Last week the New Jersey Devils were officially eliminated from playoff contention. This news had been on the horizon for some time as the Devils had recently lost 10 games in a row and did not look to be getting significantly better anytime soon. This means it is time once again to look to the draft as a light at the end of this long dark tunnel known as the 2016-2017 Devils season. The first preview detailed a few prospects I feel would be perfect fits in New Jersey. Here are some more high end prospects that the Devils will have an opportunity to select in June.
Coming out of the OHL is center Gabe Vilardi. Vilardi has been able to carve out a nice role on a very deep Windsor team and has arguably been their best forward- at times surpassing the likes of Logan Brown and Jeremy Bracco. Vilardi has shown versatility as well as due to the Spitfires center depth, having been forced to the wing for large portions of the season. This did not deter the natural center, who made a smooth positional transition and maintained his offensive output uninterrupted. Some of the more exemplary traits Vilardi has are his stickhandling, vision, creativity, and puck control. He is a big playmaking center who can distribute the puck and create offense.
Once Vilardi has the puck it is extremely hard to knock it off him and Vilardi is not someone you want to controlling the puck if you are on defense. He sounds like a player the Devils will be thrilled to pick in June, however there is one major issue that is holding Vilardi back: his skating. He is agile and has great edgework but really falls flat in quickly accelerating past defensemen. The system the Devils are trying to impart is built on fast skating so he may not be the fit. Nonetheless, if the Devils do pick him despite the flaw, I think he has the potential to play a top-six role in the future.
Out of all the prospects expected to go in the top 10 I think that Elias Pettersson might have the longest road to the NHL. Many will interpret this statement by viewing Pettersson as a raw project player that needs to gain hockey IQ. That isn’t necessarily the case. Pettersson excels at scoring in a league that has been compared to the Swedish version of the AHL. He has almost maintained a point per game, tallying 41 points in 43 contests this season. Pettersson has great hockey sense with ridiculous hands. When you couple this with his hard accurate shot, it is a combination that equals goals, and lots of them.
Pettersson is an elite skater, both in speed and elusiveness, which is a necessity for a player such as him since he only weighs 165 lbs. He is very thin and lanky. This is where he needs time to mature. He is going to need to put on a lot of muscle and adapt to a much more physical North American game. For a light forward who depends on open space, this could be a rough transition. I could see this taking two years before Pettersson gets a chance to step on NHL ice. Despite all of this, Pettersson projects as a first line center. If everything goes right and he gains the physical traits needed to play in the NHL, he already has the skill and IQ to dominate a game offensively. If the Devils are willing to put in the time, Pettersson could be the definitive answer to a No. 1 center in Newark.
Devils fans want a defenseman. A year of watching Ben Lovejoy and Dalton Prout will really extenuate the need of a top-four defenseman to the top of the priority list. Many Devils fans are clamoring for the early prediction to be first defenseman off the board in Timothy Liljegren, who is going to be a boom or bust prospect. He has all the offensive upside in the world, and his skating has been compared to current elite defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. He can push play and has great vision. A comparable could be Kris Letang.
Like most offensive defenseman however, there is a lot of risk in his game. Sometimes his decision making can be lackluster and his defensive zone coverage has been questioned by scouts. Many attribute this weak year due to his bout with mono but many of these flaws have failed to cease over time. This is also evident in the fact he has had to split time between the top league, the SHL, and the U20 league due to inconsistent play and injury. Many Devils fans are looking to this kid as the answer to the Devils defensive and scoring problems but unless the Devils trade outside into the top 6-7 picks, I would advise staying away from Timothy Liljegren.