Heading into any draft, hockey fans interested in their teams' futures will pore over rankings and profiles to try to figure out who their team should take once they are on the clock on draft day. Once the draft rankings are finalized, teams and fans alike start to try to hone in on who will be available once they come up in the draft order. Devils fans who follow the draft closely have likely figured out who they expect to be available and who they want New Jersey to pick at 6th overall on Friday night.
Sometimes, though, a curveball arrives on draft day in the form of a trade, and the pick you've been obsessing over for months is rendered moot, replaced by new pick(s) or player(s). This isn't always a bad thing, mind you, as Devils fans saw just a couple years ago when the team traded their 9th overall pick for a franchise goaltender in the form of Cory Schneider. Sure, a lot of wondering about who to take with that pick turned out to be for naught, but the Devils were able to fill a considerable organizational need in a matter of moments. With the Devils in the top 10 of the draft again, could we see some wheeling and dealing tonight in Sunrise?
The Devils were a bad team during the 2014-15 season, but they weren’t quite bad enough end up one of the five worst teams in the NHL in the final standings. This was a bit of an unfortunate outcome for New Jersey, as the general consensus as we approach the draft seems to be that there is a drop off in talent between the #5 and #6 spots in this year’s draft. Beyond the obvious one-two punch of Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel at the top of this year’s draft, the tier of players expected to go between third and fifth – Dylan Strome, Noah Hanifin, and Mitch Marner – were dominant in their own right. This isn’t necessarily a unanimous sentiment, but generally speaking, most feel the sheer skill along with the prolific production of this group have placed them a cut above the next group of prospects.
Once the draft lottery passed and the Devils we’re locked into that 6th spot, the only way the Devils would be likely to snag one of the players from those upper tiers would be to jump back into the top-5 via some sort of trade. If the Devils were to make a move into the top five, it would almost certainly be up to the third pick at a maximum, as the Oilers and Sabres are extremely unlikely to be willing to part with their picks. The Devils could trade everyone in their organization under age 25, the 6th pick, the Prudential Center, and a Klondike Bar and they still probably wouldn’t be able to jump into the top two spots in this draft. So what are the options if the Devils want to move into the 3-5 range?
Realistically, it would take quite a bit for the Devils to move up from the 6th spot in this draft. The cost of moving up within the top 10 is traditionally steep and with players who would likely be in the conversation for the first overall in other draft years, picks 3 through 5 are going to come at a particularly high price. Even to just move from #6 to the Hurricanes spot at #5 (they are willing to listen if Hanifin is not there), the Devils would likely be looking at giving up one of their second round picks at a minimum. Of the teams at 3 through 5, the Coyotes at #3 are the team with the most smoke around a possible trade. But what would it take for the Devils to get there? Both of their second round picks? A pick and one of their young defensemen? More? With Arizona fielding a number of offers for that third overall pick, the price surely wont be cheap. The question is, can a team in need of a significant rebuild like the Devils afford to give up multiple assets to get into that next tier? I'm not so sure, but the idea of being able to draft one of Marner or Strome certainly has its appeal.
Looking at the situation the Devils are in, trading up might be a little bit of a longshot, but trading down could be a more likely scenario. The players ranked between six and 10 or 12 are generally considered to be on a similar talent level to one another. If the Devils have callers currently a few picks back in the top 10, will they entertain those offers? It could be worth if for New Jersey if a team comes knocking with extra picks in hand at the cost of only a few spots in a murky section of the draft order.
As far as the teams behind them, some look poised to move up while others would appear less likely, at least when it comes to dealing with the Devils. The Flyers at #7 seems extremely unlikely, between what they stand to gain and their history of not dealing with NJ. San Jose at #9 feels like an unlikely candidate to move up too, and Florida (#11) may not have the horses to move up, given that they already gave the Devils their second rounder this year. That leaves perhaps Colorado (#10) and Columbus (#8) as possible candidates (ILWT user Devils4ever21 took a look at some possible scenarios for both of those teams in this FanPost).
For Colorado, pick #40 doesn't seem like quite enough for the Devils to go for a swap, so they would have to get creative. As alluded to in the FanPost, perhaps the perpetually-on-the-trading-block Ryan O'Reilly could become part of a deal to make it happen. The Avs are apparently asking for a "boat load" for O'Reilly, so the swap from 10th to 6th likely isn't enough for them. How high of a price would the Devils be willing to pay on top of that swap to get O'Reilly? Is one of their seconds enough? Is that a price the Devils are willing to pay? If they have to pay more, is it a price they should pay given that O'Reilly only has a year left on his deal? I'd be a little weary of the price getting too steep, but there is no question that O'Reilly would immediately make the team better.
For me, Columbus makes the most sense as a trade partner for New Jersey. Columbus seems keen on picking a defenseman with their first round selection, and have expressed some interest in moving up a few spots in the top 10. They have 5 picks in rounds 2 and 3, so it seems like they'd be willing to part with some to make their move. A swap of the 8th and 38th picks for the Devils 6th could make a lot of sense for both sides if the Blue Jackets are very high on defenseman Ivan Provorov. If Provorov is available at #7, the Flyers seem like a good bet to take him, so jumping from 8th to 6th has definite value for the Jackets. Meanwhile, the Devils could add a pick to their already desirable pair of second-round selections while potentially not losing out on much if they were planning on taking someone like Barzal or Zacha anyway. Columbus could have bigger aspirations than the number 6 pick, but even if they do, trading the 8th for the 6th could get them closer to the top-5 and a shot at Hanifin.
Pick for a Player?
We saw a big trade of this type just a couple years ago when Cory Schneider came to New Jersey, so we know that it's a move the Devils have been willing to make in the past. This Devils team is in a different spot than they were two years ago, though. With a changing of the guard this offseason in the form of a new coaching staff and a new GM for the first time since Reagan was president, the Devils seem set on clearing out the rot and rebuilding this team and it's depleted system. If they go after a big target like a Phil Kessel, is that enough to make this team competitive right away? That seems doubtful, and unless the Devils think they are going to legitimately contend in the near term, it could be a serious mistake.
The one type of player the Devils might want to target is a younger star who is still cost controlled and not yet at his peak. The Devils need someone who can contribute longer-term and a player who is still in his RFA years has a better shot to do that than someone pushing 30. The issue is that teams (correctly) are extremely reluctant to give away a proven player who is still under team control. Perhaps the Devils could try to swing a deal for an RFA from a cap-strapped team like the Blackhawks or Bruins. But the prices will be very high for a Saad or Hamilton to even get those teams to listen, perhaps even in excess of the 6th overall selection, so one wonders if it is worth the cost to go after those players. Still, a deal for someone like that makes more sense for the Devils in their current state than someone already making UFA dollars.
So What to Do?
New Jersey missed out on the top 5, but they still seem to be in a good position heading into tonight's draft. They definitely have options and a host of teams in the top 10 seem to at least be listening to offers on trading picks. For me, I'm perfectly content to see the Devils stay right where they are and just take the best possible players with their picks, but I wouldn't hate seeing them move down a couple spots in the top 10 and pick up some assets in the process. As far as trading up or trading for a current NHL player, I get the feeling that the price will be steep for both of those things so I'm a little less keen on them. What do you think heading into tonight's draft? Should the Devils stay where they are, should they be looking to land a bigger fish, or should they move back and get more assets that way? Sound off with your thoughts in the comments below and thanks for reading.