As the Devils continue to fight for a wild card position, it is clear that barring a lottery miracle, the Devils won’t be getting a chance to draft one of Auston Matthews, Jesse Puljujarvi, or Mathew Tkachuk. This is not a problem because there is still a ton of talent in the middle of the first round. Elite scorers, skilled wingers, and big strong power forwards still reside in the 10-20 range of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, where the Devils could very well find themselves if they keep up this rate of play.
Here are some that stand out most to me.
The small Illinois native is tearing it up in the U.S National Development Team. With 23 goals and 68 points through 35 games, Keller has shot up in the prospect rankings. He has amazing hockey sense, often creating scoring chances with a mix of his stellar passing ability and elite puck handling. The Boston University-committed center is a strong skater with an amazing scoring prowess. His shot is accurate and comes with a quick release. The knock on Keller may be his size (5’10” 170 lbs), despite us continuing to see undersized players succeed at the NHL level. Keller projects to be an early first rounder, perhaps falling slightly outside the top 10.
The Canadian-born center is a pure scorer. Playing on the Penticton Vees of the BCHL, Jost has potted 26 goals through 34 games, along with 41 assists. Jost dominates play with his ability to stickhandle and shoot. A hard accurate wrist shot complimented with a pair of silky mitts make him a constant threat to score. His skating ability is strong and helps him get open and create chances. Where Keller would classify more as a playmaking center, Jost looks more along the lines of a goal-scoring center. Standing at an average 6’0″ and weighing 190 lbs, Jost is a very typical size for a center at his age. He could gain some muscle and bulk but doesn’t hold the same concerns as Keller. Choosing to forego the Major Junior route, Jost is committed to play at University of North Dakota next year. Though the BCHL is not considered one of the top 3 leagues in Canada (OHL, QMJHL, WHL) it still has produced NHL stars such as Brett Hull, Bob Nystrom, and Duncan Keith.
The 6’2″ left wing out of Rochester, Michigan is another top prospect to keep an eye on. Max Jones is playing this season in the OHL for the London Knights. Alongside top prospects Mitch Marner, Christian Dvorak, and Mathew Tkachuk, Jones has been able to put together a pretty good season so far. Through 37 games he is a point-per-game player, tallying 20 goals and 17 assists. Jones is a bigger guy and isn’t afraid to use his size. He frequents in front of the net and the corners, always battling and utilizing he size and strength. With a power forward style of play, Jones is able to create chances, and back it with his good hands and ability to skate.
The only thing you need to know about Logan Brown is his size. 6’6″ 218 lbs. The kid is a monster. It is also the only thing you need to know because Brown isn’t exactly lighting it up this year on the Windsor Spitfires. Through 34 games he does have 36 points. Yet he only has 6 goals. He is starting to fit the same description as Lawson Crouse, who ended up being taken by the Florida Panthers in last year’s draft. Both were big kids and looked like very good hockey players, yet they didn’t produce in Juniors. Without stats matching the intrigue of their size it makes these players very risky investments. Crouse ended up on the Canadian World Junior team this year but that team ended up being a disappointment. A 6’6″ center sounds great, but Brown has only produced enough to warrant an early first round pick. It is a low-risk/low-reward situation. He could probably play in the NHL based on his size, but his skills as they are now don’t suggest he’ll be a superstar. If the Devils selected Brown there is certainly a lot of upside to him, but if there are other options (i.e the previous three players listed) they should avoid him.