The New Jersey Devils and their General Manager Ray Shero will be looking at all options for ways to improve the team this summer. While free agency and trades are always options, teams build their foundation best through the draft. Our Devils have at least one draft pick in each round this year along with an extra pick in rounds 3 and 4. One prospect that may be available when the Devils make their second and third round selections is Maxime Lajoie of the WHL's Swift Current Broncos. Today we take a look at Max, and see why he could be a good selection for the Devils during the draft.
Who is Maxime Lajoie?
Lajoie was born on November 5th 1997 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He boasts decent height at 6'1" but has some filling out to do at 172 lbs. After playing through the Calgary AAA system, he was drafted by the Swift Current Broncos of the WHL. In his first full season with the team, he put up 40 points in 72 games while this past season he put up 3 less in 10 fewer games played. Here are his full stats, courtesy of Elite Prospects:
One important point to note is that Lajoie was playing against tougher competition this year according to The Hockey News; with Dillon Heatherington and Brett Lernout off of Swift Current's roster, more responsibility would be given to Lajoie. While he posted a lower point total, his points per game average was higher (0.6 compared to 0.56 in 2014-15) this season; the fact that his points per game raise while playing against tougher competition than he did in his rookie year is an encouraging sign in terms of Max's development.
Where is Lajoie Ranked?
NHL.com has Maxim currently ranked as 44th out of all North American skaters, a 3 spot fall from where he was ranked during the mid-year listing. As he is not projected to be drafted in the first round, the individual ranking stats they we have been able to provide on other prospects were not available for him.
Additionally, Draftsite's NHL section has him projected to go in the third round at #88 overall to the Buffalo Sabres; judging by his ranking, I could see Lajoie going in either the 2nd or 3rd rounds.
What Others Say About Maxime Lajoie
Sticking with Elite Prospects, we start our look at Lajoie's play through the eyes of Curtis Joe:
A competitive two-way defenceman that earns his ice time and strives to be a difference-maker. Excellent skating technique: naturally mobile and able to start and stop on a pin's head. Displays a deceptively accurate shot and is creative on the power play. Proficient playmaker and spots seams in traffic quickly. His habitually conservative style of play in his own end lets him make quick, high percentage decisions with and without the puck. Reacts to different pressure situations with poise and analyzes the situation very quickly to determine the right play to make. All-in-all, a versatile two-way defenceman that keeps his own game in check and plays to the extent of his capabilities.
While defense may not be the most pressing need for New Jersey at the moment, it can be argued that they have had some success picking defenders in the second round and Maxim seems as though he would fit in well with the type of hockey that the Devils play. A defender who can put up points is definitely needed right now, and the fact that he's strong in his own zone certainly doesn't hurt. Curtis Joe's scouting report also describes Max's ability as a playmaker with a precise shot to boot; New Jersey is sorely in need of offensively talented players, be they forwards or defenders, which makes Lajoie more appealing. The most impressive fact to me is his skating ability; a lefty playmaker who can push play forward and pinch in without being an immobile liability would help the Devils immensely.
A Little Video
There isn't much video on Lajoie himself; the only one I was able to find was a local report out of Regina, Saskatchewan on CTV which provides a nice look into his play with his junior team:
I like hearing comments from Swift Current's associate coach Ryan Smith about his play against opposing top lines in just his second season and the fact that he has handled it well; coaches are some of the best judges of players, and he speaks highly of how hard of a worker Lajoie is.
An Opinions of Sorts
I will say that I have some mixed feelings about Lajoie mainly due to the scouting reports versus his projected draft position. Curtis Joe's report on Elite Prospects does not cite any shortcomings in Maxime's game; if there were no shortcomings, why is he only projected to go in either the 2nd or 3rd round? I don't think size is a problem, as most prospects are expected to fill out in the seasons following their draft year and he's of average height. He is touted more for his offense than his defense, yet doesn't seem to be a liability in his own zone. Perhaps the main reason that he isn't ranked higher is simply because he projects as more of a project; judging by the way he sees himself in the above video, Maxime is someone who may not be NHL ready until a couple of seasons down the road.
If there is no serious flaw in his game and he just needs more time, I would not be opposed to seeing the Devils draft Lajoie before the spot that Draftsite has him going; while they have him going 88th, New Jersey owns picks #72 and 76 and either would not be a bad spot to take a talented two way defender. As an aside, Wikipedia says we own pick #102 rather than #72, but General Fanager and Fire and Ice (which are both infinitely more trustworthy) say otherwise, so I'll stick with those for now. I personally could see the Devils taking Lajoie with either of the third round picks and I would be happy with it; having a left handed two way defender with a good amount of offensive ability/potential in the system couldn't hurt and if he continues to improve as he goes, he could wind up being one of the steals of the draft.
Now I'd like to hear your thoughts on Maxime Lajoie; is he a player you would want to see the Devils spend a second or third round pick on? Have you heard anything else about his game and/or style of play? Do you see any particular aspects of his game that you like? Any that you dislike? Leave any and all comments below and thank you as always for reading!