GM Ray Shero has only been with the Devils organization for a few years and the 2017 Entry-Level Draft will be his third in New Jersey. He’s had two good drafts already and has had more in Pittsburgh with the Penguins organization.
Here are his draft selections from last year (2016):
1 – 12th – Michael McLeod
2 – 41st – Nathan Bastian
3 – 73rd – Joey Anderson
3 – 80th – Brandon Gignac
4 – 102nd – Mikhail Maitsev
4 – 105th – Evan Cormier
5 – 132nd – Yegor Rykov
6 – 162nd – Jesper Bratt
7 – 192nd – Jeremy Davies
And his picks from the year before (2015):
1 – 6th – Pavel Zacha
2 – 42nd – MacKenzie Blackwood
3 – 67th – Blake Speers
4 – 97th – Colton White
6 – 157th – Brent Seney
He has made 14 picks since becoming New Jersey’s new GM. He’s selected five centers, four defensemen, two goaltenders, two left wings, and a single right wing.
The organization and prospect system has an abundance of centers. Whoever the Devils decide to select first overall (be it Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick), will be a center. They picked Michael McLeod, Nathan Bastian, and Brandon Gignac last year. McLeod may be ready for the NHL next season if he has a strong offseason and training camp. Bastian and Gignac both look like they need more time in juniors. The year prior, the Devils selected centers Pavel Zacha and Blake Speers. Zacha spent most of the season up in New Jersey and while he got off to a slow start, he picked up the pace as the season went on. Speers might make the jump to the NHL as well. But the Devils also have Travis Zajac, Adam Henrique, and John Quenneville (I don’t see them bringing back Jacob Josefson) but the Devils have more than enough centermen and should focus on other positions in this draft (after selecting a center first overall, of course).
New Jersey has used their first pick in each of the last three drafts to select a center: McLeod in 2016, Zacha in 2015, and Quenneville in 2014. They’ve also picked a center first in 2009 (Josefson), 2004 (Zajac), 2003 (Zach Parise), 2001 (Adrian Foster), 1998 (Mike Van Ryn), 1995 (Petr Sykora), 1993 (Denis Pederson), 1986 (Neil Brady), 1984 (Kirk Muller), and 1982 (Rocky Trottier). So even though they have other needs, there’s no way they won’t select a center first overall.
The Devils also have a fair number of left wings even though they selected Mikhail Maitsev and Jesper Bratt last year, and none the year prior. They signed Bratt to a three-year, entry-level contract about a week ago. They also have Joseph Blandisi (who needs a new contract), Michael Cammalleri (who the Devils might lose), Miles Wood, and oh yeah, Taylor Hall. They have a few more in Binghamton (Albany) (AHL) but they could definitely use a couple more. I can see them drafting maybe two left wings in this draft or a combination (LW/C, LW/RW, etc).
Let’s round out the forward group. The Devils have a severe lack of right wings. They selected just one last year, Joey Anderson, and none the year before. They selected Connor Chatham in 2014 but didn’t draft another one until all the way back in 2010. They have drafted just eight right wings over the last 15 years. 15 years! Drafting a right wing or two (or three) would be nice. They do have Kyle Palmieri, Beau Bennett (who needs a new contract!!), Stefan Noesen (who’s going to be a restricted free agent), Nick Lappin, and Devante Smith-Pelly. They might lose Smith-Pelly to Vegas but even if they don’t, the Devils have a severe lack of depth at right wing and need to draft a few this year.
The Devils also need defensemen. They have drafted two each in the last three years: Yegor Rykov and Jeremy Davies in 2016, Colton White and Brent Seney in 2015, and Joshua Jacobs and Ryan Rehill in 2014. They drafted Steven Santini in 2013 (who spent a significant amount of time up in New Jersey this season and looks like he’s here to stay) and Damon Severson the year before (who needs a new contract and is also here to stay). Santini and Severson are going to be top defensemen soon enough (you could argue that Severson already is) and are going to be mainstays on the blue line for a while.
The Devils have a fair number of defensemen but the D-corps needs a lot of work. They were pretty bad this year and didn’t give their goaltenders much help; they were more of a liability than anything but drafting good defensive prospects now could go a long way. They have drafted at least one defenseman in every draft in Devils’ history; they drafted eight defensemen alone in the 1996 entry-level draft (they did have 14 picks). I wouldn’t draft eight d-men this year but drafting more than one should be a given.
Moving on to the goaltenders. The Devils have also now selected goalies in three of the last four drafts: Evan Cormier (2016), MacKenzie Blackwood (2015), and Anthony Brodeur (2013). Blackwood saw a significant amount of playing time in Albany (AHL) this year along with Ken Appleby because Scott Wedgewood was out for most of the season with a shoulder injury. Wedgewood did play four NHL games last season (2015-16) and Appleby backed up Cory Schneider for a game this season. Right now, the Devils’ two main goalies, Schneider and Keith Kinkaid, are here to stay. Kinkaid needs a new contract. Schneider is going to be protected. Vegas won’t select the goaltender that the Devils decide to expose. There’s more on that here: The New Jersey Devils’ Goaltending Situation but the Devils shouldn’t draft a goaltender unless there’s one that they really, really, really like.
Shero has done a good job of addressing the Devils’ needs in the past two years and will continue to do so. With 11 picks in this year’s draft, there’s no limit to what he could do. He’ll probably trade a few of those away but he’ll still have plenty to work with. The Devils will pick a center first overall (duh) but I hope they choose to go wing after. A few right (!) and left wings will go a long way as will a defenseman or two. I don’t see the Devils picking a goaltender this year.
The draft should be a fun one; don’t forget to tune in on June 23rd and 24th for the 2017 NHL Entry-Level Draft out of the United Center in Chicago.