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New Jersey Devils Went Mostly Forward in the 2016 NHL Draft

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At the 2016 NHL Draft, the New Jersey Devils drafted six forwards out of nine picks and added Beau Bennett in exchange for a pick. Now that the draft is over, this is a premature review and summary of the Devils’ draft class.

2016 NHL Draft - Portraits
Michael McLeod - the first round selection of the 2016 NHL Draft for the Devils.
Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images

After months of speculation, the 2016 NHL Draft took over seven hours over two days for all thirty teams to establish a part of their future. Every team had their own set of needs and desires; they went to work to meet them. Some were looking to fill the proverbial cupboard of prospects in their system. Others made deals to help out in the short-term. With a first rounder on Friday night and nine picks on the second day of the draft, the New Jersey Devils were certainly active. Last year, they mostly picked forwards. This year, they did it again. Seven out of nine total picks were forwards and a one pick was flipped to get winger Beau Bennett. Let’s go over the whole event and summarize it in a premature review of the 2016 Devils draft class.

The First Day, Friday June 24

The first round took a nearly four hours to complete and it was certainly a busy day for the league. Trades were made, a couple of picks went off the board, and everyone had their say on the broadcast. The hope of Clayton Keller - our mock draft pick - went away when Arizona took him at seventh overall. The idea of taking on Pavel Datsyuk’s contract went up in smoke when Arizona made a deal - a sweet one for Detroit - to eat that $7.5 million cap hit. But the Devils were involved in one deal. They traded down with the Ottawa Senators; the two teams flipped eleventh and twelfth overall and the Devils picked up the 80th overall pick, a third rounder. The Senators took Logan Brown. The Devils then took Michael McLeod.

The pick left me a little underwhelmed at the time. My thinking was that after the big three, the Devils would get a chance at the “second tier” of prospects that included Keller, Nylander, Sergachev, Jost, Brown, and Jakob Chychrun. The Devils had Brown and Chychrun available at #11, they still had Chychrun available at #12, and the Devils went with McLeod instead. It certainly wasn’t what I was expecting weeks ago or even on the day of the draft. He’s certainly not a bad prospect or even a bad pick. He’s very fast, he plays center, he’s got good size, he’s got good offensive skills, he’s good at moving the puck into and out of the zones, and he’s good on defense. Getting an extra pick out of it also was a plus too. The only thing about his game that was seen as a notable flaw was his finishing, something that was pointed out by nearly every profile on the player. While his production was comparable to other forwards in that group, it was enough to make me think the Devils should go for someone who doesn’t have that flaw. Someone who has a possibility of projecting to be productive player. I think in time I’ll be pleased that they made this pick. I can see him being a very useful player in the future. But as I wrote on Friday, I can’t shake the “what if” feeling about the Devils staying put and picking Brown instead.

By the way, that deal that Arizona made to get Datsyuk’s contract also moved them up to Detroit’s first round spot in this draft. They picked Chychrun.

Nevertheless, the Devils picked up a center and someone that I am looking forward to developing even though I’m not in love with the selection. Should his speed and abilities on the puck carry over into pro hockey and if his shot gets better, again, I’ll become more pleased with this selection in time.

The Second Day, June 25

The Devils entered the second day of the NHL Draft with nine picks instead of the original eight they had on Thursday. Eight of them were used to take prospects, with one going in a trade to get a current NHL player.

Let’s touch on the trade first. The Devils began the day with three third round picks. The 73rd and 80th picks were both used. The 77th overall pick went to Pittsburgh in exchange for the rights to Beau Bennett. Bennett is a pending restricted free agent whose time in the NHL has been cut short by injury. In four NHL seasons, he’s played only 129 games. When he did play, he didn’t make much of an impact on the scoresheet. As underwhelming as his career has been, I think the move made sense. The Devils need bodies at wing right now and Bennett will do so for very cheap. The extra third round pick they got from Ottawa makes it easier to give up one of the third rounders for an asset. Given that third round picks don’t often make the NHL, I don’t think the Devils really lost much to take a chance on someone who would actually play for the Devils next season. Provided he’s healthy enough to play. So I was fine with the trade.

As for the picks used on prospects, five of the eight remaining were used on forwards including four of the first eight picks the Devils did use today. Here’s a quick rundown of each.

For the first time since 2008, the Devils drafted a forward in the second round. They picked McLeod’s teammate, Nathan Bastian at 41st overall. The short word on him is that he’s got a solid, power forward-like game; he doesn’t excel at any one thing but he does everything fairly well. I think he’ll project to be a right winger as he’s a right-shooting forward and played at that position at times with Mississauga.

In the third round, the Devils used the 73rd and 80th picks to draft Joey Anderson and Brandon Gignac, respectively. Anderson is a right-shooting right winger with the USNTDP. He had a big performance at the World Junior Under-18 Championships this year and he’s got a very good shot. He could work on his skating as well as other parts of his game; he’ll do so at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Gignac played center for Shawinigan in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. This was an intriguing selection as Gignac was fairly prolific at taking shots and taking dangerous ones on a deep team. Next season should showcase his talents more as a number of Shawinigan players will go pro next season. Considering the 77th yielded Bennett, the Devils effectively got three forwards in the third round.

In the fourth round, the Devils looked to Russia to take junior forward Mikhail Maltsev. There wasn’t much available about the big forward, but the highlights I saw from him at the World Junior A Challenge showed a big guy skating well, forechecking with good intent, and playing aggressive on and off the puck without being a detriment to his team. If he comes over to North America, then there’s reason to think more positively of the player. We’ll know if that happens after 2017-18 as Russian Prospects reported on Twitter that he intends to finish out his current KHL contract. The last forward picked by the Devils was in the sixth round; a small Swedish forward named Jesper Bratt. Bratt is only 17, he’s quick, he’s got good hands, and he’s talented enough to play all of last season with AIK’s first team in the Allsvenskan. While he didn’t exactly light it up (48 games, 8 goals, 7 assists, 69 shots on net), it’s an impressive achievement to play regularly in a men’s professional league at 17 (he’ll turn 18 at the end of July). And the video highlights on him are exciting. As a late round pick, I’m quite pleased with the Devils taking a chance on him.

The remaining three picks on the second day went to non-forwards. The biggest head-scratcher came with the team’s second fourth round selection. At 105th overall, the Devils picked goaltender Evan Cormier. Yes, a goaltender. And a goaltender who got shelled at Saginaw in the last two seasons in both shots and goals. Alex’s post on the player does note that there’s an argument as to whether that may be beneficial for a goaltender’s development. The logic is that a goalie facing a lot of rubber will get better at stopping all kinds of shots by way of experience. I don’t get the logic of the Devils taking any goalie given who they have in their system and that there’s usually solid prospective goalies in free agency every year. To that end, I also don’t get that at least four were taken in each of the second, third, fifth, and sixth rounds in this year’s draft.

In the fifth and seventh rounds, the Devils went with overage blueline prospects. In the fifth round, the Devils took SKA St. Petersburg defenseman Yegor Rykov. He was passed over in last year’s draft. The additional seasoning in Russia plus his performance on the silver medal winning Russian team at the World Junior Championships surely got him more attention. It was enough to get his named called today. As with Maltsev, he’s got good size and a contract in Russia. We’ll see if he comes over once it is completed. The last pick of the Devils’ 2016 draft class went to overaged defenseman Jeremy Davies. He’s 19, he’ll turn 20 in December, and he led the USHL in scoring among defensemen last season with the Bloomington Thunder. Davies will go to Northeastern University, where he’ll likely play out his college career and then the Devils can see if he’ll be a pro player afterwards.

One last fun fact, the first round took three hours and about fifty minutes to complete. All six remaining rounds on the second day took three hours and about 39 minutes.

In Summary

Before this draft, I wrote that the Devils needed offensively skilled prospects. The Devils addressed some of that need at a minimum. No, they don’t have the prospect with the high upside of being a top scorer one day. Yes, they did pick forward prospects with an array of skills instead of just one type. If you want speedy skaters, then McLeod, Gignac, and Bratt fill those needs. If you like your forwards big and aggressive, then you like McLeod, Bastian, and Maltsev. If you like heavy shots, Anderson and Bratt has them at a minimum. If you want someone right now, then I don’t know what you’re expecting out of a draft as these kids are 17 or 18 years old now. But the Devils used a pick to get Bennett for the immediate future. The only type of forward they didn’t take was your classic “grinder” or “character player.” That’s a big reason why while I did not do enthusiastic backflips on this draft, this wasn’t nearly as disappointing as the 2014 draft.

With a goalie and two overage defensemen getting picked from the fourth round or later, the Devils clearly came into Buffalo with the intention to go with forwards over the two days. For the next draft, they may need to pick some defensemen earlier to bolster the future of the blueline as its looking thin again. However, the need was getting offensive players and while they may not have the next first liner, they definitely stocked up on forwards. I’m hopeful that in five years, I can write that the Devils have a couple of NHL players amid this class and that they are useful players.

In short, I’m fine with what Ray Shero, Paul Castron, and the team did for the Devils. I’m OK with what they did yesterday and today. Could have it been better in spots? Surely, but we’ll really know that in hindsight. Was it better than last year? Sort of - the Devils had more picks but I think the 2015 takeaway will always look good as they got Kyle Palmieri out of that event. But this went way better than 2014, that’s for sure.

Your Take

This will be the penultimate post about the 2016 NHL Draft. The next week will be more focused on free agency as qualifying offers are due and July 1 begins the frenzy for unrestricted free agents. I’ll have one more post tomorrow depending on what you all do with the posts we wrote for every pick.

I want to thank in no particular order for this year’s posts about the draft whether it was to help with a profile, providing information for the larger Internet, or being here: Elite Prospects, Youtubers bigwhite06 and ProssPark, Buckeye State Hockey, Steve Korunianos at The Draft Analyst, Ben Kerr at Last Word on Sports, Canucks Army for having some great profiles, Brock Otten of OHL Prospects, Hockey’s Future, Christopher Ralph and company at The Hockey Writers, the people who finally got the OHL to add stats like shots on goal at their website, Chris Dilks and Jeff Cox at SBN College Hockey for being amazing at making prospect profiles this year, Cirno Avery for his FanPost profile on Rykov that he told us about, Alex for helping out today and doing profiles here, Chris for chipping in with a profile, Mike and Gerard for doing profiles, Brian for being willing to help out but Bennett trade took his planned post and being fantastic with the prospects year-round at AAtJ, and (OK, this was in order) most of all - you!

What did you make of the 2016 NHL Draft for the Devils? Did you love it, hate it, like it, dislike it, or not all that sure on it? What was your favorite pick? What was your least favorite pick? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the 2016 NHL Draft now that it is over in the comments. Thank you for reading.