Here is a look at New Jersey’s organizational needs and possible draft targets:
There is a glaring need for the Devils to select a franchise defenceman, or at the very least a bonafide number one, and that’s not likely going to happen without using a very high draft pick to get one. Well…this year the Devils have the highest…they hold the first overall pick thanks to the luck of the draw at the lottery, and they have an opportunity to select a defenceman that more than one NHL scout has agreed reminds them of Scott Niedermayer. That defenceman is Miro Heiskanen.
Back in the Devils’ heyday when they were winning Stanley Cups, the club was a contender many seasons without a true offensive number-one center. The past three seasons the club has used its top pick on centermen, selecting John Quenneville, Pavel Zacha and Michael McLeod all in the first round, with McLeod and Zacha being top 12 picks. McLeod enjoyed a tremendous second half to his season and was arguably the top player in the OHL when one includes the playoffs, where he carried Mississauga to the OHL finals while putting up great stats.
Recrutes projects McLeod to be a capable number-one center some day that will contribute at both ends of the ice while being one of the fastest centermen in the league. He is a lot closer to being a top-line center than any blueliner in the organization is to developing into a number-one defenceman. When you also throw Zacha and Quenneville into the mix and consider that Henrique is in his prime…the Devils are really not hurting at center for the future…in fact they look pretty set, especially when you also add in Blake Speers, who made the Devils out of training camp as a 19-year-old.
Heiskanen is one of the best defence prospects since the 2008 draft that produced Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson and Alex Pietrangelo, and while Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick have been getting all of the press as the presumed cream of the crop, Heiskanen quietly entered the top-two discussion with a lot of NHL scouts after his superlative performance at the U-18s.
“I really started to wonder if he might not be the best player in the draft after seeing him in the U-18’s.” noted one senior scout in May. “He was a superstar in that tournament. He makes it look so easy. He is going to play 25 minutes a night for 15 years…he plays such an efficient style. I could see New Jersey taking him first overall, or moving back a spot or two. He is such a great fit for them.”
The Devils aren’t going wrong with their selection. If, as nearly everyone predicts, they pass on Heiskanen and take Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick, they are getting a blue-chip center who more than likely becomes their number-one pivot some day while Zacha (who has already played on the wing) and perhaps even Quenneville move to the wing. A one-two punch at center of Hischier and McLeod, for instance, would cause matchup nightmares for any opposing club while also ensuring that the defensive end of the game will be taken care of as both play a sound 200-foot game.
If the Devils go with a center first overall, they will most assuredly be hoping to land a defenceman with the 36th pick. The issue with that is that there may not be many rearguards that hold that value on the board at 36, depending on whether Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Nic Hague and Henri Jokiharju are gone. A nice pick for the Devils at 36 given that he’ll likely still be available would be Josh Brook, one of the more underrated blueliners in this draft. He was Moose Jaw’s go-to defenceman in all situations, playing 25-30 minutes per game by the playoffs and impressing scouts with his poise, mobility and smarts even if he struggled somewht at the U-18’s.
Even if New Jersey grabs a center at number one there is still need in the organization for more help on the wing, and if all of the team’s top defencemen on the list are gone they may look at drafting a winger like Kailer Yamamoto at 36 if teams shy away from his size. Brian Gionta overcame being 5-7 to enjoy a productive career in New Jersey; perhaps it would also be an ideal landing spot for the talented American winger.
Kole Lind, Shane Bowers and Alex Formenton are other forwards that the Devils may ponder at 36th overall if on the board…Bowers capable of playing both center and on the wing. If a center is their clear number-one player on the board at 36, I don’t suspect the Devils will pass on one as it’s all about asset building, and certainly, Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Joni Ikonen would both be players to think about at 36.
The other option may be in goal, as New Jersey isn’t exactly teeming with surefire future NHL starting goalies in the farm system. Keith Petruzzelli and Michael DiPietro will be strongly considered at 36 if they haven’t been snatched up by other goalie-poor teams.
At 63rd overall the Devils will likely be looking at a player they had ranked somewhere in their 30’s or 40’s, and if he is the clear-cut pick they will select him regardless of position. The Devils also have another third-round selection, and it’s a possibility that if they didn’t take a goalie at 36 they look long and hard at netminders such as Stuart Skinner, Cayden Primeau, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, Matthew Villalta, Max Zhukov and Olle Eriksson Ek with one of their third-round selections. It’s always anyone’s guess when the run on goalies starts in earnest. but it always happens, and if it’s in the third round then the Devils stand a decent chance of landing one of the better ones.
By Saturday afternoon New Jersey is going to be well stocked for the future given that they have the first pick, five in the top 100 and ten in total. The club will be hoping to come away with at least four players who can help them down the road, and one, in particular, that will get them back into contender status in a powerful Metropolitan Division.