It was about this time a year ago that the New Jersey Devils were preparing for the NHL entry draft with the number four overall pick, courtesy of a disastrous season that ended the teams 13-year consecutive playoff run.
Fast forward to today and the Devils are fresh off an unanticipated march to the Stanley Cup Final. They eventually felt short, losing to a very impressive Los Angeles Kings squad and for their efforts they will have the 29th pick in this years draft.
Many believed the Devils would forgo the pick as a result of the first Ilya Kovalchuk contract saga. Once again Devils GM Lou Lamoriello thumbed his nose at conventional wisdom and elected to hold onto to the late round pick.
It’s an interesting decision considering Lamoriello seemingly has more pressing issues to contend with, like keeping his franchise player and captain, Zach Parise.
If you followed the Devils and Lamoriello for any length of time you probably know enough not to second guess the architect of five conference winners and three Stanley Cup champs. He has a tried a true method to his madness.
Although this time I do believe he may have a hidden Ace up his sleeve.
Is Lou preparing for life after Parise with the pick or could he be gearing up for a blockbuster deal on draft day? Of course that’s all speculation but It’s still an interesting thought and we won’t have long to wit with the draft taking place in a few days.
But I digress, back to the task at hand. Who will the Devils draft should they keep the pick?
It has been a long standing tradition for the Devils to draft the best player available once they are on the clock. Last season that was Swedish defensive phenom Adam Larsson, who became New Jersey’s lowest pick since Scott Niedermayer was chosen third in the early 90′s.
Larsson joins a long list of defenseman taken by the Devil in recent drafts. As it turns out the Devils have used nine of their last 18 total picks on blueliners. However, I do expect a bit of a shift in philosophy during this years draft.
First year head coach Pete Deboer brought in a more up-tempo style of play to Newark. The aggressive forecheck and quick transition play makes the need for faster and more skilled players up front a focal point.
Hockeysfuture.com ranks New Jersey’s top 10 prospects as follows,
Top 10 prospects:
1. Jon Merrill, D
2. Scott Wedgewood, G
3. Alexander Urbom, D
4. Eric Gelinas, D
5. Brandon Burlon, D
6. Reid Boucher, LW
7. Keith Kinkaid, G
8. Reece Scarlett, D
9. Matt Taormina, D
10. Maxime Clermont, G
Notice only one man on that list is a forward.
The Devils are paper thin at the center and the right-wing position. They have a grand total of four prospects left in the organization. This must be addressed immediately for both the short and long-term success of the club.
The Devils can’t look too far ahead they need to bulk up on potential top-six forwards now. Now that Adam Henrique and Jacob Josefson appear to have taken permanent residence in the NHL, somebody else needs to be brought in to replace them.
I fully expect David Conte and his team to address the weakness at forward starting with the first pick.
New Jersey will have a total of seven choices in the 2012 NHL draft. They will select 29th, 60th, 90th, 96th ( Maple Leafs), 135th (Flames), 150th, and 180th picks. Of course these picks are subject to change depending of any transactions that may take place between now and then.
I find it increasingly difficult to predict who the Devils will chose in the first round. I have read several other writers along with reviewing several mock drafts and none of them seem to agree on who the team will take.
So whether it is indeed a forward or even a goalie, you can rest assured it will be the best player available. Because as much as the Devils have changed they are in fact still the Devils and they’ll always be the same. You can set your watch to that.
Email me at StevePalumboNHL@gmail.com