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The impetus for the New Jersey Devils in the draft should be on getting a future first line center with the first overall pick, and then restocking their defensive prospect pool. However, the Devils cannot strictly pick Patrick or Hischier and then just defenseman. New Jersey is still a team that struggles to rise from the cellar in scoring. Though the Devils should focus heavily on selecting defensemen, they shouldn’t ignore a potentially offensively gifted forward. Defense is paramount but skill is skill, so they shouldn’t be afraid to snatch up a forward in the middle rounds. Here are some examples of such players that could be available.
Joni Ikonen is a skilled scoring center out of Frolunda in the Finnish SuperElite league. Ikonen is often be categorized as a small shifty playmaker who makes everyone on his line better. If he has space when possessing the puck, he has the ability to utilize his vision and passing abilities to create offense. This facet of the game isn’t even where Ikonen shines brightest. Ikonen is a goal-scoring center who uses a mixture of skating, puck handling, and his potent shot to beat defensemen and goaltenders. He excels at rushing the puck up the ice, entering the offensive zone with speed, and attacking the defense. Despite having a smaller stature, it’s nearly impossible to get the puck away from him due to his agility and deking. Ikonen has the type of offensive skill the Devils need and if he is around at the 36th pick it would be hard to pass on this skilled forward.
Out of the OHL comes center/left wing Morgan Frost who played last season on the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, where he put up 62 points in 67 games. The playmaking forward can often be found driving play to the front of the net and creating offense with his vision. Frost is often lauded for his hockey IQ, which allows him to create plays and make reads to get himself open. Frost has good skating and acceleration but most of his work is done controlling the play in the offensive zone, mainly down low around the net. Frost has the hands and vision to elude traffic and make a pass on the tape of a teammate’s stick. What will carry Frost to the NHL is his ability to control the puck, willingness to make plays around the net, and his hockey IQ.
In the 3rd round (assuming the Devils already addressed their needs on the blue line), they should look no further Alex Formenton of the London Knights. The lanky left wing posted 34 points in 64 games last season. Formenton stands 6’1” but only weighs 159 lbs, so he’s susceptible to being pushed around. He’s able to counter this with what some scouts have described as elite-caliber speed. It allows for him to blow past defenders and avoid contact in general. If left open, Formenton has shown the ability to put the puck in the net. If he’s able to fill out his frame and continue to build on his elite skating, the left wing could turn into a very intriguing prospect.
Mason Shaw has a lot working for and against him. Coming out of the WHL, Shaw put up an excellent 94 points in 71 games, and dominated using his elusiveness, playmaking ability, and lethality on the power play. Having said that, the knocks on Shaw primarily focus on his size. Shaw stands 5’9” and often plays the game on the perimeter. There will always be questions about the small skilled players in juniors and whether their skills can translate into the NHL. For every Patrick Kane there’s a Rob Schremp. Shaw, however, will probably become a skilled NHL forward. He has superb vision, passing ability, and excels at getting his teammates the puck when they’re in positions to score. If he had four more inches and 20 lbs, he’d be a first rounder. Shaw also isn’t strictly an offensive force, and can readily contribute on both ends on the ice. Many discount Shaw due to his game being largely about skill and stick-handling but with the direction the NHL is going, Shaw can definitely find himself a role- even if it’s only as a 3rd line powerplay specialist. If Shaw is still available in the 4th or 5th round, he would be a gamble the Devils should be willing to make.
Other Forwards to Consider:
Maxime Fortier (Halifax, QMJHL)
Ostap Safin (Sparta, Czech)
Adam Ruzicka (Sarnia, OHL)
Filip Chytil (Zlin, Czech)
Evan Barratt (USNDP, USHL)