Given that the New Jersey Devils advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup Final this season, it seemed like a slam-dunk that they would forfeit their first round draft pick this year. However GM Lou Lamoriello threw everyone a curve-ball and decided to keep the pick, which is the second to last (29th overall) in the first round. He obviously has the confidence that his team can again contend for the Stanley Cup in the coming years because now the Devils will have to decide whether to give up their first round pick in either 2013 or 2014.
Top 10 prospects:
Just like last year, the most important priority for the Devils and GM Lou Lamoriello this off-season is to lock-up free agent star left-winger and team captain Zach Parise to a long-term deal. The only difference this time around is that Parise is an unrestricted free agent, which obviously makes his return to New Jersey no sure thing. There's no doubt Lamoriello will do everything in his power to keep him in the fold, but off-ice financial issues could ultimately determine whether or not a deal will get done.
Regardless if Parise re-signs or not, the Devils will have some holes to fill on the wings next season given that Petr Sykora, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Steve Bernier, and Ryan Carter are all unrestricted free agents. The emergence of Bernier, Carter, and Stephen Gionta as a fourth line the playoffs gave head coach Pete DeBoer the luxury of being able to roll four lines on a consistent basis, so don't be surprised to see Lamoriello make a big push to keep those three in the fold. Mattias Tedenby was a disappointment this season, but the team still has high hopes for the former 2008 first round draft choice. His development will become all the more important should Parise depart as a free agent.
The addition of Marek Zidlicky from the Minnesota Wild at the trade deadline gave the Devils an offensive, puck-moving defenseman that the team so desperately needed, but they still need more offense from their blue line. Adam Larsson showed glimpses of his potential this season and should contribute more next year, but he's only 19 and still a work in progress. The emergence of Mark Fayne this season was a pleasant surprise, but he, along with the rest of the Devils defense core is quite unspectacular. There is definitely help coming, but not all of that help is quite ready yet. Bryce Salvador is a pending UFA, and though he did have a great season, he is 36-years of age and the team might want to go in another direction and potentially give a guy like Alexander Urbom a chance to play next year.
Goaltender Martin Brodeur has hinted that he'd like to come back for at least one more year, but both he and back-up Johan Hedberg are reaching the twilight of their careers and are both unrestricted free agents this summer. This position could be in a state of flux, but don't be shocked if there is a Brodeur and Hedberg tandem manning the pipes in New Jersey for at least one more season.
Led by Merrill, the Devils organization is flush with talent on the blueline. It is a deep group of defenseman that all have varying sets of skills and strengths. Eric Gelinas and Reece Scarlett can bring the offense, Urbom and Brandon Burlon provide steady two-way play and Seth Helgeson loves to play physical and get his nose dirty. Don't be surprised to see some of these names in New Jersey in the not-to-distant future.
Once a major organizational weakness, goaltending can now be considered a position of strength. The Devils drafted Scott Wedgewood and Maxime Clermont in 2010 and signed Keith Kinkaid last summer as an undrafted free agent to give Jeff Frazee, once the only goaltending prospect in the organization, some competition for the right to be the heir apparent to Brodeur. Wedgewood has the best potential of the group, but he'll just be starting his pro career this summer so he might not be ready for a few years.
The center and right-wing position currently feature a grand total of four prospects in the organization so needless to say, both of these areas need to start being addressed right away. The graduation of many forward prospects to the NHL over the course of the past year very much contributed to this decline in organizational depth at those two positions.
What the team needs to start doing is stocking up on potential top-six wingers for the long-term. Reid Boucher is really the only winger currently in the system with legit goal-scoring potential, but he is a boom or bust prospect at this stage in his development. The team looks to be in good shape at center at the NHL level for the next little while, but it's never too early to start grooming more depth there too.
The strategy never really deviates for New Jersey at the draft table, and that is selecting the best player available. The Devils picked fourth overall last summer, which may have put a little more emphasis on need. However this year, they are back in their familiar position in the later third of the first round. Head scout David Conte and his cadre of scouts have been able to find diamonds in the rough before and will be tasked with finding some more gems this year.
After using nine of their last 18 draft picks over the course the past three NHL drafts on defenseman, the Devils built up what was once a dilapidated and thin blue line into what is now the strength of the system. The organization identified a weakness, and addressed it. With that in mind, it's time for the Devils to add to a dilapidated group upfront by drafting some centers and wingers. That's not to say the team shouldn't draft a defenseman or goaltender if they are the best player available, but if the team has two players at different positions ranked closely, expect them to side with the forward.
The Devils have only selected four European-born players over the past three drafts and three of those four have been from Sweden. The Devils have landed Larsson, Urbom, and Jacob Josefson with those selections, so if the Devils are going to go European on draft day, it will likely be a Swede.
It's not a Devils draft without the team selecting at least one American born player. Of late, the team has shown a tendency for selecting players out of the USHL, more specifically, the US Under 18 National Development Team Program. Three of the Devils six choices last year came out of the USHL. The Devils don't hesitate to draft players from the CHL and haven't really shown a tendency to favor one league or another lately.
The Devils have seven choices in the 2012 NHL draft. They own the 29th, 60th, 90th, 96th (a 4th round pick acquired from the Maple Leafs when they traded David Steckel), 135th (a 5th round pick acquired from the Flames for Pierre Luc Letourneau-Leblond), 150th, and 180th picks. They are without their 7th round pick as it was dealt to the Ducks in minor transaction earlier in the season.
Hockey's Future Staff Mock Draft Results:
Bozon is arguably one of the best pure-goal scorers available in the draft this year. His high-end speed, puck skills and lethal finishing ability are too hard to pass up. His 36 goals for the Kamloops Blazers led all WHL rookies. Bozon is also responsible defensively, pressures hard on the forecheck and plays with a little bit of an edge to his game. He's going to have to put on some muscle in order to succeed at the next level, but you simply can't teach the goal scoring skill he has.