That is where the New Jersey Devils will pick in the upcoming NHL entry draft in Buffalo. They did not win one of the three golden tickets to move up and draft Auston Matthews or Patrik Laine. They will pick from the rest of the group of high end forward prospects available in the first round.
Clayton Keller should be atop the Devil’s draft board. The small center for the United States National Development Team has had quite the season, racking up 107 points in 62 games. What’s more impressive is Keller surpassed Patrick Kane and Phil Kessel as the all-time points leader for the USNDT. Keller also set a record for most single season assist with 70. Clayton Keller recently led Team USA in the U-18 World Championships to a bronze medal, leading the team in points and picking up tournament MVP in the process. Keller is best described as an offensive mastermind. He has great vision and a lot of creativity to set up his teammates while also having a hard wrist shot with a quick release. Keller is an extremely fast skater and has some of the best hands of the draft eligible players. The young center is comparable to what Mitch Marner was last year, an extremely skilled playmaker who is knocked for their size. Keller stands 5’10” and weighs 170 lbs, but his offensive upside is just too good for the Devils to pass up if he’s still available at 11th overall. Keller will play college next year with Boston University, so it may be a couple years before he makes the jump to pro. Nonetheless, Clayton Keller is an electrifying offensive talent the Devils should definitely look into.
Also at the U-18 was Tyson Jost, captaining the Canadian national team. Jost drew a lot of attention as he passed Connor McDavid for the single tournament points record. When not dominating on the international stage, Jost is playing in the BCHL for the Penticton Vees. In 48 games, Jost amassed 104 points. Alongside with fellow first round talent Dante Fabbro, the pair led Penticton to 50-7-1 record. Jost is a goal-scoring center who like Keller, possesses a hard heavy wrist shot. Jost has exceptional stick handling ability, can play the role of an offensive catalyst for a team. Jost also a great passer, and can set up scoring chances just as good as he finishes them. Along with Keller, Jost was also voted on the tournament all-star team at the U-18. Jost seemingly has the ability to develop into a top line center. Many were skeptical of Jost as he doesn’t play in the CHL, but his amazing performance at the World Championship has effectively silenced his critics. Next year, Jost is also heading to college to play for the national champion Fighting Hawks of North Dakota. Personally, I would still prefer Keller over him but if Keller is taken before the Devils pick, Jost is a great consolation prize.
Earlier in the year, Logan Brown was not playing like a top-10 pick. He was struggling to find his scoring touch and he was sliding in all of the prospect rankings. Earlier this year, I wrote that the Devils should avoid Brown, who has since proven me wrong. Seemingly getting better each month, Brown has improved his offensive play as the season progressed. The towering 6’6″ center played for the Windsor Spitfires, where he finished with 74 points in 59 games. In his first 34 games however, Brown only had 6 goals but was able to net 15 more in his last 25 contests. Over that 25-game stretch, he accumulated a total of 38 points. Brown’s stock continued to rise with solid performances in the CHL Top Prospect game and the U-18 World Championships. He finished that tournament 4th in scoring behind both Jost and Keller, and only trailed the two by 2 points. For his size, he’s not an overly physical player but his playmaking ability has is at an elite level. He is very creative yet smart with the puck and his huge frame allows him to shield from opposing defenders. His shot is NHL-ready, and Brown’s skating is very good for a man his size. If size weighs heavily on who the Devils pick they avoid a center like Clayton Keller as a result, Brown is at the opposite end of the spectrum. Logan Brown should make an earlier debut into the NHL by not playing in college, but also because he’s physically ready to compete at the top pro-level. Brown has an NHL-ready frame, and just needs to work out a few details as he works towards developing into a future elite center.