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Looking Back at the 2016 New Jersey Devils Draft Class

The 2016 NHL Draft saw the New Jersey Devils take nine players, acquire Beau Bennett, and ultimately get a lot of value for who they took. Now that five years has past, let us look back to evaluate how the Devils did with that draft.

New Jersey Devils v Philadelphia Flyers
The true face of the 2016 Devils draft class.
Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

On Wednesday, the NHL will hold their annual Draft Lottery. On Thursday, we will begin posting prospect profiles ahead of the 2021 NHL Draft, which will be held on July 23 and 24. As is tradition, we will look at the prospects of the future, come up with opinions based on what we read, and hope to identify a group of players we want the New Jersey Devils to pick and perhaps a group we would not. The majority of the prospects who are picked will be 17 or 18 year old men; it is not really fair to cast full judgment about a draft class until some time has passed. The rule of thumb I have used is five years. That allows for enough time for the prospect to finish playing at their level (juniors, college, internationally), get into North American pro hockey, and perhaps break into the NHL. Even if they have not broken through, we have a better idea of what kind of player they may become. To demonstrate this, let us look back five years ago at the Devils’ draft class of 2016.

The 2016 Draft Summary

The Picks: The Devils selected nine players. As per HockeyDB:

  • First round, 12th overall - Michael McLeod, C, Mississauga (OHL)
  • Second round, 41st overall - Nathan Bastian, RW, Mississauga (OHL)
  • Third round, 73rd overall - Joey Anderson, RW, U.S. National Team Development Program
  • Third round, 80th overall - Brandon Gignac, C, Shawinigan (QMJHL)
  • Fourth round, 102nd overall - Mikhail Maltsev, LW, Russia U-18 National Team (MHL)
  • Fourth round, 105th overall - Evan Cormier, G, Saginaw (OHL)
  • Fifth round, 132nd overall - Yegor Rykov, D, St. Petersburg Jrs. (MHL)
  • Sixth round, 162nd overall - Jesper Bratt, LW, AIK (HockeyAllsvenskan)
  • Seventh round, 192nd overall - Jeremy Davies, D, Bloomington (USHL)

The Draft Transactions: The Devils made two trades during the 2016 draft. Again, as per HockeyDB:

  • The Devils traded 11th overall (Logan Brown) to Ottawa for 12th overall (Michael McLeod) and 80th overall (Brandon Gignac).
  • The Devils traded 77th overall (Connor Hall) to Pittsburgh for Beau Bennett.

The Initial Reaction Back in 2016: My main takeaway in the afternoon of June 25, 2016 was that the Devils took a whole bunch of forwards and it was an “OK” class. I thought it was fine. I thought it was a lot better than the 2014 draft class. The comments were mixed with some of the People Who Matter disappointed at what happened and other People Who Matter thought it was solid enough.

The individual polls for each pick mostly had results of “I liked the pick.” The voters were in the middle for the Anderson and Davies picks. The only pick most voters did not like was the Cormier selection in the fourth round.

Transaction Review

Since there were only two, let us look at the trades made at the time.

At the time, I was not impressed with the Devils trading down away from Logan Brown to select Michael McLeod. While McLeod may not be what you would expect from a twelfth overall pick, he has done more in the NHL than Brown has done. Since going professional, Brown has spent most of his time with Belleville in the AHL with 2 games in 2018-19, 23 games in 2019-20, and 1 game in 2020-21. He has scored one goal and put up eight points. Even McLeod has outshined those meager totals. This trade has not come back to haunt the Devils.

Neither has the move to bring Bennett to New Jersey. Sure, Beau Bennett may have not been a particularly memorable Devil. But he was a NHL player at a position of need for the Devils at the time, which was right wing. He wasn’t that bad either. The 77th overall pick ended up being Connor Hall for Pittsburgh, who was never signed by the Pens and is now at the University of New Brunswick after completing his major junior career with Kitchener. Most third round picks do not become NHL players. Bennett was a NHL player. The trade was and should be seen as a win for New Jersey.

Selection by Selection Review

Michael McLeod - 12th overall, first round

Since 2016...: Most draft classes are led by the team’s first selection. Generally, these players are the ones most likely to make it to the NHL and make an impact in the NHL for the team. McLeod was at risk of not meeting either standard as late as the 2019-20 season. McLeod joined Binghamton and failed to make a significant impact on the scoreboard or in their lineup. While McLeod has received extended looks in New Jersey - 21 games in 2018-19, 12 games in 2019-20 - he failed to do much of anything positive to stick in the NHL.

McLeod ended up 16th in the 2020 All About the Jersey Top 25 Under 25 list. I wrote the following then:

I happen to think a move to the wing would probably help him out - and right wing is more open in NJ. I also happen to think that the Ruff coaching staff may be able to get something out of him that the previous regimes have not. But I also think McLeod is approaching the John Quenneville territory of, “OK, but show me something now.” His high ranking is largely driven by the fact that he keeps getting chances in New Jersey and there were signs of having NHL talent. People believe in it; McLeod was a Top 25 player in every list including the Community Survey. It is up to McLeod to take his game up a level. If not soon, then he may need to try to do somewhere else.

Lindy Ruff and his staff kept McLeod at center and McLeod did pick up his game in 2020-21 to warrant a regular spot this season. He often centered a line with Miles Wood and Nathan Bastian, which played like a fourth line but was sometimes given minutes that is usually given to a third line. McLeod was still picked on in the run-of-play. However, he did finally score a goal and most of his nine goals were lovely goals. He also received some tougher assignments, such as penalty killing shifts and defending extra-man situations. At the least, McLeod established that he is a NHL player in the 2020-21 season. A bottom-six center, but a NHL player all the same.

The Conclusion: This pick is still underwhelming in retrospect. Yes, he is a NHL player and he may be better than Logan Brown. However, at 12th overall, the expectations should be higher than “guy who solidifies a bottom-six role in his fifth year since being drafted.” The thing about McLeod is that I think he can be better with adjustments in usage and more game experience. But I do not think he is going to flourish to a point where he could challenge Jack Hughes or Nico Hischier as a top-six center. Even if he is moved to wing, I doubt he can be a top-six player there. I’m glad he has seemingly “made it,” but I wish the Devils picked someone better. At least this draft class is not led by this player.

With the Benefit of Hindsight: In my 2016 summary of the 2016 Devils draft class, I listed Jakob Chychryn as someone I would have preferred instead of McLeod. There was someone better: Charlie McAvoy, who went 15th overall. Sure, it may have led to Ty Smith not being picked and a whole bunch of other effects. But could you imagine this defense with McAvoy on it? There would be far fewer complaints for at least one pairing.

If the Devils wanted a high-octane, fast forward, hindsight would suggest Alex DeBrincat would have been the pick. It would have been very bold at the time. It would have paid off big-time as DeBrincat is a production machine for Chicago. He went 39th overall, so it was not as if the Devils alone missed on him.

Nathan Bastian - 41st overall, second round

Since 2016...: Bastian was McLeod’s teammate in the OHL. They were dubbed, at one point, the Super Buddies. Bastian’s production did not really flourish in the OHL since being picked. This raised some potential concerns about his potential future. But a funny thing happened when he turned pro. He took his lumps in his first season with Binghamton in 2017-18. In 2018-19, he did well enough to earn a seven-game call up where he impressed with three goals and aggressive play. An injury denied him a chance at more games. In 2019-20, he remained in the AHL but did so well that Jeff Ulmer and The Panel dubbed him the MVP of the B-Devils. Whereas frustration was mounting for McLeod, there was more interest in seeing Bastian back in Newark. He finished just behind McLeod in the 2020 AAtJ Top 25 Under 25 at 17th, but the votes were more varied and those who liked him (e.g. me) did like his future. It did not hurt that he was a right winger on a team that needed some right wing depth.

Like McLeod, Bastian was able to solidify a regular spot with New Jersey this season. It was within the bottom six of the forwards and often with McLeod and Wood. While McLeod was more productive, the on-ice rates with Bastian were notably better. Over 4% at Corsi For%, above 50% in Actual Goals For%, and Above 50% in Expected Goals For too. His absence was apparent when Bastian missed about a month of action in 2021. The odds are pretty good that he will remain in the NHL to at least start next season and likely in this role. Despite the drop in numbers in his draft+1 year, he indeed make it.

The Conclusion: That all stated, this one is kind of underwhelming as well. For someone picked fairly early in the second round, I do not think it is unfair to expect more than a bottom-six winger. It may be more acceptable as the likeliness of finding a NHL player of any role drops quite a bit as the draft progresses. Given the remainder of the second round in 2016, unless there are some late blossoming players, Bastian may come out looking fine in the future for at least being a NHL regular. Hence, the “kind of.” Similar to how I felt for the 2020 Top 25 Under 25, I have a more positive opinion of Bastian than McLeod. There is that, at least.

With the Benefit of Hindsight: Could you imagine if the Devils picked Samuel Girard, who went 47th overall, instead of Bastian? Again, it would have led to a lot of changes downstream. And it is possible that Girard may not have developed like he did with Colorado. But that would have been huge.

Joey Anderson - 73rd overall, third round

Since 2016...: Joey Anderson was a hard-working, do a-lot-of-things well kind of right winger. He would not be the top scorer, but he would be the player who could be deployed in all kinds of situations. This worked out quite well with the USNTDP and in college with the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He was on the conference all-Rookie team and won a national championship in 2017. He helped the U.S. take gold at the 2017 WJCs. In 2018, he returned to college, captained the U.S. at the 2018 WJCs, and earned a bronze medal. The Devils moved to sign him before he could even play his junior year. Needless to say, the fans were hyped.

The hype continued when Anderson received an extended call up for 34 games in 2018-19 in his first professional season. As one would expect, it was a challenge for Anderson. More seasoning in the minors would be needed. That seemed to do the trick in 2019-20. He appeared in 18 games in New Jersey and nearly matched his production that he had in 34 games. The run of play was still ugly with him on the ice in either season. So much so that his time was better spent in the AHL. With Binghamton, Anderson was more frequent on the scoresheet and in multiple game situations. Jeff and The Panel felt he was not going to stay in Binghamton for too long. They were right, but not in the way they expected.

On October 10, 2020, the Devils traded Joey Anderson to Toronto for Andreas Johnsson. At the time, I really liked the trade. Johnsson was someone who could conceivably step into the top-six for New Jersey at left wing. That was a need until Janne Kuokkanen meshed well with Jack Hughes and Pavel Zacha turned a corner next to Nico Hischier in April. To get Johnsson for the cost of Anderson, who figured to be a utility, useful, but not critical right winger, seemed like a sweet deal. Johnsson had some great 5-on-5 underlying numbers, which were undercut by some decidedly not great visible numbers or effective shifts. He ended up having his minutes cut and played among the bottom two lines more often than not. And he earned that demotion. As bad as that turned out, it was a lot better than Anderson’s 2021. Anderson ended up appearing in one (1) game for the Maple Leafs and got into 20 games with the Marlies. It remains to be seen how Anderson fits into Toronto’s long term plans. At least they re-signed him to a three-season deal ten days after the trade, so they clearly want to keep him around. It just may be with the Marlies moreso than the Maple Leafs.

The Conclusion: Anderson, as a pick, turned out to be a good one. He flourished as a prospect and received two extended looks at the NHL. That is pretty good for any third round pick in most NHL drafts. The Devils managed to get value for him in the form of a NHL player. A NHL player who was a disappointment last season, but a NHL player all the same. It is unclear if Anderson will be one with the Maple Leafs. I do not know if I would necessarily re-do the trade if I were Tom Fitzgerald and could also go back in time. However, I also do not know if the Devils are really missing Anderson. Between Jesper Bratt, Bastian establishing himself, and the ascendency of Yegor Sharangovich, right wing is not that huge of a concern. In fact, if the Devils kept Anderson, would Sharangovich or Bastian have been blocked out? Or would he have fell behind them in the depth chart? I stand by my first thought that the Devils got some value out of a prospect who did develop but has yet to really stick in the NHL. Given that he is already signed to Toronto for a few more seasons, it could come back to haunt the Devils a bit. But that presumes he makes it and Johnsson never figures it out (or the coaches figure out Johnsson, either way).

With the Benefit of Hindsight: There are not a lot of standouts in the third round after 73rd overall. I think you have to go all the way to 100th overall, which was in the fourth round, when Montreal selected Victor Mete. But, again, I do not think this pick was a bad one or ended up being a waste. The Devils got something out of it. Also, this hindsight blurb will be repeated for the next pick.

Brandon Gignac - 80th overall, third round

Since 2016...: Brandon Gignac was seen as a shrewd pick back in 2016. He put up intriguing offensive numbers in the QMJHL. He was seen as a quick player albeit with a slight frame. As the edict from Ray Shero’s early years was to develop a “fast, attacking, and supportive” team, Gignac seemed to fit that bill. This was justified through his draft+1 year in major juniors when he put up a slightly higher rate of production and went to Albany on an Amateur Try-Out for two games ahead of turning pro in 2017.

Unfortunately, this is when things would go wrong for Gignac. He tore his ACL in December 2017 and would miss the remainder of the 2017-18 season. In retrospect, I wonder if this had more of an impact on the years to come. Gignac seemingly bounced back in 2018-19. He played in 66 games with Binghamton, put up 34 points, and received a call-up to New Jersey for one game (out of necessity, New Jersey had injuries then). However, Gignac’s production and performance suffered in 2019-20. He only appeared in 34 games and as pointed out by Jeff and The Panel, he was a healthy scratch several times in that season. Whatever hope the People Who Matter had in Gignac faded. For example, he fell from 20th in the 2019 AAtJ Top 25 Under 25 all the way down to 37th in 2020. This past season will not likely restore any confidence. Gignac only appeared in two games with Binghamton and spent the majority of the season with Jacksonville of the ECHL in 2021. I’m glad he was able to play somewhere, but that is going in the wrong direction.

The Conclusion: Short of a massive turnaround in this Fall’s training camp and in Utica in 2021-22, I doubt Gignac really has a chance to make it to the NHL. This is not to say the pick was a totally bad one. It made sense at the time,. It was reasonable to have some hope in him; Gignac’s game did not develop to the pro level. This is the fate for a lot of players picked from the third round and onward in most drafts. It is still a miss at the end of the day, but nothing to get upset about.

With the Benefit of Hindsight: I stated I would repeat this part again so: There are not a lot of standouts in the third round after 73rd overall. I think you have to go all the way to 100th overall, which was in the fourth round, when Montreal selected Victor Mete. But, again, I do not think this pick was a bad one or ended up being a waste. The Devils got something out of it.

Mikhail Maltsev - 102nd overall, fourth round

Since 2016...: Maltsev was a bit of a mystery at the time of his selection. He is big, he is Russian, and he seemed to do well with the Russian U-18s. The SKA-St. Petersburg player would play in their system for the following three seasons then remaining in his contract. He played for their MHL team, their VHL team, and even got some action with the main team in the KHL. More impressively, he did make the 2018 Russian World Junior Championships team and was one of their assistant captains. The big question remained: Would he come to North America and what would he do on the ice here?

The answer came in the 2019 offseason. Maltsev signed an entry level contract and reported to Binghamton for the 2019-20 season. There were growing pains. It was not helped by the tumultuous start to the B-Devils that season. The changes in tactics and the lineups could have thrown him off. However, Jeff and The Panel noted that Maltsev improved as the season went on. The bulk of his 21 points in 49 games came in the second half of the AHL season. And the performances must have impressed as Jeff and The Panel noted he ended up with the most stars of the game as the 2019-20 AHL season ended. The young forward showed he had plenty of tools. The fans certainly felt his future was brighter as he ended up 21st in the 2020 AAtJ Top 25 Under 25. Would he get a chance in New Jersey in 2021?

The answer: Yes. After a loan to SKA St. Petersburg that yielded only four appearances, Maltsev joined New Jersey ahead of last season. While he did not initially make the roster, he was retained on the taxi squad. The Devils, like a lot of other NHL teams, rotated players in and out from that squad. This not only gave Maltsev a chance to play, but several more even if those chances did not go so well. Maltsev ended up being more of a regular amid the bottom six forwards than one would have thought. Maltsev finished the season with 33 games played, six goals, three assists, and better 5-on-5 on-ice rate stats than you may have expected.

What is the future of Maltsev in New Jersey? I am not sure. I saw the tools in the large forward on and off the puck. I also saw a player who could stand to work on his shot and react more swiftly to the run of play. And I also saw a player who can probably hang at this level of hockey in 2021-22; more experience in the NHL can only help the 23-year old. I wonder if he would have received these chances on a better team or a team filled with more veterans. But Maltsev did and next season will be more about whether he can be more of game-to-game player for the team, even if it is among the bottom two forward lines. If so, that is at least one player the Devils do not need to go to free agency or trades to acquire for depth.

The Conclusion: That all stated, this is already a successful pick given its location. Most fourth rounders do not even get any NHL games, never mind playing over half of the team’s games in any season. Even if Maltsev regresses to be a 13th forward or goes back to Utica, he has done more than the vast majority of his fellow picks in this year’s draft class at the fourth round or later.

With the Benefit of Hindsight: I feel like it is splitting hairs to suggest Noah Gregory, Ross Colton, or Reily Stillman would have been better picks because they have either played as many games or produced more than Maltsev. Even so, the high in points among them is 12. It is hardly enough to make one wish the Devils picked someone else. If you want to go all the way to the sixth round, Brendan Hagel would be a fine option. But the Devils got the best sixth rounder in the draft, so that is a bit moot.

Evan Cormier - 105th overall, fourth round

Since 2016...: Most of the People Who Matter scratched their heads at this selection. A year after Mackenzie Blackwood was picked in the second round, the Devils drafted Evan Cormier. As it would turn out, Ray Shero and Paul Castron showed a preference for drafting one goaltender each year. Cormier was the 2016 goaltender pick.

The other part about Cormier that made one wonder was his not-so-impressive save percentage. The Saginaw Spirit netminder played in 58 games and posted an 89% overall save percentage. Perhaps he needed more time to grow and the saves would come. That technically happened in the following two seasons with Saginaw as his overall save percentages rose to the 90% area: 89.9% in 49 games in 2016-17, 90% in 61 games in 2017-18. While an improvement, it was hardly something to get excited for.

It was not enough to warrant an entry level contract - not right away at least. He spent the first half of the 2018-19 season in Canadian college, playing in the crease for the University of New Brunswick. The ELC would come in February and so Cormier then joined the organization, splitting time between Binghamton and Adirondack. In his first season as a pro, he put up a 90.2% in 15 games with the B-Devils and a more heinous 87.5% in 6 games with the Thunder. In the following season, Cormier ended up on the outside of the AHL and saw some action in the ECHL. That is not so bad for a goaltender; it is more important that a goaltender plays rather than the level it is at. However, Cormier’s save percentages remained rather low. His 88.3% in 11 games with Binghamton and his 88.5% in 15 games with Adirondack in 2019-20 inspired little confidence. Last season, he did get into 11 games with Binghamton and posted another sub-90% save percentage with an 88.8% mark.

Cormier is a restricted free agent. Because of that, he is expected to be exposed in the upcoming Seattle expansion draft. Cormier and Blackwood are the only goaltenders in the organization who qualifies for the league’s requirements for one goaltender of each team to be exposed. Blackwood is not going to get exposed. That is ultimately Cormier’s short-term value to the organization. After the expansion draft, we shall see what happens. But his time in New Jersey may be ending soon as Akira Schmid and Nico Daws are set to join Utica or Adirondack this season

The Conclusion: This is more of what happens to most fourth round picks. They get a chance to play in the pros in the team’s minor league system. They do not perform so well to warrant further opportunities. Therefore, a lot of picks in a draft end up having zero NHL games played. Cormier has received plenty of chances at the AHL and ECHL levels and has not made enough saves to warrant more games played and solidify the position for either team. The pick did not work out. It is what it is.

With the Benefit of Hindsight: At least Noah Gregory, Ross Colton, or Reily Stillman have made it to the NHL. Ditto for Max Lajoie, although that was mostly in 2018-19 Or Brandon Hagel. Or even the two games of Adam Werner, a fifth round goaltender picked by Colorado. If it is any consolation, only 3 goalies from this year’s draft class have even played in a NHL game: Werner, Filip Gustavsson (55th overall, Pittsburgh), and Carter Hart (48th overall, Philadelphia).

Yegor Rykov - 132nd overall, fifth round

Since 2016...: Rykov was an overage (by one year) draft pick. The defenseman split his time between SKA St. Petersburg’s KHL, VHL, and MHL teams in the 2015-16 season and he was part of Russia’s Silver Medal win at the 2016 WJCs. His performances warranted a late pick by New Jersey.

The following seasons seemed like this would be a diamond found among the roughs of a fifth round pick. Rykov was brought up to play for the main SKA St. Peterburg team for the 2016-17 season. While his minutes were limited (around 12 mintues), he played in 47 season games and 15 playoff games as SKA won the Gagarin Cup. Rykov wore an ‘A’ for the Russian WJC team that took the Bronze in 2017. Interest in the Russian defenseman was rising. More of the same came from Rykov in 2017-18, although he was more productive with two goals and twelve assists to go with 66 total games with SKA. However, that would be the end of Rykov as a Devils prospect.

On February 22, 2018, the Devils lost 2-4 to Minnesota. But I and many of the People Who Matter was more blown away by the news that evening. The Devils made their first ever trade with Our Hated Rivals. Ahead of a playoff run, GM Ray Shero sought to bolster the team’s scoring and he found his answer in Manhattan. The Devils traded Rykov and their second round pick in 2018 (which was later packaged to Ottawa to move up in the first round in 2018 to take K’Andre Miller) for Michael Grabner. At the time, this made sense. Grabner was one of leading scorers in New York. He was fast and could take some of the pressure to produce off of Taylor Hall. In practice, it did not work out. Grabner’s stick gone cold, he did not finish a myriad of 1-on-1s and odd man rushes that his speed developed, and his usefulness to New Jersey was limited. Combined with the Devils short-lived playoff run - going 1-4 to Tampa Bay - and the gains from that rental were short-lived at best.

With those kinds of deals, one worries whether the future would come back to haunt the Devils. That second round pick ended up being used on Jonny Tychonick, who is still in college, and so it remains to be seen if that will be a pick the Devils rue. Rykov’s seeming growth in Russia was the bigger concern. Did the Devils just hand a future young and solid defender to Our Hated Rivals? The concern continued as Rykov was transferred to HC Sochi for the 2018-19 season and would average over 19 minutes per game. It was a sign of further growth. On top of that, he signed a two-season ELC with Our Hated Rivals in 2019.

However, the concerns would be allayed. Partially because of the Devils’ own issues. Partially because Rykov’s 2019-20 would be its own struggle. Rykov suffered an ankle injury in training camp and would be assigned to Hartford, the AHL affiliate of Our Hated Rivals, in December. With the Wolf Pack, Rykov would only get into 27 games. While productive, his NHL future was cast in doubt in August 2020. Rykov signed for one-season with CSKA Moscow of the KHL. It is a loan from the NHL perspective, but it is telling that he was not recalled when NHL announced their 2021 plans for the season. Worse, Rykov averaged over 15 minutes per game with CSKA Moscow; it was not as if he flourished or commanded a bigger role over time. In the postseason, his average ice time dropped to fewer than ten minutes. Now Rykov’s NHL contract has ended, he was last with one of the richest teams in Russia, and given the recent management upheaval in Manhattan, it is unclear what plans Rykov may have in North America. He could just as easily decide to stay in the KHL. If so, then at least the Devils will not be hurt in 2021 from the deal made back in 2018.

The Conclusion: This was a fifth round pick that turned out well for the Devils. Similar to Anderson, while the trade return may have not been what we would have hoped for, the prospect yielded an actual NHL player. Either Rykov shows up in the NHL, which at least shows that the Devils were right to think he had value as a future professional in this league - which is very uncommon in the fifth round. Or Rykov does not, which means the Devils got value for him when they could and therefore do not have to suffer the disappointment that comes with a pick not working out. Grabner may have not been good enough, but at least he was with New Jersey.

With the Benefit of Hindsight: I’m struggling to really accept Max Lajoie or Nicolas Caamano as significantly better fifth rounders. While both played in the NHL, they certainly do not play significant roles and they would not have garnered a top scorer in a rental deal at a NHL Trade Deadline.

Jesper Bratt - 162nd overall, sixth round

Since 2016...: You know who he is. Jesper Bratt is quick, has great hands, and his playstyle meshes well alongside Nico Hischier. Bratt went back to AIK for the 2016-17 season. He joined the Devils in the Summer of 2017 for the Prospect Development tournament. Bratt impressed. When training camp came along, Bratt was on the roster. Bratt impressed some more. When preseason games began, Bratt made it into the lineup. Bratt continued to impress. And when the Opening Night roster was written up, the 19-year old Bratt was among them. He has been a top-six winger ever since.

Needless to say, Bratt has become the star of the Devils’ draft class in 2016. Unlike all of the other players picked, Bratt has played in a significant role at the NHL level. He also did so well before the other players even had a chance to go pro in North America. Finding a first or second line winger is usually an expectation for the first round. Finding one in the sixth round is utterly fantastic. And he has backed that up as Bratt has become a regular top-five finisher in our annual Top 25 Under 25 series.

To put this in further perspective, let consider the entire 2016 draft class by points. It is not the best point of comparison, but it best highlights how impressive Bratt has been. Bratt has put up 130 points in 231 regular season games. Only seven players have put up more points. Alex DeBrincat is the only one who was not a first round and top-ten pick among that group. I will concede that Charlie McAvoy, Samuel Girard, maybe Adam Fox, and maybe Jakob Chychryn have done more than Bratt given they are defensemen and Bratt is not. But the point remains: Bratt has been one of the most productive players in this entire draft class, which has plenty of excellent young players in it. That only makes his performances all the more impressive.

The Conclusion: This was a wonderful pick. There should be no argument that Bratt is the best player among the Devils’ picks in 2016 and he is the face of that year’s draft class.

With the Benefit of Hindsight: No one. This was absolutely the best pick in hindsight.

Jeremy Davies - 192nd overall, seventh round

Since 2016...: Davies was the final pick of the Devils’ 2016 draft. He was another overage defenseman selected. Unlike Rykov, he was selected out the USHL with a commitment to Northeastern University. I figured he would go to college, play out his four years, and then we would see what was there. I had no idea what was coming.

As a freshman, Davies would put up 23 points in 38 games. That is a very good first year in a college environment with more physically established players and generally more talented ones than the USHL. Davies took another step as a sophomore with an astounding 35 points in 36 games in 2017-18. Davies was named to the First All-Star Teams for the Hockey East conference and First All-American Team for the NCAA (East region). Davies did it again in 2018-19 while being a part of a national championship for Northeastern. Once again, he was a point shy of averaging a point per game. Once again, he was named to Hockey East’s First All-Star Team. He was named to the NCAA’s Second All-American Team, which is still a high accomplishment. With each of these seasons, the hype was growing as to whether the Devils would sign Davies. After all, it appeared they had an offensive defenseman of the future in their system. They just needed to make sure he would not go back for his senior year and risk hitting free agency afterwards.

The Devils did sign Davies on April 3, 2019 to an ELC that would begin in 2019-20. However, he would never appear for the Devils. His value as a prospect was used elsewhere. On June 24, 2019, the Devils traded Steve Santini, Davies, their 2019 second round pick, and their 2020 second round pick to Nashville for P.K. Subban. At the time, this was a huge deal and one worth taking for the Devils. Since then, Subban has not really lived up to the hype and his massive contract. I think it is fair to say that his 2021 season was much better than his 2019-20 season. And the coaches clearly leaned on Subban as he finished just behind Damon Severson in average ice time per game with 22:22. I think this is much more than what Santini, Davies, Bobby Brink (Nashville moved the second rounder to Philly), and Marat Khusnutdinov (this pick was moved to Minnesota) has done so far and perhaps what they could do at this level. Maybe Brink and Khusnutdinov can do more as forwards. I am 100% confident Santini could not do what Subban has been doing in New Jersey. And I am fairly confident Davies will not end up being a first or second pairing defender in the NHL.

I will point out that Davies has done more than the majority of seventh round picks by actually appearing in the NHL. Since the trade, Davies spent all of 2019-20 with Milwaukee in the AHL. He put up 28 points in 64 games, which is a fine haul for a rookie season as a defenseman. Only five rookie defenders had more points than him that season. Davies ended up splitting time between the AHL and NHL with Nashville in 2021. He made 9 appearances for Chicago and put up 9 assists there. Davies made his NHL debut and 15 additional appearances with Nashville. His 5-on-5 on-ice rates were not the worst among all of the defensemen the Predators used (they used 15) and he put up one assist in the 16 games he played in. Davies did not make an appearance in the postseason, but getting more than just a handful of games in the NHL is a lot more than what most seventh rounders get. It remains to be seen how he figures in Nashville’s future plans. But he got his opportunity at least.

The Conclusion: As with Rykov, this was a seventh round pick that turned out wonderfully. The Devils were able to package his value for not only a NHL player, but one who has been playing a significant role on the Devils (for better or worse). His appearances in Nashville this season makes me confident in thinking that if the Devils never dealt for Subban, then maybe Davies would have made his NHL debut with New Jersey rather than with Nashville. I still do not think the upside is much further than third-pairing defenseman with an offensive skill set. But making it to the NHL at all is a massive win for any seventh round pick. The Devils got something for it even though Davies did not make it with New Jersey.

With the Benefit of Hindsight: No. Unless you’re a big fan of Joachim Blichfield (and even that’s a stretch), I really do not think the Devils truly missed out on anyone else available at 192nd overall.

Five Years Later, Final Thoughts

Back in 2016, I stated that I thought this draft class was better than the 2014 class. I am unsure about calling it a better one than the 2015 class since Pavel Zacha and Mackenzie Blackwood do play important roles on the team and they did acquire Kyle Palmieri at that draft. Now, I am more confident in saying that it was way better than the 2014, 2013, 2012, 2010, and maybe even the 2011 draft classes. It is too soon to evaluate the 2017 through 2020 draft classes, but the Devils’ 2016 class may end up being one of the best of this past decade. I think the 2016 class is better than many of the drafts the Devils had in the 2000s for that matter.

What strikes me about this look-back at the 2016 group is how much value the Devils got from it. Jesper Bratt has become the star of the group and, in my opinion, part of the main core the Devils should build around with Jack Hughes, Hischier, and Blackwood. While we can lament how McLeod and Bastian are bottom-six “energy” forwards at best, they are still NHL players who can serve a role on the current team. While we can lament about the returns of the trades, I do not think the Devils would be better off today if they kept Anderson, Rykov, and/or Davies. I also do not think the Devils will regret moving either of them. While we can also lament about the lack of an impact Beau Bennett brought to the Devils, I think that would have been better than prospect picked in the third round The only player who has really failed to develop into someone with a real future at the pro level has been Gignac and Cormier. If those two end up being the only real “failed picks” out of the nine used, then that is a great result. Even if the Devils did not find all of their roster’s needs met from the 2016 class, they did address a few of them and they made the most of what they did have in moves that could have addressed some more short-term needs. I call that a success. At least, something more than just “OK.”

As a final point, this was the first draft fully under Ray Shero and Paul Castron. It remains a point of argument of whether 2015 was Shero’s first draft as he was recently brought in as GM at the time and David Conte and his scouting staff provided plenty of the information used. This year, there was no argument. This was Shero’s first draft with his chosen director of scouting and various different scouts. While it remains to be seen how 2017, 2018, and 2019 turn out, the 2016 draft was a good first one in retrospect. Hindsight tells us that there could have been better picks, particularly in the first round, but, again, the Devils got a lot of value out of what they did do that year.

Your Take

Now that you read through my look back at the Devils’ 2016 draft class, I want to know your take. How do you feel about how the Devils did in the 2016 NHL Draft? How have your thoughts changed about them compared to what they were five years ago? Who would be the second best player behind Bratt among who the Devils took? If you were GM, would you have not made the deals they did make with Anderson, Rykov, and/or Davies? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the 2016 draft class in the comments. Thank you for reading.