What We Learned: The most intriguing team in 2011 NHL Draft

Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

The 2011 NHL Entry Draft starts on Friday and one team that should be more intriguing than most is the New Jersey Devils.

They're picking fourth overall, having won the draft lottery in the worst year they've suffered through since 1991. And that should be a rather scary prospect for the Eastern Conference in general, and the Atlantic Division specifically.

They started out the season abysmally, winning just nine of their first 31 games. That second-half surge was unsustainable, but at least more indicative of the way the team is capable of playing on a night-in-night-out basis. In short, they probably should have made the playoffs — and would have with ease — had circumstances been somewhat more equitable.

But instead the Devils fell short of the playoffs, and were rewarded with the fourth overall pick in a draft where a couple kids near the top are interchangeable.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is the near-consensus No. 1, but after him come a small group of three or four kids that will likely become high-quality NHL players, and the Devils get one, more or less for the cost of one lost season.

It's reminiscent, at least a little bit, of the plight of the Philadelphia Flyers a few years back.

(Coming Up: Tomas Kaberle to stay in Boston?; get ready for another Ryan Getzlaf/Bobby Ryan insult-fest; Tomas Vokoun's options' Chris Osgood might be out of Detroit; Scotty Bowman remains in Chicago; Tomas Plekanec can't win; Trevor Gillies is feisty; Ilya Bryzgalov nears contract; Wallin heads to Sweden; Crosby cleared; Sean Bergenheim tests the waters; and the Canucks' goaltending questions.)

They were breaking 100 points regularly, winning the division occasionally, but generally being a very good hockey team for much of the first half of the Aughts. Went to a couple Conference Finals, all that. But in 2006-07, just about everyone got hurt and missed significant time. It was like if the pre-Christmas Devils had stuck around all season.

Those Flyers, with Simon Gagne and Peter Forsberg and Joni Pitkanen and Jeff Carter and Mike Richards on the roster, used 49 (forty-nine!) players throughout the season, won just 22 games and picked James van Riemsdyk second overall after Patrick Kane, the obvious No. 1 for Chicago.

The next year? They racked up 95 points and earned a trip to the Conference Finals, and have been a major player in the Eastern Conference ever since. That dominance, produced from years of good drafting and — let's face it — lucking into both Jeff Carter and Mike Richards in the first round in 2003, ensured that van Riemsdyk could be brought up slowly.

The patience paid off, as he finally had his breakout year in 2011 (having learned to use his size to his advantage) and scored seven goals in 11 playoff games.

And what's to say the Devils should be any different? Sure, they haven't had the greatest luck with drafting in the last few years. But then they haven't picked this high since that 1991 debacle, when they took some guy named Scott Niedermayer.

It's hard to get top-quality players when you're picking in the 22-30 range every year. But the last three guys they've taken in the top-20 are Jacob Josefson (occasionally impressive as a 19-year-old rookie this season), Travis Zajac and Zach Parise. Not a bad group there.

Not that a better season will put them in the class of the Flyers (especially a Bryzgalov-backed Flyers) or Penguins, but the Devs almost mathematically can't be as bad as they were last season. They are certainly better than the Rangers and, obviously, Islanders.

They've got a good core for at least another few years and therefore can bring up whomever they draft with due caution. Their new rookie will not be relied upon to sell tickets (because nothing worked in that department even when they were winning the division every year anyway) and they won't need to fast-track him because they've got good players at every position and no especially immediate needs.

Then, in three or four years when the new guy's got a couple pro seasons under his belt, the Devils will have an excellent young player they'll be able to count on for another decade at least.

And no one will remember that time they only had 81 points in a whole season.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: An old L.A. entertainment biz standby - If people like something, to drive it into the ground until they hate it. The Star Wars prequels, the Godfather Part Three, and now Ryan Getzlaf/Bobby Ryan Good Natured Insultfest 2. This version took eight whole hours to shoot.

Atlantapeg Thrasherjets: Hey Craig Ramsay, you like your job right? Well now you have to interview for it. Look, I get the True North idea that they should gut a failing organization before importing it to hockey-mad Canada where everyone loves this team so much already etc. etc. etc. But Ramsay is a hell of a coach that got this team far closer to the playoffs than it had any right to be. The fact that he might not get to keep his job is pretty damn insulting.

Boston Bruins: "Tomas Kaberle said he'd like to remain in Boston." He might also want to start saying things like "substantial pay cut." The only Bruin that probably won't be back is Michael Ryder, if you want to know my opinion.

Buffalo Sabres: If you have some money you'd like to like to throw down the toilet, the Sabres are getting 25-to-1 odds they win the Stanley Cup next year. Bruins at 8-to-1? Might wanna take a run at that.

Calgary Flames: Clint Malarchuk signed as the Flames' goalie coach because he wanted to have a new "No. 1 worst thing he ever was a part of" in the sport.

Carolina Hurricanes: The 'Canes won't get Joni Pitkanen, Jussi Jokinen or Chad LaRose back from free agency. And they still haven't heard a word out of Erik Cole. So now it's on Eric Staal and little Jeff Skinner to score literally every one of their goals next year.

Chicago Blackhawks:The Blackhawks gave Scotty Bowman an extension, likely because of the gravity his years of experience lends to saying, "You're doin' a great job, Stan," when he sticks his head into his son's office that contractually-obligated twice a week.

Colorado Avalanche: Tomas Vokoun might go to the Avalanche in the offseason. Why? He considers them, "a team that might have a chance to challenge for the Stanley Cup." So if you were ever wondering how much attention NHL players pay to the rest of the league, the answer is none. None attention.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Guess the player: " If the right offer is made - a fourth-round draft pick, a middling prospect or an aged veteran - [he] will be sent packing." Did you guess Nikita Filatov? Because that's who it is. GMs everywhere should be fishing in their couch cushions for a fourth-round pick right now, because why not? Columbus doesn't have the best legacy of developing young players, y'know?

Dallas Stars: Did you think the Stars picked Glen Gulutzan as coach just because he would likely have come dirt cheap? Hahaha, of course not! A lot of teams are hiring AHL coaches, and not just to save money. You also have ultra-successful clubs like… Minnesota and ummm… Columbu.. okay so it was about the money.

Detroit Red Wings: The Red Wings might not bring Chris Osgood back. How quickly they turn on one of the league's greatest players of all time.

Edmonton Oilers: The Oil is hard at work, trying to move the 19th pick — obtained in that Dustin Penner trade everyone on earth has forgotten about — and a roster player to get into the top-10 so they can take a defenseman. Hey, Tambo, try picking up two of those if ya can. How many more forwards do you need?

Florida Panthers: More on Vokoun: He's probably not coming back to Florida. Best for all parties involved, one supposes.

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings made a "major" offer to Drew Doughty. Unless it was two blank spaces to fill in the amount of money he wants and how many years he wants to be on the team, Lombardi messed it up.

Minnesota Wild: The Wild announced Mike Yeo as their new coach and Penguins fans everywhere cackled with glee.

Montreal Canadiens: Tomas Plekanec has to wonder what he's gotta do to win anything these days. Despite posting 57 points this year and becoming one of the East's best defensive forwards, he just lost out on the award for Best Czech Player to Jaromir Jagr, who's 39 and plays in a terrible league for NHL washouts. Jagr, for his part, had 10 fewer points than Roman Cervenka.

Nashville Predators: Arbitration for Shea Weber. He's probably asking for the moon, since that's what he deserves. Nashville likely wants far cheaper than that, since approaching a reasonable team cap number seems to not be in their game plan. See if he'll settle for something like a large-ish asteroid.

New Jersey Devils: It's official — The Devs filed for arbitration with Zach Parise as they try to work on a long-term deal. Good luck.

New York Islanders: "Isles re-sign feisty Gillies." Feisty is one way to put it. "Intentionally thuggish" and "a legitimate danger whenever he's on the ice because he will try to kill you" and "therefore perfect for this low-rent organization" are others.

New York Rangers: Chad Kolarik is back! It's all coming together now.

Ottawa Senators: Bryan Murray has six of the first 66 picks in the draft this year, and wants to pull at least four "real good players" from those. Y'know what, looking at his draft record with Anaheim and Ottawa, he might just do it.

Philadelphia Flyers: Ilya Bryzgalov is a) on Twitter and b) talking like he's going to sign in the near future. Good news all around, unless you're Jeff Carter.

Phoenix Coyotes: The Coyotes were named the top franchise in Arizona, which speaks really poorly for the Diamondbacks, Cardinals and Suns. Like, realllllllly realllllllllllllly poorly.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Sidney Crosby has been cleared for off-ice workouts. He'll be back on the ice in July or August, maybe.

San Jose Sharks: Niclas Wallin signed in Sweden and will never be heard from on this side of the ocean again.

St. Louis Blues: John Davidson thinks the Blues are ready to turn a corner. From bad to mediocre, one suspects.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Sean Bergenheim is looking like he's gonna test free agency, and why not? He scored 14 goals in the regular season, then nine in the playoffs. If someone's going to give him way too much money based on two months of hockey, and not the previous four seasons of NHL mediocrity (he's never topped more than 30 points), why wouldn't he try to cash in on that?

Toronto Maple Leafs: What's Brian Burke going to do in the next two weeks? I bet it has to do with writing "Brad Richards" on a whiteboard and circling it 24 hours a day, seven days a week, until July 1.

Vancouver Canucks: "Canucks goalie battle brewing." Hahahaha what a great start to summer.

Washington Capitals: The Bruins winning the Stanley Cup shows why the Caps can do it too. Fun fact: if you put Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth together, they're only seven years older than Tim Thomas, but are short a couple Vezinas.

Gold Star Award

Big ups to the guy who puts on the Bruins mascot uniform and gutted out the 90-degree temperatures and direct sunlight during that two-hour parade. A real trooper. Good in the room.

Minus of the Weekend

"It rankles when US teams take Canada's Cup." Hmm interesting. American teams have won the last 17, and 19 of the last 20. So, y'know, get used to it.

Seriously, Canada, cut it out with this nationalistic "IT'S OUR GAME" crap. It's supremely annoying and not remotely true now that it's no longer 1950.

Play of the Weekend

We won't have one of these for a good long while, unfortunately.

Perfect HFBoards trade proposal of the week

User "Chester 88" is proposing a sexy three-way deal.

To Rangers
9th overall
4th round pick (CGY)

To Flames
Wojtek Wolski
Nathan McIver

To Bruins
15th overall
Evgeny Grachev


Charmed. A googily. Moogily.

Ryan Lambert publishes hockey awesomeness rather infrequently over at The Two-Line Pass. Check it out, why don't you? Or you can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter if you so desire.

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