Stacked with 12 shootout loses and inconsistent play throughout the year, the New Jersey Devils missed the playoffs for the third time in four years. Once more, scoring was the culprit as the Devils failed to finish off their opponents when they had to in regulation.
One takeaway that general manager Lou Lamoriello was pleased by, was the growth of his young defensive prospects that seem ready to take on more responsibility for next season.
New Jersey received some good news in back in March as the NHL returned their first round pick that was taken away as a penalty due to the Ilya Kovalchuk cap-circumventing contract. The Devils will be locked into the final pick in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft, unable to trade, move up or down from the 30th overall pick.
Top 10 Prospects:
1. Jon Merrill, D
2. Damon Severson, D
3. Eric Gelinas, D
4. Reid Boucher, LW
5. Keith Kinkaid, G
6. Alexander Urbom, D
7. Scott Wedgewood, G
8. Stefan Matteau, C
9. Steve Santini, D
10. Seth Helgeson, D
The dearth of top-tier scoring remains an Achilles heel for the organization. New Jersey was one of the worst offenses yet again partly because of a lack of creativity and finish. This was compounded by their complete failure in the shootout.
Questions and answers about the subject of offense vary, but the need for more goals may put Reid Boucher in a top six role next season. Meanwhile, Jaromir Jagr and Patrick Elias will still be counted on to produce as the sun sets on their careers. Adam Henrique bounced back well following a sophomore slump, but the team will need many of their underperformers to produce next season.
While the attention remains up front, it could not hurt if the team added another defenseman. Starting this fall, every defensive prospect in the system will be playing at the pro level except for Steve Santini, who will be playing in the NCAA. Veterans remain a mainstay within the organization, but it was easy to see that the young defensemen outplayed them on many occasions. Jon Merrill and Eric Gelinas were among the young defensemen who injected life into the blue line unit with their active play.
Cory Schneider will get the lion's share of starts as he settles in as a full-time starter for the first time in his career. With Martin Brodeur likely gone this summer, the Devils will need a backup goaltender to give Schneider some rest. There is a chance they may already have the candidate in their system.
The blue line remains the best unit in the Devils system and improved a fair amount over the 2013-14 season. To name a few, Merrill and Gelinas took on big roles with the NHL club while Seth Helgeson and Reece Scarlett were impressive in their first seasons in Albany. The talented Damon Severson is poised to contend for an NHL job next year following the conclusion to his junior career. Santini remains a few years away but had a promising freshman campaign in the NCAA.
In the goaltending department, Keith Kinkaid had a breakout season with Albany. His confidence and steady play for much of the year may give him the opportunity to serve as Schneider's back-up in 2014-15 and beyond. Whether that happens or not, expect Scott Wedgewood to gain more starts after a strong second half from him. Something seemed to click for Wedgewood in the late winter as he outplayed his partner in the AHL until Kinkaid retook his starting job. Anthony Brodeur will look to build upon his rookie season in the QMJHL.
The obvious area of concern is up front where the Devils lack potential top six talent. Other than Boucher and the still unknown Miles Wood, most of the forwards are either defensively oriented or better suited for supporting roles. The right wing is in dire need of fresh bodies. With the pending graduation of Mike Sislo, there are no right wingers in development. When you consider the current NHL roster filled with veterans at that position, this could become an issue sooner than later.
With the return of their first round pick, the Devils will enter Philadelphia with the 30th, 41st, 71st, 131st, 152nd, and 161st selections. New Jersey acquired the Florida Panthers' sixth-round pick along with Scott Timmins on September 28th, 2013 in exchange or Krys Barch and St Louis' seventh-round pick on 2015. Their fourth-round pick was included in the trade with Winnipeg to reacquire Alexei Ponikarovsky. Their seventh-round pick will also go to the Arizona Coyotes as the result of the Steve Sullivan trade.
Adding depth to the forward corps has been management's focus of late. Of the organization's 18 picks since 2011, 12 of them have been used to select a forward. However, most of these forwards, such as Stefan Motteau or Graham Black, are unlikely to provide the type of goal production the team needs.
Lately, New Jersey has sought the USHL for potential talent. In 2011, the Devils took a USHL player in the second, third, and fourth round. However, the majority of these players have come from the United States National Development Team, with Blake Coleman coming from the Indiana Ice. As of now, each one of them is an impact player at their respective level in the farm system.
Hockey's Future Staff Mock Draft Results:
With a need for more talent up front, Brayden Point would instantly become one of New Jersey's best scoring forwards. There will be a good chance he is available because his size may scare teams away in the first round. Listed at 5'9", 160 pounds, Point has proven he is not intimidated going against bigger players. He led Moose Jaw in 2013-14 with 91 points and in every other offensive category. He makes up for his small stature with his natural skill. He is a spark-plug with a strong work ethic and a motor that does not stop. Point's ability to play in all three zones makes him ideal for the Devils' style. He makes smart passes and has good vision to find teammates. He is more of a playmaker but has an impressive scoring touch.