What If New Jersey Devils Did Not Win 2011 Draft Lottery

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The 2010-11 season for the New Jersey Devils was the stuff of nightmares. Star forward Zach Parise was injured early in the season and missed significant time. New head coach John Maclean was fired after an abysmal start and Jacques Lemaire was brought back for another go-around. The roster showed its age with Jason Arnott, Brian Rolston, Jamie Langenbrunner, and to an extent Martin Brodeur. However, on January 9th with a record of 11-29-2, the Devils beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 6-3. After that? They went on a magical run to finish the season 38-39-5 to finish with 81 points and finish as the 23rd team in the league after a dead last pace.

The magic continued. The Devils won the draft lottery and jumped up from the eighth pick in the draft to the fourth. The lottery was different back then. The ‘winner’ could only jump up a maximum of four spots, unlike the wildly unpredictable lottery system of the last few years. With the fourth pick, the Devils selected right-handed defenseman, Adam Larsson from Sweden. All Devils fans know what Larsson did with the team. Healthy scratched by Peter DeBoer, failed expectations, coming into his own, and then flipped for future MVP Taylor Hall. But what if the Devils never won the draft lottery and stayed at the eighth spot?

The most obvious route to take would be that the Devils would not have taken Adam Larsson, therefore no Taylor Hall. However, first things first, who would the Devils have taken? The first three would have stayed the same. The Oilers take Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the Avalanche take Gabriel Landeskog, and the Florida Panthers take Jonathan Huberdeau. The order from then on until the Devils would have been the New York Islanders, Ottawa Senators, Winnipeg Jets, and finally the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Islanders took Ryan Strome in the actual draft but a case could be made that they would take Larsson here. With John Tavares entering his third season and taking Brock Nelson in the first round in 2010, Strome may not be the pick. For fun, let’s say Larsson is taken by the Islanders. The Senators will stay with who they previously selected in Mika Zibanejad. The Jets stay with their pick in Mark Scheifele while the Flyers stay with their pick in Sean Couturier. So far, this is a very deep group of players. This brings us to the Devils pick.

Who do the Devils take? Well, the previous few years, the Devils took all forwards and they desperately needed a defenseman in the system to bring life to a barren wasteland. It is very well documented that the Devils drafting from the 2004-05 lockout to the 2014-15 season was atrocious. Lou Lamoriello and David Conte lost their touch to find hidden gems and it really reflected in the mid-2010s. But selecting eighth, their highest pick since Scott Niedermayer went third in 1991, a case could be made that they would select the right defenseman.

The options? With Larsson off the board, the highest-rated defensemen still on the board would have been Nathan Beaulieu, Jonas Brodin, and Dougie Hamilton. The difference between the three is that Hamilton was the only right-handed shot of the three of them. Could Lamoriello have gone off the board with this pick? Sure, but even the great Lamoriello would admit the team needed a right-handed defenseman. The best option the team had in the pipeline was first-round bust Matt Corrente who would be out of the organization soon enough. In this universe, the Devils get Dougie Hamilton a full decade before they actually got him.

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Now down the bigger rabbit hole we go. Larsson was pro-ready and made the team out of camp. Dougie Hamilton, however, needed another year in the OHL with the Niagara Ice Dogs and did not make his NHL debut until the 2012-13 lockout-shortened season. Without Hamilton contributing in the 2011-12 season, do the Devils make the Stanley Cup Final that year? Adam Larsson played 65 regular-season games and five playoff games. Without Larsson or Hamilton, do the Devils even make the playoffs? Probably, but the advancement in the playoffs is another story. Larsson scored a game-winning goal in game two against the Flyers in game two. Without Larsson, that game ends differently and maybe the Flyers take game two,  a 2-0 series lead, and the Devils may not advance.

So without Adam Larsson or Dougie Hamilton, does “Henrique, it’s over!” ever happen? An interesting thought that changes the complete history of the franchise and Adam Henrique’s tenure with the Devils.

Now for the main event. No Adam Larsson means no “one for one” trade with the Edmonton Oilers for Taylor Hall. If the Devils did not win the lottery in 2011, it is an incredibly real possibility that the Devils never have an MVP winner. Without Hall, the Devils’ roster is completely changed and it is entirely possible that the “lottery luck” Hall brought is not there. So it is in the realm of possibility that the Devils never win the lottery and that Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes never get drafted by the Devils. Now, the lottery luck is not scientifically proven, it is still fun to think about.

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For a more realistic look at the impact of the current roster, without Hall, the Devils do not make the trade with the Arizona Coyotes. Therefore, the Devils never have Nick Merkley, Kevin Bahl, Nate Schnarr, Dawson Mercer, or the trade that brought Jonas Siegenthaler to the team. The Devils traded Merkley to the Sharks for Christian Jaros. So without drafting Larsson, the current roster is without three even possibly four of its players. It also begs the question: does Hamilton stay with the Devils his entire career?

When the Devils signed Hamilton, it became his fourth professional team after the Boston Bruins, Calgary Flames, and Carolina Hurricanes. So the answer to the last question is, probably not. The entire complexion of the current roster and quite frankly the last decade of the New Jersey Devils is changed drastically without winning the 2011 draft lottery. From does “Henrique, it’s over”, to “The trade is one for one”, to even the drafting of Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes. It is always fun to ask, “what if?.