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Throwback Thursday: Five Years Ago

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With the 2016 Draft behind us now, it has been just over five years since New Jersey won the draft lottery and selected 4th overall. Today we look back on the shape of the team then and just how much things have changed in five years.

New Jersey Devils v Edmonton Oilers
Three of the four remaining Devils from five seasons ago.
Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images

A lot can change in five years in regards to pretty much anything in life; while it may not seem like it when you look back, five years is a lot of time. For a hockey team and it’s fan base, sometimes five years can seem like an eternity; five years ago, the New Jersey Devils were entering the 2011-2012 season, which unbeknownst to all of us at that time, would be their last postseason appearance presently. There were some other differences back then, including our drafting strategy, which is where we will start today just to see how different our Devils of 2016-2017 will be from the Devils of 2011-12.

The Draft Video

The 2011 Draft is one for the ages in Devils’ history, as it is the only time New Jersey has won the Draft Lottery; sadly, the rules back then did not have the winner moving up to the 1st overall slot and rather the Devils jumped from 8th overall to 4th overall. Picking 4th would still be a good thing, as there was a highly-touted defenseman waiting for his selection:

So I think there are a number of fun things worth noting here before continuing along with how different the team presently is and before speaking of trading said defenseman that we chose. As the video starts, the first word that comes to mind when viewing the Devils’ previous “top” draft picks is yikes! While we can argue all day if Jacob Josefson will have an extensive NHL career or not, the rest of those picks in hindsight are downright awful. Mattias Tedenby, Nick Palmieri, Matt Corrente, and Vladimir Zharkov could form an excellent “Where Are They Now?” list, and serve as proof that David Conte should have probably been relieved of his duties well before making the Adam Larsson pick.

Going forward just a bit in the video to about 0:13 lets us see not only a very young Lars, but also the 5 players listed as the Devils top prospects as of 2011. Considering what Jon Merrill and Adam Henrique have each become makes it seem silly to have Rico at #4 and Merrill at #1. Oddly at #2 is career (so far) AHLer Brandon Burlon, who as a 2008 second round pick probably still seemed to have some potential at that point. Considering that Burlon hasn’t seen an NHL game in his career, it’s safe to say the career AHLer label is fitting. Coming in at #3 is Alexander Urbom who wound up getting some NHL experience, showed that he was a meh player at best, and is currently playing in the SHL. Rounding out the top 5 was Alexander Vasyunov who showed some promise in his career and asked to play in the KHL for the 2011-12 season to improve his skills. Sadly, Vasyunov was on the plane carrying the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team that crashed on September 7, 2011; he was among the 44 lost on the tragic day. RIP Vasyunov, a career and more importantly a life ended way too soon.

Before moving on to Larsson, also of note in the video at about 1:24, the screen shows Andy Greene as a free agent; imagine just how different the team would be if Greene had chosen to sign with another team. I think it’s Pierre McGuire in the video who states that Adam Larsson would be the “steal of the draft” at 4th overall. I’m not sure if the Sami Salo comparison should be seen as a compliment or an insult, so make of that what you will. As anyone who has been a fan of this team since at least 2011-12 knows, Larsson would make the Devils out of training camp and provided a solid force on the blue line until his injury towards the end of the regular season. He would be pulled in and out and all around under Peter DeBoer until he was relieved of his duties; Lars finally seemed to fully blossom under John Hynes this year.

Roster Reset

2011-12 could best be known as either “The Benedict Arnold Captaincy” Year, the “David Clarkson: 30 Goal Scorer” Year, or the “Henrique! It’s Over!” Year. Either way, thanks to some help from Hockey Reference, there were a LOT of players that saw ice for the Devils that year. I grabbed the data from Hockey Ref, and put it into this chart to eliminate some of the cutter and just show all of the names that cracked New Jersey’s line-up.

2011-12 New Jersey Devils Roster

37 different players in some capacity or other in 2011-12; if Patrik Elias does not return to New Jersey for 2016-17, there will only be 4 players (Greene, Henrique, Josefson and Travis Zajac) left that played on this team 5 years ago. That is an astonishing turn around in terms of personnel, and while it’s easy to understand some of those not being on the team anymore (such as Brodeur due to retirement), others (the two defectors) can still be a hard pill to swallow.

Looking at some of the names on that list, I think that it goes to show just how good of a job Ray Shero has done these past couple of years. Additionally, there are a couple of players on the main team now who were not even draft eligible five years ago that are now cracking the main roster such as Damon Severson and Reid Boucher; it’s just a shame that almost all of our first round picks from those five years and even the five prior were misses, as having more high end talent would have us in better shape than we are now.

Shaping 2016-17

If you had told me during this time last year that Adam Larsson wouldn’t be a Devil a mere five years after being chosen 4th overall, I would have assumed that you were absolutely out of your mind, but here we are at that reality. The Devils performed admirably in the 2011-12 season, but the wheels all fell off of the bus from that point on. With few players remaining from that roster, and new talent being brought in, perhaps it’s time for the Devils to shed their losing ways of the last four seasons. After the last couple of months it certainly seems that New Jersey will have more scoring depth, and of course the team has one of the most consistent goalies in the NHL in Cory Schneider. I’ve mentioned in previous articles that those of us who were around for the Stanley Cup Years were a bit spoiled as fans to see a team be so successful for so long; maybe it’s time to start spoiling a new generation.