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New Jersey Devils Underwhelm in 2014 NHL Draft

The New Jersey Devils have a dearth of offensive forwards in their system and they didn't really address it with their six picks in the 2014 NHL Draft. While they picked some players with legitimate NHL aspirations, who they passed up makes this draft class seem underwhelming.

Among the various draft pick picture poses, there's a shot in front of a brick wall. Most decided to look intimidating. Connor Chatham awkwardly smiles.
Among the various draft pick picture poses, there's a shot in front of a brick wall. Most decided to look intimidating. Connor Chatham awkwardly smiles.
Jeff Zelevansky

Past drafts have a way of affecting a team for years to come.  The New Jersey Devils are an old team with many players well on the wrong side of 30 playing important roles on the team.   This is due in part with the result of having so many drafts in the 2000s not result in too many NHL players.    It's a short list of players who ended up playing over 100 games between the 2002 and 2008 drafts:  Cam Janssen, Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, Niclas Bergfors, Mark Fraser, Mark Fayne, Adam Henrique, Matt Halischuk, and Mattias Tedenby.  Only Parise, Zajac, Fayne, and Henrique have played important roles on the Devils.   Drafting prospects is always a risk, but that's a rather small return.   It hasn't been a real problem until recently as these older players are really hitting it.   So while we won't know the results of the 2014 NHL Draft for some time, it's important that Devils Director of Scouting David Conte and his staff of scouts make the right decisions.

Now that the 2014 NHL Draft has concluded, the most appropriate term I can describe the Devils' draft class is "underwhelming."  The team had needs in the system - and on the actual roster - for forwards, particularly offensive ones.  While the Devils did draft a number of forwards, it's questionable whether they really met this need.   While some of the picks were pretty decent ones, it appears the team could have selected someone else who would have fit this need better.

Consider their first round pick.  They drafted John Quenneville of the Brandon Wheat Kings. He was projected to go around this part of the draft.  He did well in Brandon and has shown that he could become a solid two-way forward.  That's OK on it's own.  However, a superior offensive talent in Ivan Barbashev was on his way of slipping out of the first round and he was available.  He was a big scorer for Moncton and already made his U-20 debut for Russia.  His selection would have been great for the Devils.  Instead, they went in another direction.  Barbashev didn't have to wait long day two; he was the third pick in the second round.  In short, Quenneville was an acceptable pick, but not the best they could have done.

In the second round, the Devils decided to go with a defenseman, Josh Jacobs of the Indiana Ice. The Devils have plenty of defensemen in the system.  However, that may not be the case in the future when Jacobs is done with college. The Michigan State commit was touted for his smooth skating, his passing, his shot, and using his body to make plays.  A defenseman who can throw hits, move the puck, and shoot it well is always an asset.  Yet, the Devils could have went in several other directions.  Given their lack of forward talent, they could have had their choice of Vladimir Kamenev, Vaclav Karabacek, and Nicolas Aube-Kubel among others.  A really smart choice would have been Brayden Point, the big scorer out of Moose Jaw.  As with Quenneville, Jacobs has a good future and we could see him in New Jersey some day.  As with Quenneville, Jacobs may not have been the best one to take given the current situation and who else was available.

Brayden Point was available again at 71st overall, a big slide for someone who had a NHLe over 25 points last season.   I will admit that I have gotten hyped for Point and would have stayed hyped had New Jersey selected him. A top scorer, a Canada U-18 player, and someone who has legitimately improved their production as they developed. It would have been a great pick.   The Devils decided to go with Connor Chatham in the third round. Chatham is a big winger for Plymouth.  He projects to be an energy player.  It may be likely he gets to the NHL as a bottom-six forward.  Normally, that's not a bad thing for a third rounder as most of the prime talent was taken earlier. Over Brayden Point, that's not a good pick.   The Devils eschewed a perfectly sensible fit; an exciting forward with offensive upside.   Point went later in the third round.

In the depth of the draft, the Devils went a bit more for size.  In the fifth round, they picked Ryan Rehill of Kamloops.He's a big, defense-first defenseman who picked up loads of penalty minutes last season in the WHL.  As I think more teams will want defenders who can be more than one-dimensional, I don't have a lot of confidence in Rehill.  Especially if he continues to be known for bringing the beef instead of the stops on defense.  The Devils did take a good chance on Joey Dudek of Kimball Union Academy with their first sixth round pick, originally held by Florida.   The prep school standout is a Boston College commit, who has shown offensive flashes.  It'll be a while before he turns out, but that's a chance worth taking with a late pick.   The Devils followed that with their own sixth round pick with a very lackluster decision. They decided to take 19-year old winger Brandon Baddock of the Edmonton Oil Kings. He has a point per game less than 0.24 and he's known more for being a bruiser.  At least he stayed out of.  Generally, one should look for someone who's been dominant when selecting an overage prospect. They could have taken Edgars Kulda, also an overaged junior on the Oil Kings except he was productive.  They could have taken another project like Dudek.  Instead, they chose a physical player with not much upside in the future.

Now, I will admit that the scouts and professionals who follow prospects know more about them than I ever will.  Yet, can anyone really trust Conte and his staff given years past?   It's entirely possible that Quenneville, Jacobs, and Chatham could be in the NHL one day.  Given that the Devils' have struggled at getting NHL players, then that alone would make this class a success.  However, if they do make it, then it won't likely in the higher positions in the roster.  I'm not saying that Barbashev or Point (who they passed on thrice) would absolutely do so, but their potential makes it more a possibility than those the Devils have taken in this year's draft.   I actually do like Quenneville and Jacobs on their own, but they weren't the best selections given who was available at 30th and 41st overall, respectively.

New Jersey needed skill, yet Conte and his staff didn't exactly get that with their first two picks and went more for grit beyond the the first two rounds.  Their need will remain by next year's draft.  I can't shake this feeling that the Devils could have done better in 2014.    Again, this was an underwhelming performance and I fear it'll undercut the Devils in the future as previous drafts last decade are undercutting the Devils now.

Usually, it takes about five years to really judge a draft class.  Players need to develop and plenty, good and bad, can happen that can affect a player's development. So I understand this is a premature reaction.  It's still my reaction after what happened this weekend in Philadelphia.  Now it's your team.  What do you think of this year's draft class right now? Do you agree with the picks the Devils made?   Do you think Conte and his staff could have done better?  Who would you have wanted to have seen instead?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this year's draft in the comments.  Thank you for reading.  Free agency begins on Tuesday.