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What Needs Should the Devils Attempt to Address at the 2018 NHL Draft?

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With the 2018 NHL Entry Draft now just a few days away, it’s time to take a look at what the prospects currently in the system have to offer the organization. This post will take stock of the prospect pool and identify what needs the Devils have prior to the draft.

2017 NHL Draft - Rounds 2-7
John Hynes and Ray Shero have been very clear about the type of players that they wish to implement into their system. Given the current prospect pool, what will Shero and his staff be looking for this upcoming weekend?
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The 2018 NHL Entry Draft will take place on June 22nd and 23rd in Dallas, Texas. The Devils currently hold 6 picks, notably 17th overall in the 1st round, as well as selections in the 4th, 5th (2x), 6th, and 7th rounds. Ray Shero and John Hynes have been clear since they’ve taken over the Devils that they want to have players that can play “fast, attacking, and supportive” hockey. While I have no doubt they will target such players in this year’s draft that can fit into that philosophy, I wanted to take a quick look at the current prospect pool. The purpose of this is to examine what type of prospects the Devils currently have and to see what the strengths and weaknesses of this group are. This will help us identify what areas the Devils need to attempt to address at the draft this weekend.

Prior to breaking down the prospect pool, I want to note how I am defining a “prospect.” First, I’m going to use an age cutoff of 25 as of September 15, 2018. Secondly, I am going to borrow the old Hockey Prospectus game limits of 25 or fewer regular season games played during the previous NHL season, or 50 or fewer career NHL regular season games played. It’s important to note this since the Devils already have quite a few young players that are contributing to the NHL club such as Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, Pavel Zacha, Miles Wood, Damon Severson, Will Butcher, Steve Santini, and Mirco Mueller to varying degrees.

Current Prospect Pool

Forwards: Joey Anderson, Brandon Baddock, Nathan Bastian, Jesper Boqvist, Brandon Gignac, Mikhail Maltsev, Michael McLeod, Nikita Popugaev, John Quenneville, Brett Seney, Blake Speers, Marian Studenic, Aarne Talvitie, Fabian Zetterlund

Defensemen: Jocktan Chainey, Jeremy Davies, Matt Hellickson, Josh Jacobs, Michael Kapla, Colby Sissons, Reilly Walsh, Colton White, Yegor Zaitsev

Goaltenders: Ken Appleby, Mackenzie Blackwood, Cam Johnson, Gilles Senn

Let’s break this down position by position starting with the forwards. C Michael McLeod is the name that every Devils fan knows as the former 12th overall selection in 2016 has blazing speed, great playmaking abilities, and strong faceoff skills. While McLeod has a bright future he doesn’t possess the goal scoring touch that could make him a star player. He will have a great opportunity to win a spot with the NHL club out of training camp but I think he profiles more as a middle 6 center that can play on both special teams. There is a lot of value in that but as arguably the Devils top forward prospect, it shows that the system is lacking on goal scoring talent. While talking about players close to breaking into the NHL team, I should also mention RW Joey Anderson who signed this past spring after 2 standout seasons with Minnesota Duluth. Anderson doesn’t have high end offensive abilities but knows how to be a complementary player in the offensive zone thanks to his above average passing and vision as well as his willingness to battle in front of the net. Anderson is an above average defensive player and can play in all situations which makes him an ideal role player going forward. C/LW John Quenneville is also on the verge of becoming a full time NHL player but the former 2014 1st round pick hasn’t made the impact that the Devils were hoping for just yet. The two-way forward has produced at the AHL level but has lacked consistency - sometimes due to injury - that has prevented him from earning a full time spot in New Jersey.

The next group of forwards would include those players that figure to see time with Binghamton next year. Some of these are already AHL vets such as RW Nathan Bastian, C Brandon Gignac, and RW Blake Speers. Bastian isn’t a great skater and is limited offensively but has a large frame that enables him to win puck battles. Bastian figures to be a bottom 6 guy at the NHL level. Gignac saw his season cut short, appearing in just 21 games last season, due to injury. Still, Gignac is known for his great skating and decent offensive skills which could make him a middle 6 option at the NHL level if he pans out. Speers is a two-way winger that has already had a 3 game stint with New Jersey back at the start of the 2016 season. After an impressive junior career he struggled to play a meaningful role for the bulk of Binghamton’s season last year. Jeff has this post breaking down Speers’ season and suggesting that he wasn’t put in the best position to succeed. He still has NHL potential but lacks plays a more balanced game as opposed to that of a pure goal scorer. Brandon Baddock is an AHL vet but doesn’t figure to ever be a NHL player in the future. LW/RW Marian Studenic is a defensively responsible forward capable of lining up on either side of the center. He’s coming off of a solid year with in the OHL that saw him mostly play in a second line role as well as be a key member of the PK. His offensive upside is limited but you can rely on him in his own zone and to be an asset in helping move the puck up ice thanks to his efficient transition game. C/LW Brett Seney is a fast, explosive skater with a quick release that helped him be a goal scorer for Merrimack. He fits the Shero/Hynes mold of “fast, attacking” despite his small size and I think could have a future as a PP threat at the NHL level.

Finally, we have the European based forward prospects. This group includes LW Jesper Boqvist, C Mikhail Maltsev, RW Nikita Popugaev, C Aarne Talvitie, and RW Fabian Zetterlund. Boqvist has the highest offensive upside of this group thanks to his skating and puck handling abilities. He’s struggled to find consistency in the SHL but that’s not unheard of for a teenager. He is a legitimate NHL prospect but could need another season or two before he’s ready to crack the roster. Maltsev is a center with a decent frame, hockey IQ, and faceoff skills. He’s bounced around the junior leagues and Russian second division and will look to make an impact in the KHL this season. He’s still a few years away in my book. Popugaev has a power forward frame but hasn’t found consistency in any part of his game which caused him to leave the WHL and go back to Russia. His future NHL prospects don’t look great at the moment but he still has time on his side. Talvitie dominated the Finnish junior circuit last season - as he should’ve at 18 years old - and will look to bring his hard-nosed, two-way game to Penn State this upcoming season. Zetterlund is a workhorse winger that plays with a physical edge and has some untapped goal scoring potential. He figures to be more of a complementary piece at the NHL level should he make it.

I’m going to start talking about the defenders by highlighting LD Jeremy Davies from Northeastern University. The Devils selected him in the 7th round of the 2016 draft as an overage prospect from the USHL. He’s gone from relative unknown to a legitimate NHL prospect in his 2 collegiate seasons due to his ability to play half of the game, rush the puck through all 3 zones, and be a threat with his shot and passing skills. I think he could’ve turned pro this past spring but he opted for to stay at Northeastern for another season. I think we could see him on the Devils blue line after this upcoming season.

Other college prospects on the blue line include LD Matt Hellickson and RD Reilly Walsh. Hellickson had a fine freshman season for Notre Dame as a 19 year old but I have my doubts as of his long term potential. Walsh is an exciting, offensively minded defenseman who excelled for Harvard as a true freshman. He could use another 2 seasons there, but I really like his chances of potentially running a NHL PP someday. On the junior side we have LD Jocktan Chainey who had a solid season for Halifax in the QMJHL. He’s ran the PP for Halifax for a couple of seasons and been a sound defender at even strength though profiles more as a back end option at the NHL level. LD Colby Sissons has emerged as an offensive threat from the blue line for Swift Current in the WHL. A bit of a late bloomer, his defensive game is still coming along but he’s already shown good vision and puck skills that could help carry him to the next level. He’s a bit of a wildcard, but certainly worth keeping an eye out on.

In terms of defenders already at the pro level, the Devils have RD Josh Jacobs, LD Michael Kapla, LD Colton White, and LD Yegor Zaitsev. Jacobs has had a bit of a rocky road with some ups and downs since being the Devils 2nd round choice in 2014. His offensive game hasn’t developed as hoped but he has shown some improvements defensively at the AHL level after struggling early on in his career. I still don’t think he’s on track to be more than a 3rd pairing guy at best, should he make it. Kapla is coming off of a rookie season full of learning experiences. Like Jacobs, he’s worth keeping an eye out for but probably wouldn’t be much more than a 3rd pairing guy at the NHL level. It will be interesting to see what type of campaign he can put together in year 2 of his professional career. White struggled for much of his rookie season with Binghamton this past year but found his game when sent down to Adirondack in the ECHL. He doesn’t have much of an offensive game but was a really solid defender at the OHL level. Hopefully he can take this experience and focus on tightening up his game this offseason. Zaitsev has proven himself as a stay at home defenseman for Dynamo Moskva in the KHL over parts of the past 2 seasons. He’s also featured on the Russian junior team as a key leader. Like a lot of these other guys, his value will come solely from his defensive game.

The Devils current goaltending prospect group leaves a lot to be desired. 23 year old Ken Appleby had a solid career in the OHL but hasn’t found the same success his past 3 seasons as a pro, struggling to produce at the AHL level. Mackenzie Blackwood is a former OHL Goaltender of the Year winner but has struggled to find consistency at the AHL level in 2 seasons, going through hot and cold streaks. Blackwood won’t turn 22 until December and there is no denying his raw talent so hopefully he can turn things around in 2018-19 and get himself back on the prospect map. Cam Johnson is 23 and was signed after an up and down college career at North Dakota. The former National Champion has also struggled to consistently put his game together outside of a standout 2015-16 season. He’ll look to battle Appleby and Blackwood for time in Binghamton. Gilles Senn is a 22 year old Swiss goaltender that has spent the past 2 seasons as the 1A goaltender for HC Davos in the NLA. The 6’5, 195 lbs. netminder is being groomed to be the next goaltender for the Swisst national team but has been about average compared to other goaltenders in the NLA thus far.

Needs

I know that’s a lot of words for a quick take on each prospect that makes up this pool for the Devils. With all of that said, the Devils pool does lack goal scorers up front, could use more offensively minded prospects at both forward and defense, and could use a solid goaltending prospect. With their highest pick at 17th overall, it will be a tough task for Ray Shero and his staff to find a high end talent. However, Shero has already shown the ability to find talented players throughout the draft such as Bratt and potentially Davies to name a few. I believe in the BPA (Best Player Available) strategy when it comes to drafting. With that said, my main hope is that the Devils will be able to add a quality defense prospect or 3 this year. I know that’s easier said than done but with Andy Greene not getting any younger and the NHL team needing more help on the back end, a potential top 2 or even top 4 prospect would be a welcome addition to go along with guys like Davies who are still developing but close to going pro. I wouldn’t be shocked if the 1st round pick was used on a defenseman like K’Andre Miller, Bode Wilde, or Rasmus Sandin should one of them be available. Up front I hope Shero can add more interesting prospects like he’s shown the ability to throughout the rounds. In terms of goaltending, I’m pessimistic of help coming from this year’s draft. It’s not a strong one for goaltenders and at this point I’d rather just use the picks on skaters and look towards the undrafted free agent market for a goaltending prospect as the 2018-19 season progresses.

Your Take

What are your thoughts on this current prospect pool? What areas do you hope the Devils will be able to address at the draft? What do you think about the job that Shero has done since overtaking the organization? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!