productive and seemingly struggled at all aspects of the game that didn’t involve shooting the puck.  He looked much slower than the other players.  The 2014-15 season was rougher for Boucher as he showed even less in 11 games in New Jersey and put up fewer points in 62 games in Albany.  That all said, this past season turned out to be Boucher’s best as a pro.  Boucher started the season in New Jersey, was sent back to Albany, and came back up after injuries mounted.  Since that second call up, Boucher stayed in New Jersey’s lineup.  He looked much faster, particularly without the puck, and he was able to make contributions beyond shooting the puck.  He still has plenty to improve, but he at least looked like he belonged in 39 games, where he put up eight goals and eleven assists.  In Albany, Boucher was a key part of their offense with nineteen goals and thirteen assists in 34 games.  It will depend in part on what the Devils do in free agency this year, but Boucher has a good shot as any of being a full time NHL player next season.  That’s pretty good for a fourth round pick.

Shouldn’t It Have Been Someone Else?: Johnny Gaudreau was picked four picks after Boucher.  Yes, that Johnny Gaudreau.  Hindsight is cruel.  Other than him, no one has really stood out in the vicinity of Boucher’s selection.

Round 5 – 129th overall – Left wing Blake Pietila (USNTDP)

At the Time: Two words: Defensive forward. Pietila's game was praised for his defensive efforts, agility, and his forechecking.  I, for one, liked the pick in the fifth round.

Five Years Later…: Pietila committed to Michigan Tech, where he played for four years.  He remained on USA Hockey’s radar and was a part of their 2011 World Junior Championship team. Then, the word on him was that he would be a defensive or energy winger. That projection turned out to be right as that was how he was used in Albany.  Like Coleman, he finished college in 2014-15 and turned pro for this season.  While ten goals and seven assists in 58 games does not seem impressive, the number of injuries combined with the state of the New Jersey squad led to a seven game call up last season.  There, Pietila showed that he was unafraid of getting in other player’s faces and throwing some hits while not taking himself entirely out position.  Pietila picked up a goal and an assist before returning to Albany ahead of the end of the season. I would agree that the previous expectations of what kind of player he could be were right.  Even as just a fourth liner and deep in the depth chart, I think the 23-year old will get a long look at this Fall’s camp.  I'd say he has an outside shot of getting in, which I think is rather good for a fifth rounder.

Shouldn’t It Have Been Someone Else?: Based on who was selected shortly after Pietila, no.  This fifth round will be mostly known for Andrew Shaw, who was selected far after Pietila.  No disrespect intended to defensemen Nikita Nesterov and Frankie Corrado.

Round 6 – 159th overall – Defenseman Reece Scarlett (Swift Current – WHL)

At the Time: Scarlett had a bad draft eligible year on a bad Swift Current team. Hence, he fell hard in the draft.  While strength and decision making on defense (e.g. pinches, hesitant at times, etc.) seemed to be an issue, his handling of the puck, skating, and passing were seen as positives.  Maybe the Devils would find value in this project and pick up a bargain

Five Years Later…: Swift Current would get better and Scarlett would be better for it.  After posting up back-to-back 49-point seasons with the Broncos, Scarlett made the jump to the pros for the 2012-13 season.  Scarlett's production has improved bit by bit (20 points to 25 to 26 for this season) as well as, unfortunately, his penalty minutes (18 to 27 to 64).  Scarlett is currently in his third season with the A-Devs and has solidified his spot on a crowded blueline.  While I admittedly ranked him way too low in last year's Top 25 Under 25, I still think he's too deep on the depth chart.  New Jersey called up four defensemen and none of them were Scarlett.  He's 23 so it's not as if he's completely done.  Short of some serious clearing out in Albany or a rash of injuries to the Devils defense, Scarlett may be in a similar spot next season.  Getting a professional hockey player out of the sixth round isn't so bad, but his NHL dreams will have to wait - or possibly be in a less crowded organization.

Shouldn’t It Have Been Someone Else?: Right after him was defenseman Josh Manson, who has played 99 NHL regular season games.  That would have been pleasant for the depth chart.  But it is what it is in the sixth round.

Round 7 – 189th overall – Defenseman Patrick Daly (Benilde-St. Margaret’s High – Minnesota High School)

At the Time: Daly was not ranked on CSS, but it seemed like a decent enough pick for a seventh rounder. Skating was seen as a plus, he was a finalist for Mr. Hockey - the award given out for the most outstanding Minnesota high school player, and he was going to a solid college program in Wisconsin.  Seemed respectable to me.

Five Years Later…: Out of hockey.  In fact, Daly appeared in only eleven games with Wisconsin in his freshman year; he was scratched in the other 26 games.  After that 2011-12 season, he left the program.  Here’s a short post at Bucky’s 5th Quarter from 2012 where he revealed he wanted to focus on academics than hockey.  That’s certainly a respectable decision. It’s easy to demand a player to keep playing and so forth, but we don’t have to live with the decision.  He wanted to leave, so be it.

Shouldn’t It Have Been Someone Else?: It’s not a surprise that seventh rounders do not often make it to the NHL.  However, this class had quite a few.  Goaltender Garrett Sparks was picked right after Daly and right winger Brody Sutter went two picks after him.  One of the more notable non-Palat names in this round came six picks after Daly: defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka.

Overall Class Review

While this class will forever be known as the Adam Larsson class for New Jersey, I’m left feeling pretty good about this one five years after it happened.  Only Daly failed to turn into a professional hockey player out of all six selections.  Larsson turned out to be a top-pairing caliber defenseman, which was a big win at fourth overall.  Boucher actually rose up to be a NHL player after some less-than-confidence-inducing call-ups.  That's two right there and there's an outside shot at a third depending on Pietila.  Even though he's older, Coleman is a wildcard as his shoulder injury and subsequent surgery kept him off the ice for most of his first pro season.  Who knows, maybe even Scarlett will get a shot in time. All together, there's reason to look at five out of the six players selected and still think, "I'm fine with this."  It helps that there weren't too many big misses; yes, nearly everyone missed on Palat and Gaudreau was picked after Boucher.  But there were reasons why both went so late in the draft.

It is absolutely relevant to now as these selections now make up parts of the farm team, if not parts for the NHL team for the future. This is a part of the team's "young depth."  With this class, they already found an essential player; imagine the Devils' defense without Larsson.  And, assuming I'm right about him establishing himself, finding a player like Boucher may mean Ray Shero does not have to go out in free agency and sign a player that would do what he does but for maybe more money and at a more advanced age.  Right there, those are positives in this class. While the goal of a draft really isn't to build up the AHL affiliate, but it is better to have players there that can contribute and possibly enough to warrant a shot at the NHL.  Pietila did it, Coleman in theory could do it, and if there's enough space on the blueline, Scarlett may get a go at it.   In retrospect, the 2011 NHL Draft went well for New Jersey.  If the Devils can have a few more like it - or better - in the near future, then the Devils can have a bright future.  Maybe even this year at picking eleventh overall.

Now that you've read my review, I want to know what you think.  What do you think of the Devils' draft class of 2011 five years later? Are you pleased with how the selected players turned out?  How many NHL players do you think they'll end up out of the group of six they took? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this draft in the comments. Thank you for reading.