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Devils load up on frontline players on 2nd day of NHL draft

NEWARK, N.J. - The New Jersey Devils went after young, frontline players Saturday on the second day of the NHL draft.

All of their seven picks, including first-round selection Stefan Matteau, selected with the 29th pick overall in the first round held Friday night, are 19 years old or younger. Six of the seven are forwards.

The Devils took defenceman Damon Severson, a 17-year-old offensive-minded blue line performer, in the second round with the 60th pick overall. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Severson had seven goals and 30 assists for the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League last season.

"We had him in mind for the first round and we would have taken him higher in the round if we had a higher pick," Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said. "Our scouts are really excited about him. No question, his size was a focus for us. Without question, he has a lot of potential. He's shown he can score."

Severson, who has a reputation as a solid skater with a strong shot, was born in Brandon, Manitoba, the same hometown of Devils defenceman Bryce Salvador.

The Devils then took two wingers, Ben Johnson in the third round (90th overall) and Ben Thomson six picks later in the fourth round.

The 5-foot-11 and 180-pound Johnson played last year with the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League. The 18-year-old had 18 goals and 20 assists in 44 games with the Spitfires. He is also a cousin of Blake Pietila, drafted by the Devils last year. Johnson is a native of Hancock, Minn., the home of former Devils winger Randy McKay, who apparently gave a good recommendation to the Devils' scouting staff on behalf of Johnson.

Thomson, a 6-3 and 205-pound left wing, played last season for the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL. Thomson, a physical presence, scored 11 goals and had 30 assists in 67 games with Kitchener and also accumulated 137 penalty minutes, displaying a propensity for physical play.

New Jersey selected centres Graham Black and Alexander Kerfoot in the fifth round and Artur Gavrus in the sixth.

The 19-year-old Black scored 17 goals and had 33 assists for Swift Current of the Western Hockey League last season. The 17-year-old Kerfoot had 25 goals and 44 assists in just 51 games with Coquitlam of the British Columbia Hockey League last season.

Gavrus, an 18-year-old native of Belarus, had 15 goals and 22 assists in 41 games with Owen Sound of the OHL last season.

New Jersey didn't have a pick in the seventh round, using it in a trade with Anaheim last season for Kurtis Foster, who was then dealt for Marek Zidlicky in a midseason deal.

Lamoriello was extremely pleased with the way the draft turned out for his team. As the Stanley Cup finalist, their regular scheduled picks—excluding ones acquired in trades—were next to last in each round.

"We're happy with the way things turned out, despite where we were drafting," Lamoriello said. "We were surprised with some of the players who fell to us. We have some outstanding prospects already in our system, but we needed to put some forwards into the system, so that was a priority going in.

"It was a great opportunity for us with the players that were available. We felt we were able to get quantity and quality and that was a priority. We'll see where they shape up when we have them in (rookie) training camp (next month)."

While last year's top draft pick Adam Larsson spent the entire season with the Devils despite his young age, Lamoriello does not envision any of the draftees playing for the main club next season. They were all taken with being part of a developmental stage in mind.

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