When the first day of the NHL Entry Draft is completed, the New Jersey Devils will have made 5 to 7 selections. As it stands right now, the Devils have 5 picks on the first day, but that figure could jump to 7 depending on compensation picks the Devils will inherit for losing Alexander Mogilny and Sean O’Donnell to free agency this past season. The Devils figure to get a 2nd or 3rd rounder for Mogilny and O’Donnell could net the Devils a 3rd or 4th. The Devils will have to wait until June 17th to find out just how high their compensation picks will officially be.
As a result of the trade deadline deal that saw the Devils obtain Joe Nieuwendyk and Jamie Langenbrunner from the Dallas Stars, the Devils will be without a 1st round draft pick for the first time in franchise history. The Devils will not make their first selection in the draft until the 43rd slot of the second round, a pick they acquired from the Stars. They also hold the #50th, #61st(from Atlanta), #79th(from Phoenix) and #80th picks on the first day of the draft, and as mentioned earlier, depending on compensation, could see a 1 or 2 more picks added to their arsenal on the first day.
For a team that to an extent, lives and dies by the draft, losing a 1st round pick would seem to be a bad thing. But this year it is not that big of a deal. This crop of draft eligible
players are said to one of the weakest in years. That is not to say that there aren’t quality players available, but the fact that this draft drops off after the first 15 to 20 players may be a reason as to why the Devils dealt their pick away. Teams will need to be looking for specific skills like skating or character, that stand out as the draft progresses. New Jersey may feel that they can get just as much talent in the second round as the #20 slot in the first round.
The Devils are one of the best when it comes to drafting and developing players, and considering how weak the draft is this year, this could be a year when Head Scout David Conte and the rest of his staff stand head and shoulders above the rest. The hidden gems that all teams look for may be harder to find with the diluted talent pool, however Conte and his staff specialize in finding that gem and that will be the difference between having a successful or unsuccessful draft.
Led by Ari Ahonen, the Devils do have a lot of top-notch talent in the system, but the prospect depth in the organization is not what it used to be. The Devils mortgaged much of that depth in trades to strengthen the club for Stanley Cup runs, and it paid off with a Stanley Cup win in 2000 and another Cup appearance in 2001. With that being said, the Devils will most likely be looking to upgrade their prospect depth by taking the best players available. The Devils do have needs for the present, but whomever the Devils pick in this years draft is unlikely to have an impact for at least 2 or 3 seasons, so the best player available theory seems to make sense for New Jersey this time around. Do remember though that the Devils always pull a few surprises on draft day and this year could be no different.
With the Devils not making their first selection until the 43rd pick in the second round, it is very difficult to project who they will use with that pick.
By dealing Jason Arnott away and with the possibility of Bobby Holik leaving via the free agent route, the Devils could be faced with losing a considerable amount of size up the middle, depending on if Holik stays or goes. Albany center Mike Rupp is the only player in the system now that is close to the NHL that offers that size/strength package, and he may not be ready yet, and his upside is quite limited.
Size is also a concern on the wing. Turner Stevenson and Jim McKenzie are the only real crash and bang wingers, and they are 4th liners. Current prospects Aaron Voros and Tuomas Philman may offer help down the road, but after those two, the size issue on the wing becomes evident. Let’s not forget though that a lack of scoring hurt the Devils this season as well. Adding skill players who can put the puck in the net never hurts.
The Devils always seem to draft well, and despite the lack of a 1st rounder and the overall weakness of the draft, they should be able to add a few quality bodies come draft day.