What do Nick Lappin and Yohann Auvitu have in common? There are plenty of answers. They're men. They're both hockey players. They were signed by the Devils in the last few months. They have never been in my kitchen. Most relevant to today's post, they were never drafted. They are the latest undrafted free agent signings by the New Jersey Devils. Should they make it to the NHL level, even for just a game, they would add their names to a decently long list of undrafted Devils players. While the focus for this site has largely been on profiling prospects for the upcoming 2016 NHL Draft, scouts and personnel do look for talent playing elsewhere that could help their organization. Lappin and Auvitu are the latest ones. Let's look at those who preceded them within the organization.
Undrafted players have not been uncommon in the New Jersey Devils organization, whether it is signing someone with the hope they can play a role at the NHL level or to be more an asset with their minor league affiliated teams. NHL.com's all-time stat page lists the basic biographical information for any player who has appeared in one NHL game, including their draft year and round of selection. 339 skaters and 34 goalies have suited up for the Devils franchise for at least one game. Among them, 52 skaters (about 15% of all Devils skaters) and eight goalies (about 23% of all Devils goalies) were not selected in a NHL Draft. Again, they've been around more than you think albeit in varying levels of effectiveness.
There is a distinction I want to make though. Not all of these undrafted players were necessarily found by New Jersey. Or at least, they didn't start their path to the professional level with the Devils franchise. While I can't unearth every single undrafted free agent signing, I believe I figured out who among the undrafted players that did make at least one NHL appearance got their start in New Jersey. I did it by reviewing each of the sixty players and identifying who they started with. If a player started with another minor league affiliate or NHL team (e.g. Bobby Farnham), then they were separated. It may not be the most perfect method, but it was something to stay consistent with. By that measure, 24 of the 52 skaters and six of the eight goalies originally started with the Devils. Let's look at who those were first:
The Undrafted Devils That Started with the Devils
The "All Stars": Doug Brown-John Madden-David Clarkson, Andy Greene-Brian Rafalski, Alain Chevrier
Yes, I know Brown and Clarkson were both right wingers. I may have flopped on the defensive positions. However, these six were the most prolific undrafted Devils that started with the Devils. I'm sure when you saw the headline, you immediately thought of three of them: Madden, Rafalski, and Greene. Madden was a standout shutdown center and penalty killer throughout the 2000s. He's made more appearances among all undrafted Devils (714) and he's got the most goals (140, only one with more than 100). He's a cult hero of sorts among the fans; you'd see his #11 around the The Rock for Devils games. Rafalski, who was also an undrafted free agent out of Finland, is the franchise leader in points among undrafted players. He was a fantastic complement to Scott Stevens in the early part of the 2000s and he was a productive blueliner before signing with Detroit in the middle of the decade. Few begrudge him for that decision and he provided the Devils a lot of great moments. Greene has become the leader of the Devils' current blueline. He's went from starting as a spare, #6/#7 defenseman to leading a defensive unit that went to the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals and trying his best on a team that has weakened over the past few years. While Adam Larsson may be overtaking him as the team's best defenseman, Greene will remain on the top pairing for at least a little while longer. With good health, he'll overtake Madden's games played lead among undrafted Devils.
The others were also notable in their time. David Clarkson is a definite standout if only for being a contemporary player. Clarkson was signed out of Kitchener to New Jersey, played in the minors for the better part of two seasons, and then staked his claim to a bottom six right winger spot for four seasons. Clarkson was all about racking up PIMs, chipping in goals, and working hard even when his balance failed him. His career has tailed off since leaving New Jersey, but Clarkson (426 GP, 97 goals, 170 points) was undoubtedly a successful signing right out of juniors. Doug Brown is fifth among the undrafted Devils for games played. Brown plied his time for the Devils in the mid to late 1980s after four successful years at Boston College. The winger was more known for his two-way play and could chip in a decent amount of offense. Brown would go on to have a fairly successful career with 874 games played; 350 were with the Devils. Lastly, Alain Chevrier is the goaltender for this undrafted-started-with-the-Devils-organization "all star" team. Chevrier made 140 appearances for the Devils in the 1985-86 (37 games), 1986-87 (58 games), and 1987-88 (45 games). As you can see by his stats, they were very much set in the 1980s where the league average save percentage was around 88%. He was not particularly great, but he would have stops in Winnipeg, Chicago, and Pittsburgh before hanging it up in 1991. He also got dealt at the 1988 draft for Steve Rooney (he didn't do much with the Devils) and a third round pick that became Brad Bombardir.
Those are the six most prolific and arguably most successful undrafted findings by the Devils. Here is a list of the remaining 19 skaters and five goalies, organized by games played:
Skaters: Jan Ludvig, Stephen Gionta, Rod Pelley, Greg Adams, Sergey Kalinin, Anssi Salmela, Mike Sislo, Pascal Rheaume, Brad Mills, Alexander Brooks, Larry Floyd, Dave Marcinyshyn, Mitch Wilson, Jukka Porvari, Tim Lenardo, Vojtech Mozik, Joe Whitney, Harri Pesonen, Raman Hrabarenka
Goalies: Keith Kinkaid, Hannu Kamppuri, Lindsey Middlebrook, Karl Friesen, Samuel St. Laurent
Yes, Keith Kinkaid is far and away better than the other four undrafted goalies if only for playing in more than fifteen games. Say what you want about Kinkaid, but the other goalies here just never panned out. It did not take long for the Devils to realize they would not be ready for this level.
From Brooks onward on that list of skaters, those players have played fewer than twenty games in the NHL. It's a group of players who just had a cup of coffee with the league before heading back to the minors and/or some other organization. It is possible for Mozik and Hrabarenka to get into more games, though. Ahead of Brooks is a group of mostly depth players. Sergey Kalinin nearly playing all of last season in New Jersey puts him ahead of most on this list, which speaks to the notion that an undrafted free agent signing may lead to the NHL team to give you a look - they signed them for a reason - but it is difficult to stay there.
There is one big exception on the skaters. Someone who definitely wasn't a bottom six forward or a third pairing defenseman: Greg Adams. The big winger out of Northern Arizona University (seriously), was signed by the Devils in 1984 and showed that his offensive skills would translate to the NHL. He spent half of his first year between New Jersey and Maine (then New Jersey's affiliate in the AHL) and spent the next two just racking up points for the Devils. In total, he put up 67 goals and 78 assists in 186 games. Alas, he would not have a fourth year with the Devils. He was traded to Vancouver along with Kirk McLean in a package for Patrik Sundstrom. Adams would go on to have a fine career with Vancouver, Dallas, and Phoenix before ending his NHL career in Florida in 2001. So unless you fondly remember the mid-1980s Devils, then you may not have recognized Adams. While the Devils did not reap as much of a benefit - Adams did have his most productive season at the Meadowlands - he was definitely more of a success than the rest of the players on that "the rest" list of skaters.
The Undrafted Devils That Didn't Start with the Devils
These are the players that were never drafted and didn't start their careers with the Devils, but ended up on the team at some point in their careers.
The Best: Rick Meagher - Peter Stastny - Steve Thomas, Peter Harrold - Dave Pichette, Glenn "Chico" Resch
This "all star" team may not be as good as the undrafted players that started with the Devils. True, Peter Stastny is the only Hall of Famer on the list. Stastny started with Quebec and scored boatloads of points before coming to the Devils and putting up 0.8 points per game in 217 games with New Jersey. He was very good as his career was declining - he was 33 when the Devils traded Craig Wolanin and future considerations (Randy Velischek!) for him. Alas, he just missed the leap the Devils took in 1993-94 to being legitimate Cup Contenders. Steve Thomas was a very productive winger with 935 points in 1,235 games. He was traded for Claude Lemieux straight up at the start of the 1995-96 season. While the Devils would not reach the promised land with "Stumpy;" His 55 goals and 119 points in 195 games weren't too shabby. And Chico was one of the few reasons to pay attention to the bad old beginning days of the New Jersey Devils. Resch has become so recognizable with the Devils between his playing days in the Meadowlands and his long broadcasting career as a color commentator, it's easy to forget he was a part of those dynasty years with the Islanders. Among all undrafted goalies, regardless of where they started, Chico was the best as he played the most games, he made an All Star game (1984 with New Jersey), and tried to do what he can to make the team competitive when they moved from Colorado to New Jersey.
The rest of these six best, well, they were not so good. I struggled between Rick Meagher and Ryan Carter as the third forward. Carter was a good fourth liner but a fourth liner all the same. Meagher was a little bit more than that and he produced at a much better rate: 88 points in 180 games compared to Carter's 33 in 171 games. The defense is just the best of what I could do. Peter Harrold played in more games for the Devils among undrafted defensemen not named Rafalski or Greene with 110. Harrold was strictly a depth defenseman; I thought he was decent at it, though. (Another season for David Schelmko in New Jersey would put him ahead.) Pichette is more impressive in that he put up 76 points in 104 games. Among all skaters, his 0.73 points per game rate was bested only by Adams and Stastny. That being said, that impressive point total was boosted by having only one real productive season in 1984-85. That he came to New Jersey by way of the waiver draft suggests he wasn't that good. I'll let you decide whether Murray Brumwell was better than either or both. While this group has Stastny, Thomas, and Resch; the other group all played more than just limited roles - particularly on defense.
So who was left remaining? Again, by games played:
Skaters: Murray Brumwell, Dave Barr, Tim Sestito, Damien Brunner, David Schlemko, Sheldon Brookbank, Carol Vadnais, Bobby Farnham, Matt Taormina (he was an ATO with Binghamton first), Steve Richmond, Glenn Merkosky, Brian O'Neill, Sasha Lakovic, Bobby Butler, Darren Langdon, Cory Murphy, Christopher Cichocki, George McPhee, Paul Thompson, Matt Anderson, Bryan Muir
Goalie: Yann Danis
As with the undrafted players that were found by the Devils, this is a veritable list of "Who's...that again?" Some are contemporaries (Oh, Tim Sestito, how did you get into 100 NHL games?); others are more curiosities (George McPhee and Dave Barr actually played hockey for the Devils. Sasha Lakovic also "played" for the Devils). David Schlemko is easily one of the best, if not the best, player on this list. As Mike argued over a month ago, he should be re-signed. If he does, he shoots up to the upper echelon of undrafted defensemen for the Devils immediately. It's easily arguable now given that he's a current player and the competition is not exactly strong. That being said, this group of the rest is, well, the rest of the undrafted players that did not initially start with the Devils organization.
After this look back into history, I have a bit more of an appreciation for the process of seeking out and signing undrafted players. Similar to drafting players in general, if a team is lucky and the player truly can develop or has exceptional talent right away, then the team has added a very good player. More often than not, though, they're not going to become or be those sorts of players. They may supplement the back end of the depth chart. That's not a criticism. A team needs capable players throughout their lineup to be successful. But the odds are still against even an undrafted player that has more than proven themselves at one level to become a regular player for at least a season. It may not seem all that impressive, but rather than it being a failing on the Devils' end, I think it may be more of the nature of just going this route. Not everyone is good enough to jump into the NHL and even last for a season or multiple seasons. It is the best league in the world, after all. Therefore, I even see the Kalinins and Harrolds among the undrafted as successes even if they are not or do not become notable players. For the likes of Nick Lappin, Yohann Auvitu, and whoever else Ray Shero signs outside of the NHL Draft, that should be seen as the first goal. Better that than hopping Lappin is some kind of producer to rely on or that Auvitu is France's answer to Rafalski.
What do you make of the team's undrafted players? What have you learned; or rather, who have you learned about through this post? Do you think the Devils should adjust how they approach undrafted players in terms of who and where they look for them? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about undrafted players for the Devils in the comments. Thank you for reading. And thanks to NHL.com and Hockey-Reference for having details on all of the players mentioned.