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Every year before the NHL draft, everyone likes to discuss the different tiers of talent offered in the first round. In recent drafts, it seems that the Devils are usually just outside of the elite tier of talent. This does not mean the players they ended up with cannot be great players but, a few more losses in 2015 and 2016 could have resulted in Mitch Marner and Clayton Keller wearing the red and black. This year fans will be pleased to hear that the Devils are nestled safely within the elite tier with a pick ranging from first to eighth overall. This article will delve into the different tiers of talent offered in the top-10 range of picks.
The Top Two
Despite both players’ disappointing finishes to their seasons, Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier are still the two best players in this draft. The two CHL centers have secured their spot as lottery picks. Patrick has survived a tumultuous draft year filled with injuries and decreased production. His elite status has remained due to his skillset and past production in the WHL.
Hischier really broke onto the scene this year and stole the show at the World Juniors, singlehandedly carrying Team Switzerland into the playoffs. He dominated the QMJHL up until his final 20 games where he hit a rough patch. This continued into the playoffs where his Halifax Mooseheads were eliminated.
These two are the only players in this draft who have a chance at making an impact in the NHL next season. They’re both centers with elite skillsets and stretches of production that are unmatched by anyone else in this draft class. That is why they consistently occupy the first and second positions of every mock draft produced over the past year.
The Sinister 6
The next six-player tier is filled with mostly centers. A couple have impressed enough to almost gain a position in the top-two. This group of centers all have the potential to eventually become top-line forwards in the NHL. These centers include Casey Mittelstadt, Gabe Vilardi, Cody Glass, Elias Pettersson, and Martin Necas.
This is where the Devils will be picking. In the past couple drafts New Jersey has seemingly targeted players with exceptional skating and playmaking ability. The player that most-closely fits this profile is Casey Mittelstadt, the smooth-skating offensive dynamo out of the USHL. The only problem with predicting this tier is that where players are picked comes down to team’s preference. Consequently, Mittelstadt could easily end up going before where the Devils pick.
The one winger in this group is Owen Tippett who is currently skating alongside Devils prospect Nathan Bastian in the OHL playoffs for Mississauga. The right winger plays a very fast game and knows how to score goals. On a team like the Devils that struggles to score he could be a very enticing option in this range of players.
The players in this tier will mostly likely need one or two years of seasoning in juniors or overseas before jumping into the NHL. They are all extremely talented but each have certain aspects of their games they need to shore up on.
The Pair of Defenseman:
There will be two defensemen taken in the top-10. After the eight players listed above, there is a clear drop-off in forward talent. The only question is who those two defensemen are. At this point, it is extremely unlikely a team will take a chance on Timothy Liljegren within the top-10 with too many red flags coming up on his defensive play and lackluster production this year.
It will most likely come down to Jusso Valimaki, Miro Heiskanen, or Cale Makar. Miro Heiskanen has been climbing up the draft boards recently due to his strong showing at the U-18 Championship. He is probably the most stable of these three, meaning he can contribute offensively but is the most mature and capable of holding his own in the defensive zone. He is the closest of the three to being NHL-ready. Jusso Valimaki has put up the flashy offensive numbers in the WHL. He is much more of a puck-moving offensive defenseman who can jump up and join the rush. Cale Makar is the hardest of these three to judge due to playing in the AJHL, a league not known for producing NHL superstars. Despite this, his toolbox has been compared to that of Erik Karlsson, despite attending an unconventional hockey school in UMASS Amherst. It’s hard to get a read on Makar as he unfortunately aged out of the U-18 tournament, but his offensive output in past tournaments as well as in the AJHL cannot be taken away from him. The real question is how it will translate against much harder competition.
Anyone who thinks they can pin down the order these players will be drafted is lying to themselves. In the end it would not be surprising to see Casey Mittelstadt and Miro Heiskanen being the two best players in this draft, or maybe Cody Glass and Nolan Patrick. It’s incredibly hard to judge this year as there is no consensus. It will really come down to the ability within each team’s scouting department.