Sunday, June 19, 2011
Turning the page to 2011-12: Devils draft preview
After what was a pretty good playoffs on the whole, despite a bizarre final forever marred by the idiocy of Vancouver 'fans' after their Game 7 loss, at last the fans of the other twenty-eight teams can turn the page and start looking to next year with the NHL Draft this weekend and UFA beginning the weekend after. Friday's first round of the draft is actually intriguing for the Devils, as they have the fourth overall pick courtesy of their nightmare first half of 2010-11 and getting lucky in the lottery. With a weak draft that supposedly has a handful of top-end players, going from eighth to fourth might well prove to be a boon to the Devils, who haven't drafted that high since fleecing Toronto for the third overall pick nearly two decades ago and turning that pick into future HOF'er Scott Niedermayer.
Among the top prospects are center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, predicted to go #1 overall to Edmonton, defensemen Adam Larsson (expected to be first among d-men off the board within the first five picks) and Dougie Hamilton, center Sean Coutrier and left-wingers Gabriel Landeskog - pictured above - and Johnathan Huberdeau. I don't claim to be any kind of an authority on these kids, though with the high pick I'll probably read up on all at some point before going to the Prudential Center Friday for the draft party in Championship Plaza but just from what I've seen from the young players we already have it seems as if we could still size on the forward line and puck-moving ability from the back end.
Granted in the NHL you can't really draft for need in a sense, since usually first-rounders are still gonna be a year or two (at least) away from playing the league unless they're a supreme talent like Sidney Crosby or Steven Stamkos. Yet, you almost have to consider need based on the fact the Devils really haven't have enough beef up front or offensive ability from the blueline anywhere in the organization in the last several years but do have smaller, skilled forwards and big defensemen. As talented as a Nugent-Hopkins or Huberdeau might be, drafting them would add to a strength and not really help a weakness. And though Larsson might be the best defenseman, we have defensive defensemen in abundance while Hamilton seems to have a lot more offensive ability.
So even if you go by the premise that the Devils are more likely to draft Landeskog, Coutrier or Hamilton (and I do agree you have to put Larsson in the mix if he's there at four) it's a mortal lock that at least one of the above will be there when the Devils draft. All three have their pluses and minuses - Landeskog is a big forward and seems to be the most Devil-like player of the bunch, at least if you go by what he said about his own game:
“I think today in the NHL, you’ve got to be able to play in both ends of the ice,” Landeskog said. “I’ve always taken pride in my defensive-zone (play) first and, being not the most skilled guy out there, I’ve got to rely on my work ethic and take care of my own end first and let my skill take over in the offensive zone.”
Unfortunately, Landeskog's primary position is left wing where we happen to have Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and Patrik Elias ahead of him on the depth chart at the moment. Coutrier could give the Devils size and skill in the middle the likes of which they haven't had since Jason Arnott and Bobby Holik were in their prime, skating ability seems to be the only real question with him. Big centers are at a premium in today's game though so I don't really see Coutrier getting to four. Hamilton probably will but it's always tricky drafting offensive defensemen, do they become Sergei Zubov or Marc-Andre Bergeron? Certainly, Larsson has the size and skill to play on a blueline for many years but after signing Anton Volchenkov long-term should getting another stay-at-home d-man be a priority with such a high pick?
Given the fact the Devils don't have a second-rounder this year, it's probably unlikely they can move up from four unless they give up a high pick in next year's draft or a prospect, neither of which I think Lou Lamoriello will do - especially since next year's draft has more value, and the Devils might have to give up their first-rounder as part of the Kovalchuk penalty. Will they trade back? I suppose the possibility exists, especially if you can get a second-rounder but it depends on how many players you have rated in the top tier and how far back you move. Since this is a thin draft though, I don't really see moving back to stockpile picks as a priority. Ergo, I think the Devils will stay right where they are at four.
My prediction (more of a guess really) for the first three picks is that Nugent-Hopkins, Coutrier and Larsson will all be off the board, leaving the Devils with Landeskog, Hamilton, Huberdeau and the rest of the field. If that's the case then I see the Devils taking Landeskog - who also has a high character rating supposedly - and making him a RW'er, which we do have a need for. Fortunately, though Landeskog is listed as a LW'er he has played at RW as well and would slot in there nicely considering our current RW'ers are Nick Palmeri, who played on the first line when he really should have been a back six winger, the overpaid David Clarkson and the gritty but offensively challenged top six forward Danius Zubrus.
If that happens I'd be fine with that, of course since I haven't gotten a prediction right from April on, and the extent of my scouting consists of reading Tom Gulutti's blog, it's more likely that the top of the draft board will look very different.
In my next blog I'll look at the Devils' more immediate concerns, such as who the head coach might be (every other team currently has one though Winnipeg's probably going to let Craig Ramsey go, which might actually impact our coach search too) and the ongoing negotiations with Zach Parise on a long-term deal before the team and player have to go to arbitration in a month or so after the Devils filed for team-elected arbitration Friday afternoon.