At around 8:16 PM EDT, the New Jersey Devils won the 2017 NHL Draft Lottery. They were awarded the first overall pick of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. There was much rejoicing. After a 2016-17 that was downright miserable at times to witness, it felt so good to see the Devils logo on the back of the #1 card revealed by NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly. Among the excitement and celebratory feelings, the Devils were effectively put on the clock at the same time. To that end, here is a quick draft primer for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.
The Draft Itself
The 2017 NHL Entry Draft will take place on Friday, June 23, 2017 and Saturday, June 24, 2017. It will be held at the United Center in Chicago. Broadcast details have yet to be determined. However, the format of this year’s draft is the same as with the last few years. The first round will take place on Friday. This will take a long time due to lead times between picks and television coverage. Although it really won’t be for the Devils as they’ll be picking first on this night. The second thorough seventh rounds will take place on Saturday to complete the draft. This will go much, much faster; likely in the afternoon. It’s still important as the Devils have several picks beyond their first overall selection.
Why is This a Big Deal?
This is the cheapest way for NHL teams to obtain talent. The first contract a drafted player must sign is an entry level contract. Those are capped by length; depending on the age of the player, it’s no more than three years. Those are capped by monetary amount, which is less than $1 million. These contracts signed by eighteen or nineteen year old players can slide for two years, effectively making them five-year contracts. And the player is a restricted free agent at the end of the entry level contract. As a player’s peak is closer to their mid-20s, this means a very good young player can be kept for less than what their value may be. This allows the team to spend elsewhere on the roster.
Also, by picking the player early on, they can develop the player and a relationship, which may be crucial for convincing them to stick around when they are able to hit free agency.
Equally as important as the cheapness of the contract is that they provide a future for the team. Having young players develop into contributors gives a team options for when injuries arise, salary cap issues force a decision, and established players leave, can’t play a role they once did, or perform poorly. The Devils are currently in this re-building situation in part because their draft classes did not turn out to be as successful as they hoped in the past. While it didn’t hurt them at the time, all of those misfires have caught up to New Jersey in the past few seasons. Successful drafting has to be a part of building the team back up to being perennial contenders. While there’s good reason to be positive about John Quennville, Pavel Zacha, and Michael McLeod, the Devils need to make as many of their picks in 2017 count.
The 2017 Devils Draft Picks
According to CapFriendly, the Devils have ten confirmed draft picks for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. The 2017 NHL Draft Lottery determined where their first round pick will be; it’s first overall. The lotteries only control the top three selections; the remaining rounds are determined by the reverse order of the team’s record. So while Colorado didn’t win any of the three draft lotteries, they will be picking first in all other rounds as they had the worst record in 2016-17. The Devils finished with the fourth worst record in the NHL last season. However, since Las Vegas was awarded the third spot in each round, the Devils will be picking fifth in rounds two through seven that they have their pick in.
This is not an official draft order, but here’s my understanding of where all of the Devils’ picks are at this time. Past trades have earned them some extra picks beyond the first round, I will note them where necessary.
First round: 1 - 1st overall (owned by NJ).
Second round: 2 - 36th overall (owned by NJ), 50th overall (Boston’s second rounder from the Lee Stempniak trade)
Third round: 2 - 63rd overall (Colorado’s third rounder from the Eric Gelinas trade), 84th overall (San Jose’s third rounder, compensation for Peter DeBoer).
Fourth round: 2 - 98th overall (owned by NJ); 109th overall for now (Nashville’s fourth rounder from the Vernon Fiddler trade)
Fifth round: 1 - 129th overall (owned by NJ)
Sixth round: 2 - 160th overall (owned by NJ); 171st overall for now (Nashville’s sixth rounder from the P-A Parenteau trade)
Seventh round: Unknown - The Devils traded a conditional seventh round pick in 2017 or 2018 to Philadelphia for minor leaguer Petr Straka. It is unknown whether the Devils will have this pick or not.
Nashville’s playoff success could knock the Devils back a few spots in the fourth and sixth round. That’s not a big deal as the Devils have their own picks, which are higher, in those rounds. Likewise, if the Devils end up not having their seventh rounder, then it’s not really an issue given that they can select ten prospective players before the last round of the draft. It is very possible that Devils general manager Ray Shero moves some of these picks for other assets (e.g. players, rights to players, other picks) before or during the draft. He has plenty of flexibility on top of owning the first overall selection.
Looking at Prospects - Five Points
The most important point I want to make is that the vast majority of the players selected in this draft will not be in the NHL in 2017-18. Most may not even make it to the NHL. Yes, there are numerous success stories in the NHL from late round selections and undrafted players. They are the exceptions, not the norm. This should really not be a surprise. The majority of the players picked are just 18 and aren’t ready for professional hockey in North America right away. This means everyone has to be looked at with an eye towards what they could become as opposed to what they are now. This is also why teams shouldn’t make a draft pick just to address a short-term need on the NHL team. That short-term need may not be an area of need by the time the player is ready for prime time. I will say that the first overall selection is likely to jump right away into the NHL. Unless I’m mistaken, it’s been over a decade since a first overall pick didn’t play immediately in the NHL. But, for the other picks, the long-term is important to consider whether that’s a positional or skill need among prospects or identifying who has the most talent to even make it to the NHL.
By the way, if you’re wondering what the long-term needs are for the Devils: they could always use offensive forwards. McLeod has been tearing it up and Joey Anderson’s progress is nice, but they would be good to have more producers. They do need defensemen for the future, too; especially right-handed defensemen (they only have one in Josh Jacobs).
The second most important thing to realize is that as important as it is to identify players to pick for the future, development of prospects is just as important. If New Jersey’s scouts and staff can identify an issue with a prospect’s game at age 18 or 19, then there’s a better chance of that being corrected than hoping he figures it out on his own. There will be a lot of work, time, and energy spent on figuring out who should be picked in a certain round. But the work doesn’t end after the seventh round ends on June 24. Molding the prospect to become a pro player one day begins right afterwards. In that same respect, it is worth looking at how the player developed prior to the draft. A player who had an awesome 17-year old season but did not show much growth as an 18-year old should raise some questions. A player who improved dramatically from 17 to 18 should be seen more positively. Development matters both before and after the draft.
The third point is that identifying prospects you would want the Devils to pick is a bit of an art. Basic stats like goals and points are all well and good, but they really don’t serve much more than sanity checks. As in, if someone is really a goal scorer, then they should have a high goal scoring rate in their league. But because these are prospects in varying leagues, situations, roles, and teams, it does little good to just look at the top scorer and say “he’s the one.” The good news is that there’s more information than ever to sort out what prospects may be desirable. Some leagues are mature enough statistically to have some of the same metrics available for NHL players. Others, not so much, but they can provide rates that will sort out who’s been hot for a season and who’s been a prolific shooter as well as a scorer. Almost as importantly, there are more and more highlight and game videos of top prospects. The stats will provide the proof of the pudding of whether the prospect has performed. But video will show much more of their mechanics: how they skate, how they play off the puck; how they react in different situations; and how they tend to play. All of that will show whether the player has an asset or an issue that could be with them for the rest of their careers. While I’m not a scout or have a scouting acumen, I can at least see for myself whether a player can accomplish what they intend to do. That’s as valuable as knowing how they performed. It’s a mix of both and since it’s all for projecting what a player could become, it’s not an exact science.
The fourth point is that short tournaments are nice and all, but I wouldn’t put a whole lot of stock into them. These would include tourneys like the World Junior Championships or the World Under-18 Championships. It’s definitely a plus to see a prospect selected to represent their country or succeed for their club team in their league’s playoffs. And good performances are good. But good run of a few games shouldn’t fully overshadow how they performed in their season. Yes, the international tournament or league playoff may provide tougher competition. But the point is to find players with skills and tendencies that bode well for the future. That will be more apparent over a season than in a two-week event. I think it’s better if such tourneys are seen as achievements and cause to take a closer look at a player. I wouldn’t want a team to base a pick solely on what they did in that tournament.
The fifth point is to recognize value. Much has been written about the value of a draft pick. Stephen Burtch at Sportsnet and Andrew Kerison at Original Six Analytics have both written at length about what picks may be worth. That first overall the Devils have is the most valuable one. The Devils shouldn’t trade it at all. As for those other nine picks that we know for sure the Devils have, then they should be up for some kind of discussion. Shero should not trade most of them, but moving one of their second rounders for a player who can help immediately can be a sensible move. He even did it before in 2015; he traded a second round pick to bring in Kyle Palmieri.
What we have been doing since 2009 is identifying a number of prospective players, compiling what information is out there online, and coming up with an opinion about whether we would like the Devils to pick the player or not. In the past few years, there has been a growth in both free and not-free information on prospects. For the latter, there are plenty of draft guides. While they have their own rankings and criteria, more reports on players provides for more of an understanding of what a player is or is not. If five different services says a player is good at skating, then it’s likely true that he’s good at skating. For free information, there are plenty of states and blogs available sharing their observations of prospects, defending their opinions of prospects, and digging deeper intro what a player can do. There is plenty out there for the potential first overall pick already. But this can also include the other picks matter too. And those who do cover prospects, whether professionally or as a past time, tend to be open to questions - so be polite and ask away.
By my count, we’ve done 199 profiles from Kyle Palmieri (2009, first round) all the way to William Lockwood (2016, sixth round). We have tended to skew towards higher ranked players by Central Scouting Services because A) the first round is the most important round and B) it’s somewhat common for a player to be thought as a third rounder but end up as a fifth or a sixth rounder in reality. Regardless, 166 of those 199 profiled players were drafted in their draft year. And as of today, 82 of them have played in at least one regular season NHL game. Seven profiled players were picked by the Devils: Reid Boucher, Adam Larsson, Quenneville, Blake Speers, Colton White, Zacha, and McLeod. Another three eventually became Devils: Palmieri, Beau Bennett, and Colby Sissons. All thirty teams have picked at least one profiled player with Arizona ended up drafting the most ILWT/AATJ profiled players with eleven (Minnesota is last with one). To that end, we welcome all fans to read our profiles - it’s more likely they’ll be picked by a non-Devils team anyway. But since we won’t know, we try to cover the bases so there’s an idea of who to expect for the rounds beyond the first round. You’ll see these profiles begin later in May.
Nolan vs. Nico
It’s early and plenty can change over the next few weeks. Brandon (WHL) center Nolan Patrick has been the consensus #1 pick for this season. He may end up being the first overall pick. However, we’ve seen past consensus #1s in late April fall a bit on the actual draft day for various reasons. Like Seth Jones amid forwards who excelled in 2014. Like Sean Couturier in 2011 after all of the attention being the #1 guy got revealed his skating wasn’t so hot. Time will tell whether Patrick is the man.
The #2 man who could be #1 is Halifax center Nico Hischier. He’s already likely going to be the highest-picked Swiss-born player in history. His very good 2016-17 season could propel him to the top spot. He has not received as much attention as Patrick, but he has thrived in all situations both in the QMJHL and an international play.
The first overall pick discussion will likely come down to these two. While there is a defenseman who could be a darkhorse selection - Miro Heiskanen of HIFK of the Finnish league - the two centers are at the top for the moment. It’s tempting to look at the Devils’ defense from last season and hope Heiskanen can help turn that around. However, it’s even harder for a team lacking in offensive talent beyond one or two players to pass up on two prospects with premium offensive talents. For now, the discussion for #1 should be around Patrick vs. Hischier. Or Nolan vs. Nico for the alliteration.
What do you want the Devils to do in 2017? Was this draft primer helpful? What would you like to see in our profiles? What else would you like to know? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the 2017 NHL Entry Draft in the comments. Thank you for reading.