Back on June 2, 2015 when John Hynes was introduced as head coach of the New Jersey Devils, general manager Ray Shero stated three important words as part of what he wanted the team to become. Here is the full quote from Evan Sporer’s article about that introduction at NHL.com:
Since this is really the first time I’ve had a chance to address everybody here, I think it’s important for me to establish and say what I think exactly the identity of this hockey team is going forward. There are three things that I think you can identify the New Jersey Devils with moving forward, and that’s going to be fast, that’s going to be attacking, and that’s going to be supportive.
Since then, Shero, Director of Amateur Scouting Paul Castron (hired on July 31, 2015), and his staff have worked to do just that. Both the New Jersey Devils and the organization’s system of prospects have put an emphasis on both skill and skating abilities. This was evident from their 2016 draft class, which was heavy on forwards. While not all forwards were necessarily great skaters, they were big pluses and factors in the selection of Michael McLeod, Brandon Gignac, and Jesper Bratt. This was also the case with their massive 2017 draft class, which was loaded with eleven picks and filled with European players. Then, only one prospect - Nikita Popugaev - had skating seen as some kind of flaw. In this year’s draft class, the desire to add more skaters held true in a smaller six-pick class. Out of five skaters selected, all five can be said to be good to very good skaters. It remains to be seen how attacking and supportive they will be, but these are not just bodies on ice either.
The Devils 2018 NHL Draft Summary
There really is not much of a need to split this summary up over two days. The Devils went into Dallas with six picks and they kept all of them. They did not trade down, up, or laterally. They did not trade anything else, be it a player or a pick from future drafts. Maybe Ray Shero had some phone calls or tried to make something happen. But nothing did happen.
Well, nothing that the Devils did happen. On Friday, June 22, there were some real surprises in the first round. Filip Zadina falling to sixth is one of them, but there were three bigger reaches that set up New Jersey’s pick. Barret Hayton and Vitali Kravstov were expected to be mid-first round picks with Ty Dellandrea expected to go in the final third of the first round. They went fifth, ninth, and thirteenth overall, respectively. This ended up with the Devils having defenseman Ty Smith and center Joe Veleno available at seventeenth overall; two players I certainly did not expect to be out of the top fifteen picks. The Devils did not overthink things and selected the Spokane Chiefs defenseman, Ty Smith. The initial reaction here and on social media was very positive. Gerard liked him as a prospect when he profiled him; I really liked what I read about him on top of Gerard’s profile; and so I really liked the selection. The best player available was arguably the skilled WHL left-handed defenseman and the Devils got him. The first round continued with some big reaches that ended up with Veleno falling all the way to thirtieth overall and players like Bode Wilde, Akil Thomas, Ryan McLeod, and Serron Noel all fell to the second round.
The second day of the 2018 NHL Draft was a fairly quiet one for the New Jersey Devils. With no picks in the second or third round, the best of the rest were picked up by other teams. Picks were announced from the team’s draft table with the occasional trade announced to break things up a bit. The Devils made no moves but did find some value with their picks.
In the fourth round, at 110th overall, the Devils selected Drummondville left-handed defenseman Xavier Bernard. He’s big, he likes to hit, he skates well, and he may have an offensive upside. Not a big one, but it’s more than nothing. Bernard showed a lot of improvement from his first season in the ‘Q.’ He could be on a good path to really shine in his third season in 2018-19.
The Devils had two picks in the fifth round. With their first fifth round pick, at 136th overall, the team picked another goaltender out of Switzerland: Akira Schmid. This one is not an overager like Gilles Senn. With their second fifth round pick, at 141st overall, the team did pick an overaged forward: Dynamo Minsk center Yegor Sharangovich. He has been featured part of Belarus’ international youth teams and became a KHL regular (albeit in a depth role) last season. He has displayed good speed and a strong shot, at least at the recent World Junior Championships. Sharangovich is not under contract for next season, so it is possible he could come to North America sooner rather than later.
In the sixth round, at 172nd overall, the Devils chose a potential sleeper in Ottawa 67’s center Mitchell Hoelscher. Hoelscher improved a bit as the OHL season went on and has become known for playing with a lot of energy and determination while showing some raw skills. It will take some time for him to develop and grow, but further gains with the 67’s may mean a brighter future.
With their 203rd overall pick in the seventh round, the Devils made their final pick of the day: Karpat U-20 left winger Eeru Pukkila. Based mostly from what the FinnProspects people have seen of him, he’s quite a good skater and has some offensive skill. He has a lot to improve when it comes to playing without the puck. Still, he could be set for another jump if he does join Karpat’s top team in Liiga play next season.
Schmid was the only prospect where skating was not seen as a plus; Brian’s post on him notes that his lateral mobility does need work. But the other five skaters picked by New Jersey can get around the rink well enough and move in the run of play as needed. We can quibble about whether they are fast; but the intent is to have a strong group of skaters. Five more prospects were added to the system that can do that.
One other common trait with this draft class is that it is somewhat small. Bernard and Sharangovich have large frames already, and Schmid is 6’4”. However, Smith, Schmid, Hoelscher, and Pukkila all need to spend some time gaining muscle and mass. Their official weight listings at Elite Prospects were 176 pounds, 165 pounds, 165 pounds, and 168 pounds respectively. I can appreciate the Devils scouts to not be deterred by slight builds or sub-six foot heights. Regardless, steaks and weights will be needed. So will some patience as they build up the strength that they will need to further excel at their current level and help them make it to the next one in the future. And it will be in the future. Outside of maybe Sharangovich, these players are not ready (or, in some cases, eligible) for minor pro hockey in North America yet.
Last year was a busy time for the New Jersey Devils. They had the fame and pressure that came with the first overall selection along with ten other picks. This year was more muted with a mid-first round pick plus five picks all at #110 or later. Still, I’m generally pleased with what the Devils did. They lucked out and ended up with Ty Smith in the first round. Should Smith meet what has been projected, then the Devils will have a very good LHD for the future. Most of their other five picks were good ones. I admit I’m partially down on Schmid due to past failings by the Devils when it comes to goaltender picks. Still, if one or two of Bernard, Sharangovich, Schmid, Hoelscher, and Pukkila become somebody someday in the NHL, then I think this draft class will be a successful one. If they do, they’re likely to help with the attacking and/or supportive ways of the Devils. Keeping up with the team should be a given if they do get that far. It’s way to early to tell, but I think that’s a good sign as any going forward.
Other Significant Notes about the 2018 NHL Draft
Plenty has happened during the past two days in hockey. Here’s a quick summary:
- As mentioned earlier, Barret Hayton was a surprising fifth overall selection by Arizona. Shades of Blake Wheeler back in the day. Kravstov and Dellandrea also went into the top-15. This resulted in not only Ty Smith going to New Jersey, but the Isles taking expected top-ten picks Oliver Wahlstrom and Noah Dobson at 11 and 12 were big finds for them. Other reaches in the first round took place after New Jersey: Liam Foudy went at 18, James O’Brien went at 19, Filip Johansson went at 24, Jacob Bernard-Docker went at 26, and Nils Lundkvist went at 28. As mentioned earlier, this resulted in Rasmus Sandin and Veleno falling to 29 and 30, respectively with Noel, McLeod, Wilde, and Thomas falling into the second round.
- The big word for the first two rounds was defenseman. A NHL Draft record 14 defensemen were picked in the first round. Another 13 went in the second round. From the elite Rasmus Dahlin to the boom-or-bust Ryan Merkeley (21st) to the Swedish junior Axel Andersson (57th).
- Two trades of significance happened that involved players on both days. The first was Washington sending goaltender Philipp Grubauer and defenseman Brooks Orpik to Colorado for the forty-seventh pick. Since then, Colorado has signed the pending RFA goalie to a three-year, $10 million deal, Orpik is expected to be traded or bought out, and Washington used that pick to take Ottawa 67’s forward Kody Clark. By moving Orpik and Grubauer, the Caps have more space to re-sign John Carlson to an excessive contract. Japers’ Rink has the Caps’ perspective here. For the Colorado side, see this post at Mile High Hockey.
- The second did not involve the draft but it was a big one. Carolina traded center Elias Lindholm and defenseman Noah Hanifin to Calgary for defenseman Dougie Hamilton, left winger Michael Ferland, and prospect defenseman Adam Fox. New ownership in Carolina wanted to make it clear that everything was on the table and it certainly was. It seems split as to who won here, but I want to give an edge to Carolina because Fox could be the real difference maker in time. For the Canes’ side, go check this out from Canes Country. For the Flames’ side, go read this post at Matchsticks and Gasoline.
- Two big names who are up for free agency were discussed at length during the draft. Los Angeles was finally able to win the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes. On July 1, they will sign the 35-year old winger to a $18.75 million deal over three years. That’s an accrued average value of $6.25 million per year. My reaction remains: HA HA HA HA HA HA + .25 HA. Maybe he’ll finish this deal out for Los Angeles. Go check out Jewels from the Crown for their latest win.
- The other name: John Tavares. As of tomorrow, pending UFAs can talk to other teams. Since Lou Lamoriello joined the Isles, there has been a shake up in management and Barry Trotz was brought in as head coach. Discussions went on with Tavares. The stud center will exercise his right to talk and with five other teams per Brett Cygalis at the New York Post. Arthur Staple wrote at The Athletic that the three of the five teams includes San Jose, Toronto, and Dallas with Tampa Bay as a possible fourth team if they can figure out their cap. It has come out that the Isles did make him an offer: an eight-year $88 million deal as per David Pagnotta of The Fourth Period. That’s a shot at the other teams who want Tavares: be ready to offer at least $11 million or somehow convince John Tavares to take less money.
- Two other notable firsts took place in this draft includes Liam Kirk being the first England-born and developed-in-England draft pick. He went 189th overall to Arizona. Jermaine Loewen became the first ever Jamaican-born draft pick. The overaged winger who plays for Kamloops was selected by Dallas at 199th overall.
- This was the final draft at the podium for NHL Senior VP of Hockey Operations, Jim Gregory. Gregory has been a mainstay of the draft for decades. He was appropriately honored with a speech by deputy comissioner Bill Daly and standing ovation at the start of the second round.
- Dallas booed Gary Bettman. Unfortunately, they first did so when he was speaking about the Humboldt Broncos and Bettman had to tell them to hold it until later.
- Lastly, I want to complain about the draft coverage on the NHL Network for the second day of the draft. I can understand why the talking heads and interviews focused on larger, more relevant topics than, say, the latest third or fourth round pick or a swap of mid-round pick deals. However, there was little up-to-date coverage during commercials. There was a working crawl at the bottom, but it kept cycling through teams instead of listing on-going picks. During the sixth and seventh rounds, the live side panel of picks being made went away entirely. The Draft Tracker at NHL.com was slow at times, so there was a disconnect between picks that were clearly being made in the background to the umpteenth conversation about Tavares, Kovalchuk, and other moves. On top of that, interviews with others kept involving questions that GMs clearly said they could not answer, such as whether they have or will plan to talk to Tavares. Admitting that would slap their team with one of the easier tampering violations that could be made. Yet, this question kept coming up. Look, people like me who spend a good part of a Saturday watching the second day of the draft just need to know who’s being picked when it’s being made. That’s why we’re watching. Provide the information in the crawl, don’t only have the side bar for some of the rounds, and possibly consider having some good content lined up instead of repeating points and questions. If you want to be really bold, why not bring on Steve Kournianos or someone from the various draft services to provide some further information about some of these later round prospects? Kournianos alone ranks 500 players, he can give a strong opinion about anyone, and he’s been increasingly doing media as evidence by some spots taped with Arda Ocal for MSG that aired in the past few weeks. This will make the draft coverage better and more valuable to those who are interested. The NHL Network is already niche enough, so why not go more into it?
Going back to the Devils’ draft, I like what they did at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. They did not over think their picks. They kept looking for good skaters and were able to get five of them, as far as that can be seen. The five do have some talent; some to work on more than others, but there are no players here that seem like total-longshots-at-best from the get-go. I liked most of their selections. I’m excited for Ty Smith.
I also want to take this time to thank many people who helped out for the last two months for this draft. First, I want to thank Brian for coming up with our prospect list for profiles, putting together some great prospect profile posts, and helping out today with the picks being posted. Second, I want to thank Mike, Gerard, Alex, and Chris for also helping out with the prospect profiles throughout the last month-plus. Third, I want to thank the amazing resources available for prospects. This includes but is not limited to Elite Prospects, Steve Kournianos of The Draft Analyst, Brock Otten of OHL Prospects, Ben Kerr of Last Word of Hockey Prospects, The Hockey Writers, Dominic Tiano of OHL Writers, Dobber Prospects, Future Considerations, Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News, Recrutes.ca, Corey Pronman and Corey Masisak of The Athletic, Canucks Army, FinnProspects, and many more. Prospect and draft coverage is still at a premium online, but these fine people and more have brought and continue to bring more knowledge and information of who the NHL is (or should be) looking at. Fourth, I want to thank you all for reading through the prospect profiles, putting up with another year of putting futures first, and sticking around as the Devils made their picks.
Now, before we jump fully back into the Devils with free agency on the way and development camp later sometime in July, I want to know what you think about the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. In every post we had for every pick, we have a flash poll that will end tonight at midnight where we ask for your opinion. Any reader can vote in it. The votes will be tallied for a post that will be up at some point tomorrow. In the meantime, please leave your thoughts, reactions, and opinions about what the Devils in this year’s draft and the other news that took place in the comments. Thank you for reading.
Sunday is the first day for UFAs to talk with other teams and next Sunday is Free Agency Frenzy. Expect plenty of rumors of deals, signings, and more throughout the league for the next week.