Since then, the Devils have essentially drafted no impact talents. Before freaking out, let's preface with this: some draftees of the last few years were flipped for guys like Ilya Kovalchuk and Marek Zidlicky. So, give props to GM Lou Lamoriello for turning marginal talent (at best) into a Top-5 player and the puck-moving defenseman Devils fans craved for the longest time.
However, in terms of drafting players that become core pieces of the franchise, it simply hasn't been there over the last decade. As much as everyone loves Adam Henrique, he's only showed flashes of being consistently solid. Let's not forget he's a third-round pick, so he's certainly not a sure thing to be a top-flight player.
For all the Jacob Josefsons and Mattias Tedenbys, there have been just as many misses in the middle and later rounds as well. However, if they connect on three rookies who are on the team currently, they may have the start of a young, homegrown core. They were all on display last night in the form of Eric Gelinas, Reid Boucher and Jon Merrill.
Gelinas jumped into the play many times last night, hammering a shot wide off the end boards that was slammed home for a goal. Then, he put the game away in the third when things got a little bit closer, finishing the game with a two-point night and the game's No. 1 star. I've said it since the summer, Gelinas is built like a mini-Zdeno Chara. If he blossoms into the player fans think he can be, he will be close to a mirror image of the bruising blueliner from Boston. He may never get to the physical play that Scott Stevens exhibited, but he is the perfect style of No. 1 defenseman in today's NHL; size, solid speed and a rip of a shot. He has the chance to be special.
Boucher got his first NHL goal off the miss from Gelinas. So far, he has been everything fans hoped Josefson and Tedenby would be: speed, enough physical presence, great hands and vision. He has a long way to go, but in terms of raw talent and how it translates to the NHL, it looks like he will stick. He'll crash the crease but can also dangle through the slot. In terms of impact, there's hope and reason to believe he could have the learning curve of a Zach Parise.
As for Merrill, he looked a little out of place to start. He got a concussion on his first NHL shift, missed a fair amount of time and only recently got back to the ice. From the eye test, one could tell he certainly didn't look as ready as Gelinas did when he played his first few games. In the beginning, Merrill looked stiff and never displayed his skating ability. For me, that all changed last night. He looked poised, confident and smooth. He's not a physical guy right now, but that's OK if he can contribute in other areas. He might need a little more time to mature, but last night showed he can stick in this league.
In a year of transition, these three have shown there is hope to believe that a youth movement is on the way. For all the Devils misses in the draft over the last 10 years, these guys could cover up a lot of holes in the farm system and help Devils fans forget about mistakes made in years past.