New Jersey Devils
2017-18 Regular Season Record: 44-29-9
No. of 2018 Draft Picks: 6
Draft Selections: Nos. 17, 110, 136 (from CGY via ARZ), 141, 172, 203
We began our 2018 NHL draft coverage on Sunday with a review of the Devils current roster and free agents. Today we review recent drafts, the strength of the players “in the system,” and New Jersey’s needs at the draft in Dallas later this month.
From 2013-2017, the Devils have selected 35 players, including four goalies, 10 defensemen, and 21 forwards. Of those 35 players, only seven have played at least one game in the NHL and only four (which includes Miles Wood) are considered regular NHL players. Although this may not be considered unusual for teams that focus on college-bound players, until the 2017 draft, most of the selected players had played Canadian hockey in their draft year.
Last year, for the first time ever, New Jersey made most of their selections from Europe, including their first number one overall in franchise history, Nico Hischier. Hischier had an excellent rookie season on the NHL roster, as did 2016 sixth-round selection Jesper Bratt. That has not been the case though for 2015 first- round selection, Pavel Zacha, who has played in 140 regular season games, but has yet to live up to his top-six potential. John Quenneville, the 2014 first round selection, has yet to have any success at the NHL level, and may turn out to lack the defensive play to make him an effective NHL regular. There are also questions about 2016 first-round pick Michael McLeod’s development over the last two years. It was hoped that he was ready for pro play during the 2017-18 season, but was returned to junior last fall. He put up very good numbers with Mississauga of the OHL, but he did not dominate in his role. He should get a look on the wing next season, which may take of the pressure off him and offer McLeod the best chances of success.
In general, the system is strongest between the pipes. Thirty-two year-old Cory Schneider has four full years left on his contract. He and 28-year-old backup netminder Keith Kinkaid are a great team. Behind them are Mackenzie Blackwood and Ken Appleby, and newly drafted Gilles Senn. Appleby appeared in a New Jersey uniform for three games this past season and was very impressive in his brief outing. It would not be surprising if the Devils management felt comfortable enough with Appleby as backup to consider trading Kinkaid before or during the 2018-19 season.
The system is not as strong on defense. Josh Jacobs and Reilly Walsh have the potential to be second pairing blueliners, with free agent signee Colby Sissons not far behind. But the other young defensemen in the system are longshots to make the NHL and there is no potential number one defenseman currently in the system. Given the state of the team’s defense at the NHL level, defense should be something the Devils are looking for in this draft.
On offense, there are some very talented prospects in the system. The recently signed RW Joey Anderson will likely start his professional career in Binghamton, although he will get a look in New Jersey. Center Jesper Boqvist, who shined last season in rookie camp and then in the SHL, will likely remain in Europe this season before coming across the pond to start the 2019-20 season in North America. But more high-end offensively talented forward prospects are needed to strengthen the system.
With only one early round selection in the coming draft—the seventeenth pick overall—the Devils need to get a sure thing. Although hard to do in the middle of the first round, there should be several players available that fit the bill. Either a forward or a defenseman will work for New Jersey. Given the team’s recent propensity for picking Europeans, don’t be surprised to hear names like Denisenko, Kaut, Kupari, or Bokk when the 17th pick comes up.