Tomorrow, we will begin posting profiles of the many prospects for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. The New Jersey Devils won the 2019 NHL Draft lottery and this year’s class is a two-man race for first overall. Both Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko are worth the hype and the excitement among the Devils fans for this year’s draft is very real. A successful draft usually requires more than one player to succeed and with multiple picks in the second and third rounds, the 2019 class of draft picks could be one of the team’s best in history. Therefore, most of the profiles will be focused on potential players for those later picks. Before the profiles for possible future Devils and/or NHL players begin, I want to take a look back at what the Devils have done in recent draft.
This year will be the eleventh NHL entry draft for the New Jersey Devils covered on this blog at SB Nation. Every year since 2009, there has been posts about the picks, a mock draft pick for the first round for the network, and an overview of how the team did at the draft. In nearly each one of those overviews is a statement about how you cannot really judge a draft class until years (five is a good rule of thumb) later. Most of these draft classes have long been settled and even the more recent ones have already yielded gains. Drafts are a primary way for teams to find talent and we can re-visit where the Devils struggled and their impact.
For the sake of bounding, I will be focusing on the drafts that took place during this blog’s existence on this network. I want this look back to not only go over what the Devils did but go over what I and/or the community thought at the time. I also want to limit the hindsight to what other players I and/or others wanted back then for their picks. As easy as it would be to write, “The Devils took X at Yth overall but the best player in the draft was Z rounds later,” it does not necessarily align with what the consensus actually was back then. This look back will not only look what the Devils did or didn’t do but also how well our reactions held up to the test of time.
While I believe that you cannot really judge a draft class until years later, I will touch on how the Devils did in the past few drafts just as a point of reference. As always, opinions will change over time. Lastly, all draft pick information was corroborated with HockeyDB. Any trades were corroborated with Hockey-Reference. Oh, and take your time, this is not a short look back.
The 2009 NHL Draft
The Top Pick: Jacob Josefson, center, first round, 20th overall. Devils swapped first rounders with Calgary and gave them one of their third rounders (84th overall, Nicolas Deslauriers) to make this pick.
The Others Who At Least Made it to the NHL: Eric Gelinas (D, 2nd, 54th), Alexander Urbom (D, 3rd, 73rd), Seth Helgeson (D, 4th, 114th)
The Others Who Did Not: Derek Rodwell (LW, 5th, 144th), Ashton Bernard (LW, 6th, 174th), Curtis Gedig (D, 7th, 204th)
The ILWT Mock Draft Pick: Calvin de Haan for 23rd, who I chose over Kyle Palmieri.
Was the Mock Pick Better than Reality?: Yes. Although, in real life, de Haan went 12th overall. He just was not available in the actual draft, thanks to the Islanders trading up twice to get him. Palmieri went 26th overall. But in 2015, Ray Shero traded a second rounder to bring Palmieri to New Jersey so he eventually contributed to the Devils.
The Overview in 2009: My overview was very positive. I noted that the Devils went heavy on defense and/or size. I really liked the Josefson pick as well as how Gelinas, Urbom, and Helgeson were praised for their skating at some point. I did note that Bernard was an enforcer but that, hey, even Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond got a NHL contract. But people were pleased.
The 2019 Overview of 2009’s Class: This was not a very good draft but it was far from the worst one in that decade. Josefson would be a two-way center but his offensive skills were limited and his defensive skills were not good enough to warrant additional minutes. Staying on the ice was a concern due to his many injuries. He did play in 8 NHL seasons before returning to Sweden in 2018-19.
As for the others, well, it got progressively worse. Eric Gelinas had a bomb of a slapshot. I called it The Truth. He was not very good at the rest of being a defenseman. He was dealt to Colorado for a 2017 third rounder in 2016. Urbom’s big claim to fame here was being claimed by Washington on waivers. Urbom got a few cups of coffee with New Jersey in the three seasons prior. He couldn’t stick with the Caps. NJ reclaimed in 2013, he stayed in Albany, and then went to Europe. Helgeson also received a number of call-ups and showed that he was big, he was slow, and he could play one-way - and not even that went well. The other three did not even make it to Albany.
Basically, this was an underwhelming draft in retrospect. Josefson was a player but not a significant one. Gelinas and Urbom were a part of a wave of young defensemen fans like me hoped would take the Devils’ blueline to new heights in the 2010s and that did not happen. There were worse ones but the positivity I had in 2009 did not borne out.
The 2010 NHL Draft
The Top Pick: Jon Merrill, defenseman, 2nd round, 38th overall.
The Others Who At Least Made it to the NHL: Scott Wedgewood (G, 3rd, 84th overall)
The Others Who Did Not: Joe Faust (D, 4th, 114th), Maxime Clermont (G, 6th, 174th), Mauro Jorg (F, 7th, 204th)
The ILWT Mock Draft Pick: N/A - The Devils did not have a first round pick 2010. They sent it to Atlanta in the Ilya Kovalchuk trade.
The Overview in 2010: With only five picks, there was not a lot to write about. However, I was really pleased with the Merrill pick. He was thought to be a first rounder and he fell to the Devils at 38th overall. He checked off a lot of boxes between his size, apparent smarts, and skills on the puck. I really, really liked that pick. I was very much against drafting a goaltender at the time even though it was a need in the system. I still called the Wedgewood pick a reach. And I noted that the Clermont pick also addressed the then-organizational need. Overall, I stated that then the Devils may only get one NHL player out of the five and anything more would be fantastic.
The 2019 Overview of 2010’s Class: Jon Merrill did become a NHL player. After three years at Michigan, Merrill made his NHL debut in 2013-14 and remained a Devil until he was exposed in the Vegas expansion draft in 2017. Merrill was given plenty of opportunities to have a significant role on the team. His first two seasons saw him average at least a minute per game on both special teams and with the exception of 2015-16, he averaged at least 16 minutes of even strength time. However, he never really stood out. What made him desirable as a pick never fully translated to the NHL. At his best, he was still an OK defenseman. He was not exactly missed when Vegas chose him in 2017 and he is in the lower end of their depth chart. Which is about right. Merrill ended up being good enough for the bottom half of a blueline, which is not exactly meeting all of the hype that came with his selection. The pick was a success but not a complete one - kind of like Josefson in the prior year.
Scott Wedgewood would get his time to shine in the NHL. For four glorious games in the 2015-16 season, he was the hottest goaltender around. That would be the extent of his NHL career until the Devils dealt him to Arizona in October 2017 for a fifth rounder in 2018. He got more action in Arizona, he was far from hot, and he has been kicking around in the AHL - now he is in Buffalo’s system. Was it a successful pick? Hardly, but he achieved more than most of the Devils’ goaltender picks since 1997.
The rest of the draft, well, they didn’t make it. Faust and Clermont both went professional but struggled to stay with Albany; they spent more time in the ECHL. Jorg was the first ever Swiss-based player picked by New Jersey and he never came to North America.
My reaction in 2010 was prescient in that this was a one-player draft class and that one player was Merrill. Merrill did not turn out to be this strong two-way defenseman with an offensive game. He is a NHL player, at least. Given that there were only five players in this class, it is hard to call it a total failure. But it was worse than the 2009 class, where at least two players got more than a handful of NHL games.
The 2011 NHL Draft
The Top Pick: Adam Larsson, defenseman, first round, 4th overall. Devils won the lottery, which meant moving up four spots in the draft.
The Others Who At Least Made it to the NHL: Blake Coleman (C, 3rd, 75th), Reid Boucher (C, 4th, 99th), Blake Pietila (LW, 5th, 129th)
The Others Who Did Not: Reece Scarlett (D, 6th, 159th), Patrick Daly (D, 7th, 189th)
The ILWT Mock Draft Pick: Sean Couturier. Larsson, for what it’s worth, went first in the SBN mock.
Was the Mock Pick Better than Reality?: Yes, with a but. For starters, Larsson went first in the mock, so he was not even available in the mock. Second, Couturier has emerged as one of the better two-way centers in the NHL but it took some time. Third, Larsson has been quite valuable to the Devils.
The Overview in 2011: I was happy with the 2011 draft. Devils fans both online and at the draft party were ecstatic when Larsson was selected. I was happy that the Devils were able to get Boucher and Scarlett later than projected. The only pick that I thought was a reach was the overage Blake Coleman, but even there I appreciated that he had a great season with Indiana of the USHL.
The 2019 Overview of 2011’s Class: This was a draft class that aged better over time. Lots of words and expectations have been placed on Larsson. He did not turn out to be a dominant defenseman in the vein of Victor Hedman. The offense was not consistently there. But he turned into a very solid defender who could impress occasionally with a first pass. On that alone, that is a little underwhelming at fourth overall. But Larsson’s value to the team went beyond the Devils. He was good enough to be desired by Peter Chiarelli, then of Edmonton in 2016. This led to the biggest trade in Devils history since the Kovalchuk deal: One for one. Larsson did not become this bona fide first-pairing defenseman but he was good for what he was and he did ultimately get the Devils a superstar winger in Hall. I call that a success.
The other picks provided value as well. Coleman turned out to be a late bloomer and he is now an valuable part of the current Devils. His forechecking, especially on a penalty kill, has been a welcome asset. He stepped up on an injury-wrecked forward group in the later part of last season. I like Coleman a lot. You probably do too. This pick worked out much better than expected. While Boucher’s offensive game never really worked all that well in the NHL, he has a career out of being a tweener and he did make over 100 appearances in the NHL. That is better than most fourth round picks. Pietila never had an offensive game; he was thought to be a defensive winger at the next level since his selection. But he has earned a number of call ups - not too shabby for a fifth rounder. Scarlett never made it to the NHL, but he had an AHL career. In total, this class looks pretty good. At least a lot better than 2009, 2010 and, if we’re honest, any class since 2005.
The 2012 NHL Draft
The Top Pick: Stefan Matteau, center, first round, 29th overall.
The Others Who At Least Made it to the NHL: Damon Severson (D, 2nd, 60th), Ben Thomson (RW, 4th, 96th), Alexander Kerfoot (C, 5th, 150th)
The Others Who Did Not: Ben Johnson (LW, 3rd, 90th), Graham Black (C, 5th, 135th), Artur Gavrus (C, 6th, 180th)
The ILWT Mock Draft Pick: Tom Wilson. Seriously.
Was the Mock Pick Better than Reality?: Yes. Tom Wilson may be a cheapshotting jerk, but he is a NHL player with NHL talent when he is not crossing the proverbial line. Of course, there was no chance of New Jersey actually getting Wilson. Washington picked him at 16th overall.
The Overview in 2012: I deferred the overview to Tom Stivali, who was primarily writing about prospects at ILWT at the time. This draft had a bit of controversy as Lou decided to keep this first rounder instead of giving it up as part of the punishment for New Jersey’s first contract with Kovalchuk. With Matteau, it was known he was aggressive but if he could tone it down and hone his offensive game, he could be a second-line caliber forward. This was a forward heavy draft class with Severson being the lone non-forward. Tom noted the mix of forward types and that no one was initially planning to go to college (Kerfoot would). With the draft taking a few weeks after the Stanley Cup run, this felt like a little bit of an afterthought but the feeling was OK. I personally preferred Daniil Zharkov, but I thought the picks of Severson, Black and Gavrus were good ones. I didn’t like the Thomson pick.
The 2019 Overview of 2012’s Class: In a class of six forwards taken out of seven players, the one non-forward was the most successful. It took time, but Severson has shown to be that vaunted two-way defenseman the team hoped they would have in Gelinas, Merrill, and even Larsson. In recent seasons, he has been given the responsibility of playing signficant minutes next to Andy Greene. His style will have critics, but you cannot say his selection was not a smashing success.
Unfortunately, the six forwards picked almost entirely faltered. Matteau had a contentious development path. I think he was rushed into the NHL too early and even with additional time in the AHL, he struggled to really belong at this level. After nearly four years in New Jersey’s system, he was dealt to Montreal for Devante Smith-Pelly, who has done much more than Matteau in a few more games with New Jersey. Sad to say, but Matteau turned out to be a bust. (Disclosure: the guy I wanted instead was drafted 91st overall and never played a NHL game.) The real success among the six is Kerfoot, who never played a minute for New Jersey. He did decide to go to Harvard and then enter free agency after his senior year in 2017. Colorado signed him and he has done fairly well there. The rest combined for three games of limited minutes by Thomson. As much as I liked the Severson pick and I like Severson now, this was a pretty poor draft class. Kerfoot prevented it from being a one-man class, but he never played for the Devils so it is somewhat moot.
The 2013 NHL Draft
The Top Pick: Steven Santini, defenseman, second round, 42nd overall. The Devils had 39th overall, but they traded down a few spots for this pick plus the 73rd overall pick.
The Others Who At Least Made it to the NHL: Miles Wood (LW, 4th, 100th)
The Others Who Did Not: Ryan Kujawinski (C, 3rd, 73rd), Myles Bell (R, 6th, 160st), Anthony Broduer (G, 7th, 208th)
The ILWT Mock Draft Pick: At 9th overall, we picked Hunter Shinkaruk.
Was the Mock Pick Better than Reality?: Not really. The Devils traded ninth overall to Vancouver for Cory Schneider. Vancouver used that pick for Bo Horvat and spent their other first rounder on Shinkaruk. Shinkaruk has played just 15 NHL games as of this writing, so that should tell you how well he turned out. Schneider may have had an awful 2018 but he has contributed way more than Shinkaruk ever could.
The Overview in 2013: This draft was held on one day, June 30, and it was at The Rock. It was one of the few times I got to play journalist as SBN granted me a media credential. I even asked Santini an awkward question and stood in intimidation as Lou held court in the media room. As much as I have no desire to be a journalist (being a blogger is more fun), it was a special day for me personally.
My overview called it a satisfying day. As surprised as I was with the Devils trading ninth overall to Vancouver for Cory Schneider (I wanted Valeri Nichushkin), I realized as the day went on that it was a good decision. The Devils have been bad at drafting goalies, they needed a Martin Brodeur replacement, and Schneider was more than capable. I was not initially a fan of the Steve Santini selection; I preferred a forward like Artturi Lehkonen. I was trying to be more hopeful for the Kujawinski pick but I did not mention then who I would have rather wanted. Marty announcing the selection of his son, Anthony, was a sentimental moment.
The 2019 Overview of 2013’s Class: By being there all day and experiencing the draft in the press box, I had a more positive opinion about the class. Today, not so much.
The trade for Schneider definitely worked out at least to a degree. He was not used as he should have initially and his 2018 was terrible. However, he provided more than enough good performances from 2013 to 2017 to command the starter’s role. Further, he bounced back enough in 2019 to make one hopeful for the goaltending play next season. Besides, Nichushkin has yet to meet his touted potential from 2013.
Unfortunately, that decision was the best one made in the draft class. Schneider, for better or worse, is a #1 or #1A goalie in this league. The rest of 2013 has yielded not much. The Wood pick was a real fortunate one in the fourth round. He definitely belongs and his straight-ahead speed makes him standout. Can he improve the rest of his game like he showed in 2017-18? We can only hope. But he is not at a level where he can be a consistent second line winger or anything like that. Still, for a fourth-rounder, I cannot complain too loudly. He may not be a diamond, but he was a kind of jewel in the rough.
Steve Santini earned a three-year deal after his extension, but he has yet to secure a regular role on the blueline. Whenever he steps on the ice, the Devils’ offense crashes and he is not good enough his own end to make it work out. They tried him next to Greene, they tried him in a more limited role, and I think it is not guaranteed he’ll have a regular spot on the roster next season. Not with Connor Carrick around and not with the potential arrivals of Ty Smith and Jeremy Davies. Lehkonen turned out better, too.
But at least Santini has played enough to get that second contract. Kujawinski, Bell, and Anthony Brodeur have never appeared in the NHL. Kujawinski was in the AHL for a time but never had a real chance of making it. Bell was an overaged pick so he went right into pro hockey where he played just two games with Albany, 41 in the ECHL, and that was it for his pro career. Brodeur never went into professional hockey. While these were lower picks, you can see the trend that the Devils’ draft classes have found a couple of players of varying quality and that’s it.
The Devils did get something out of the 2013 NHL Draft and continue to get that something out of Schneider, Wood, and, to lesser extent, Santini. However, I do not look back at the 2013 class and think that this was just fine. I think my thoughts then were more positive given my own experience. It could have been worse, though. It could have been the 2014 class.
The 2014 NHL Draft
The Top Pick: John Quenneville, center, first round, 30th overall. The Devils were originally set to give up their first rounder as part of the Kovalchuk punishment. But after an appeal, they were granted the last pick in the first round.
The Others Who At Least Made it to the NHL: Josh Jacobs (D, 2nd, 41st)
The Others Who Did Not: Connor Chatham (RW, 3rd, 71st), Ryan Rehill (D, 5th, 131st), Joey Dudek (F, 6th, 152nd), Brandon Baddock (C, 6th, 161st)
The ILWT Mock Draft Pick: At 30th overall, we picked Brayden Point. The same Brayden Point who has emerged as one of the top young forwards in the world in Tampa Bay.
Was the Mock Pick Better than Reality?: Hell yeah it was.
The Overview in 2014: Knowing that you cannot judge a draft class until years later and that these were all young men being selected, I had to be charitable in my description of the 2014 draft class. The nicest I could be was to state that the Devils were “underwhelming.” While they had a forward-heavy draft, I did not think they met their needs. Even in 2014, I did not think Quenneville was the best pick they could have made at 30th; I preferred Ivan Barbashev, who went 34th. I did not like the Jacobs pick so much because I wanted a forward like Vladimir Kamenev, Vaclav Karabacek, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, and especially Point. I straight up wrote in 2014 that the Chatham pick was not a good pick. I did not like the picks for grit; though I did say the Devils took a “good chance” with Dudek. I was not happy with what the Devils did back then.
The 2019 Overview of 2014’s Class: I was right. This draft class stunk.
Quenneville has been given plenty of chances to make the New Jersey team and for every one, he failed to do enough to secure a NHL spot. He has done well enough at the AHL level to not ignore him and so he keeps getting chances. The result? 33 games with a total of two goals and three assists. He’s 23 but I’m not confident he will “break out” anytime soon. By the way, Ivan Barbashev is a regular for St. Louis.
Josh Jacobs finally made his NHL debut last season for one game. Colton White surpassed him for a call up and Jacobs was left in the AHL as bad Devils teams tried out other defensemen. I’m not confident he will be a defenseman at this level. Defenseman prospects acquired since 2014 have moved past him. He stuck around after the wave of Gelinas, Merrill, Urbom, and Larsson passed - and he is still marked for the AHL. This pick did not work out either.
And neither did any of the others. Which is enraging because the Devils could have had an ace in 2014. It is not revisionist or hindsight to say the Devils missed out on Brayden Point. He was not this unknown player in 2014. He was a scoring machine in the WHL since he was 16. I and most of the writers of this blog wanted him as the Devils’ first round pick. They passed on him three times and they (and 28 other teams) regret it. Chatham over Point? I’m still peeved about it five years later.
I think for many fans, 2014 was a confirmation that David Conte lost his touch as Director of Scouting and someone to trust with the NHL Draft. I do not disagree. And getting pretty much nothing out of 2014 impacts the current team to a degree. Those players picked then are just about in their prime and can contribute. Part of the reason why the Devils needed to re-build so strongly was because of draft classes yielding just one or a couple of players. And this class yielded nobody.
An Early-ish Look Back at the 2015 NHL Draft
The Top Pick: Pavel Zacha, center, first round, 6th overall.
The Others Who At Least Made it to the NHL: Mackenzie Blackwood (G, 2nd, 42nd), Blake Speers (C, 3rd, 67th), Colton White (D, 4th, 97th), Brett Seney (C, 6th, 137st)
The Others Who Did Not: N/A
The ILWT Mock Draft Pick: At 6th overall, we picked Mathew Barzal.
Was the Mock Pick Better than Reality?: For two years in a row, the answer is a resounding yes.
The Overview in 2015: I highlighted how the Devils acquired speed, forwards, and a goalie in 2015. I thought that the Zacha pick was acceptable in that the Devils have not had a prospect like him in years. I still preferred Barzal and some of the other writers had other preferences (I recall CJ really wanting Timo Meier). I was quite pleased with the Devils trading their 41st overall pick to Anaheim for Kyle Palmieri and a third rounder in 2016. I was very disappointed that the Devils traded down a few spots to draft a goalie, Blackwood, with a fairly high second rounder. I noted that no one else drafted a goalie in the second round and there was a reason for it. I was not alone in my disappointment. I did like the other selections; I thought Speers and Seney were good gets for where they were picked. Mike told me that Blackwood casted a shadow on an otherwise decent draft. I agreed with that then.
The 2019 Overview of 2015’s Class: It is not quite five years from 2015, but this year’s class is looking much better than a lot of the previous ones in the past decade. It could end up being their best since 2005. Of course, it is not without some underwhelming points.
Every time Zacha gets mentioned, many are quick to point out how mostly everyone picked after him has went on to become more of an impact player than Zacha. It especially hurt that Barzal turned out to be a star. Zacha is not this total scrub of a player. He was awesome on the PK last season. He is not a liability without the puck. While he is not able to do it enough or consistently, he can surprise with really good passes and reads on occasion. That’s something Josefson could and did not do. Still, as with Josefson, this was an underwhelming selection - even if he better than the 2010 first rounder.
I (and others) can eat some crow about the Blackwood pick. As much as I did not like it then, it is 2019 and I am hoping Blackwood is a legitimate NHL goaltender. His call up and subsequent usage in 2019 showed that he very well could be. While he did not dominate (or play particularly well) in the AHL, his large frame and athleticism absolutely translated to the NHL level and his other mechanics work well for what he does. Should he get through all of 2019-20 with New Jersey, Blackwood would be the best goaltender the Devils drafted since Scott Clemmensen in 1997. That would end an 18-year streak of futility that includes Jean-Francois Damphousse (1st Round, 1997), Ari Ahonen (1st, 1999), Matus Kostur (5th, 2000), Jason Smith (6th, 2003), Josh Disher (6th, 2004), Jeff Frazee (2nd, 2005), Wedgewood, Clermont, and Brodeur. And if he does end up being a #1/1A NHL goalie for the Devils, that is a lot more than most of the other players I name checked for the second round pick in my 2015 overview. Please continue dunking on the doubters like me, Blackwood.
As for the later picks, Speers and White may not have set futures for New Jersey but they performed well enough to get a look. That is more than most later picks. Seney has shown to be a sparkplug of a forward. The sixth-rounder earned an early call-up prior to the run on injuries and showcased a lot of energy for a fourth-line center. He got into 51 games, which is not nothing to sneeze at. I think he has some more work to do, but I think he can become a regular even if it is in a depth position. For where he was picked, that’s pretty solid.
Most of all, that trade for Palmieri worked out wonderfully. Palmieri has been the Devils’ best right winger since he was acquired. He has been great producer of goals, especially on the power play. Amid some really lean years, Palmieri was someone worth watching. It was a good trade then and it turned out to be a great one later. By the way, the 41st overall pick was moved by Anaheim to Our Hated Rivals, who took Ryan Gropp - who has not yet played in a single NHL game.
Given the Zacha pick, some fans have claimed that this draft falls at the feet of Conte. Ray Shero was recently made general manager earlier in the offseason, so he had to rely on what staff he had and he ultimately decided to go with Conte and his people’s information. If you credit Shero, then you must also blame him where needed. If you blame Conte, then you need to credit him for what is working out. All the same, 2015 was a much better draft class than most of the ones listed in this post.
An Early Look Back at the 2016 NHL Draft
The Top Pick: Michael McLeod, center, first round, 12th overall. Devils had the 11th overall pick but traded down a spot with Ottawa so they could get Logan Brown.
The Others Who At Least Made it to the NHL: Nathan Bastian (RW, 2nd, 41st), Joey Anderson (RW, 3rd, 74th), Brandon Gignac (C, 3rd, 80th), Jesper Bratt (LW, 6th, 162nd)
Note: Since we’re less than four years from this draft, I’m not going to list out who didn’t make it into the NHL since they could still be in developmental leagues. This will also apply to 2017 and 2018.
The AAtJ Mock Draft Pick: At 11th overall, we were happy to pick Clayton Keller.
Was the Mock Pick Better than Reality?: Yes, however, Keller went to Arizona before the Devils could even pick him.
The Overview in 2016: A re-building Devils team put together nine selections, picked six forwards, and acquired Beau Bennett for immediate help. I was fine with what went on. I wanted the Devils to pick offensively skilled players and they did that to a degree. They did not pick any grinders or “character” guys. I didn’t think they picked a future first-liner but they picked guys who could help in the future. At least it was not as bad as the 2014 draft.
The 2019 Overview of 2016’s Class: It is real early but I have already been proven wrong about the first-liner thought. Jesper Bratt has played on his off-wing on the first line at points over the last two seasons and has succeeded. This could end up being the Jesper Bratt draft instead of the Michael McLeod draft. Wood and Coleman (and Seney is on his way) were good late-round finds; but Bratt was a true diamond in the rough. I wonder how he would do if he played at his natural position?
As for the rest, Bennett did fill in a NHL spot for a season. That’s likely worth more than the 77th overall pick, Connor Hall. Joer Anderson, like Seney, received an early call-up last season and appeared in more than just a handful of games. I’m not sure what kind of player he will be, but the Devils clearly liked what he could do. McLeod, Bastian, and Gignac all made their debuts. McLeod did not impress at all and it brings in some doubts of what he could do at the professional level. This Fall and the following one will be telling as far as what he could be in New Jersey. Bastian missed time due to injury after his call up, but he demonstrated some good signs for the future. Yegor Rykov was dealt to Our Hated Rivals in a rental deal for Michael Grabner, so he had value there. What is of note is that outside of Maltsev, the Devils have all of these players under contract. Evan Cormier and Jeremy Davies signed ELCs this season, so they may have a future yet. Even if McLeod ends up as an underwhelming pick, Bratt’s emergence outshines that possibility. I like the class as a whole a little more than what I thought then.
A Very Early Look Back at the 2017 NHL Draft
The Top Pick: Nico Hischier, center, first round, first overall. First ever first overall and highest ever Swiss player in New Jersey draft history.
The AAtJ Mock Draft Pick: There was plenty of discussion, but we chose Nico over Nolan.
Was the Mock Pick Better than Reality?: No. We got it right.
The Overview in 2017: Still very much in a re-build, the Devils had a whopping eleven picks for this draft. They won the 2017 NHL Draft Lottery, so they went first and my hope was that they would get it right. They needed to. They chose Nico. I was very happy. As for the class as a whole, it was a very European-based class. Where they all played varied, but eight out of the eleven were from outside North America. Once again, there was an emphasis on skating and skill and that showed with most of their picks. In addition to Hischier, I liked the majority of the forwards they took and understood the desire to add some defenders into the system albeit that three of the four were seventh rounders. The only pick I did not understand was the Gilles Senn selection. I was still pleased with what the Devils did.
The 2019 Overview of 2017’s Class: Nico Hischier is a first-line center. The Devils absolutely got their first overall selection right. The remainder of the class is loaded with potential. Jesper Boqvist and Reilly Walsh had great seasons and there is some hope among the fans they will be signed soon. Aarne Talvitie opened many eyes and had a great freshman year at Penn State before he suffered a significant injury that cut his 2018-19 short. Marian Studenic went professional and played in Binghamton last season; the Devils will keep an eye on him. The Devils just signed Senn to an ELC. I’m hopeful that the class will yield more than just Hischier. But after years and years drafts where the Devils did not find a clear-cut top line or top pairing or starting goaltender, Hischier has been a great streak breaker. He is not even three seasons into his career and he is already the best first rounder selected by the Devils since Travis Zajac (2004) and Zach Parise (2003).
And he is way better than Nolan.
An Incredibly Early Look Back at the 2018 NHL Draft
The Top Pick: Ty Smith, defenseman, 1st round, 17th overall
The AAtJ Mock Draft Pick: We picked Barrett Hayton. This one was tricky as Joel Farabee, Rasmus Kupari, and Bode Wilde all went before NJ in the SBN Mock Draft for 2018.
Was the Mock Pick Better than Reality?: It is too early to say. Speaking of early, Hayton went fifth overall to Arizona in 2018.
The Overview in 2018: While we may argue whether the New Jersey Devils are truly “fast, attacking, and supportive,” their draft classes since 2016 have been. Shero, Paul Castron, and their people have made sure of it. 2018 was no different. Ty Smith fell to the Devils and I was thrilled - as were many Devils fans. Without a second or a third rounder, the Devils are hoping to unearth another mid-to-late round success. I wrote that if one or two of Xavier Bernard, Akira Schmid, Mitchel Hoelscher, Yegor Sharangovich, and Eetu Pukkila succeed as picks, then the draft should be seen as a success provided Smith is the real thing.
The 2019 Overview of 2018’s Class: Same, except Smith has shown to be more than ready for the next level. I think he competes and takes a job in the Fall.
Final Thoughts & Your Take
Draft classes with few success eventually catch up to a team. Not only does it mean the team has to be very smart about signing undrafted free agents and NHL free agents, it hurts the overall depth. Devils were definitely hurt by this, especially in the middle of the last decade. Not that the Devils got nothing at all out of their drafts - 2014 excepted - but finding only one or two players was a pretty weak return. Especially since that they were for players that are not exactly difficult to replace. Outside of Larsson and Severson, the Devils have not drafted someone that became an impact player until Hischier in 2017. And it’s questionable whether Larsson and Severson even meet that requirement. At least the Devils will be able to draft one of those this year. While it is true that Conte’s drafts have hit on some good mid-to-late round finds like Blake Coleman and Miles Wood, it was not enough to make up for all of the misses.
This look back confirms what many have felt about David Conte and the Devils’ drafting. It was not very good. More often than not, it underwhelmed. The 2009 and 2011 classes were not bad, but they were not total successes either. His best in this look back is arguably his last with New Jersey. While Conte may have had his hands all over 2015’s class, that draft could end up yielding three NHL players - including potentially their first successful goaltender pick in nearly two decades - and the Devils acquired Palmieri then too. That’s a successful two-day set. It was a far cry better than the big miss that was the 2014 NHL Draft. Still, it was time for Conte to go and go he went after 2015.
The transition to Shero and Castron is notable and appreciable. The current team may not be so fast or attacking, but the prospects have been. They emphasize skating among their picks, they prefer skilled players, and so there is real reason to get excited for the team’s prospect pipeline. While it is very early to judge the class, there are already impacts on the current team. Hischier and Bratt are key players in the organization and will undoubtedly take up two top-six spots. Several players in the 2016 draft class have had their first taste of the NHL last season. There is growing excitement in the fanbase for the likes of Smith, Boqvist, Davies, Walsh (if signed), and Talvitie. And this year, the Devils will get to add either a stud center who is an incredible skater in Hughes or a stud winger who is an excellent skater in Kakko. The Devils’ approach since 2016 is looking good and so I hope it continues - even if it means spending a pick on a goaltender every year.
Now I turn this long look back to you. Which of the last ten Devils’ drafts was your favorite? Which one of them aged the best in your eyes? Which one really stunk in retrospect (other than 2014)? Who was picked that you did not like so much but have since turned your opinion around? Who were you excited for that did not turn out as well as you would have hoped? How bad did our opinions on these draft classes and/or our mock draft picks look to you in retrospect? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about any or all of the past ten Devils draft classes in the comments. Thank you for reading.
Tomorrow, the 2019 NHL Draft prospect profiles begin. We will start with an American on the United Stated National Developmental Team Program.