Normally, one cannot win a draft - not even a mock draft - immediately. One would need hindsight and time to know whether the 17 or 18 year old prospect turned out to be a significant player for the team that drafted them. After all, there are few "sure things" in any class. I understand and accept all that. That all said, I made sure the New Jersey Devils would be early winners in our 2016 SB Nation NHL Mock Draft by selecting Clayton Keller with the eleventh overall pick.
Yes, Clayton Keller, the player Scott Wheeler at Pension Plan Puppets argues should be considered for the fourth overall pick. He picked Matthews at #1 in our mock, of course.
Yes, Clayton Keller, the player Scott Matla at Habs Eyes on the Prize stated would be an enticing pick for Montreal at #9 as he is an offensively talented center. The manager there decided to go with Tyson Jost instead in our mock.
Yes, Clayton Keller, the player Chris Dilks at SBN College Hockey described his World U-18 Tournament performance as "...but if this tournament didn't convince people Keller could be a top-5 pick, then I don't know what will."
Yes, Clayton Keller fell all the way down to eleventh overall in our mock draft. I started becoming hopeful when Vancouver chose Olli Juolevi at #5. My eyes started getting a little wider when I saw Jakob Chychrun and Alexander Nylander at 7th and 8th, respectively. When I saw Jost listed by Montreal, I just had to hope Colorado wouldn't snipe him. They took Logan Brown, I knew it was winning time.
I profiled Keller way back May 9 and found nearly unanimous praise for him. The comments to that profile were nearly unanimous in hoping the Devils get him. I would agree with that. How can any Devils fan not? He was a point machine with the USNTDP at all levels. He's fantastic at passing the puck and creating plays on offense and he's got a great shot. He's an excellent skater who works hard in all three zones; Keller's played in all situations for the USNTDP. Keller is certainly not just a one-way player. Size aside - he's 5'10" and listed at around 170 pounds - Keller is the total package for a forward prospect.
At least he would be for New Jersey. The Devils' prospect pool hasn't had a player of Keller's caliber in quite some time. It's definitely shallow on offensive forwards that project to be top-six scorers, nevermind the talent Keller has had on display. Maybe he ends up as a wing instead of a center. Maybe he needs a few years at Boston College before he's ready. Given the state of the Devils, Keller is absolutely worth the wait and potential positional change - if only for his offensive skillset. I don't know about you, but getting a super-talented prospect that will fit the team's prospect and future needs is a win. The Devils win with this pick - even if it is in a mock draft.
I wasn't expecting him to be available; yet among our blogging peers, he was there at #11. If Keller wasn't available or I didn't pick him, then we at AAtJ would have had the choice between Mikhail Sergachev (my profile here) and whoever Keller would have bumped down in the mock draft. That could have been Jost (Brian profiled him here), Brown (my profile here), Chychrun, or someone else. The larger point is that it's highly likely the Devils are going to come away with an excellent offensive prospect on June 24. The Devils need these types of their players in their system to get those desirable, young offensive players on the NHL roster in the future. That will massively help in making a successful rebuild. It looks like Ray Shero & Co. will get to do that short of a complete change in direction. I wasn't feeling like this back on April 10; but now that there's been time to look at the prospective draftees and see what others have said, I'm looking forward to the 2016 NHL Draft for New Jersey. In our network mock draft, the Devils got arguably one of the most talented offensive forwards in this year's class. We'll see if the New Jersey Devils get to do it for real in a few weeks.
One caveat: Our mock draft picks haven't exactly hit the mark. In fact, we've missed all of the ones on this network. In 2009, we picked Calvin de Haan - who actually went twelfth overall. New Jersey moved up three spots to take Jacob Josefson in that year. In 2011, Tom did a mock top-ten and ended up with Sean Couturier over Adam Larsson at #4. In real life: Larsson at #4 and Couturier at #8. In 2012, we guessed Tom Wilson for 29th overall; it ended up being Stefan Matteau while Wilson went 16th. In 2013, we went for Hunter Shinkaruk at ninth overall. In real life, the Devils moved that pick for Cory Schneider and Shinkaruk fell all the way to 24th. In 2014, we chose Brayden Point. Point fell all the way to the third round while NJ picked John Quenneville at thirtieth overall that year. Last year, we picked Mathew Barzal at sixth overall. Pavel Zacha was the man at #6 instead while Barzal fell to the Isles at 16th overall. The lesson: take our mock draft picks with a grain of salt. I'm still hopeful it can happen in reality later this month because, hey, it's Clayton Keller.
What did you make of our mock draft selection? Did you like it or not - and why? Do you think Keller would drop to eleventh overall at the real thing in a few weeks? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about our mock draft pick in the comments.