The Devils struggled offensively last year despite the offseason edition of Taylor Hall. This continued stagnation was in large part due to the inability for anyone (besides Damon Severson) to generate offense from the back end. The Devils defense routinely struggled to cleanly exit their own zone and to complete routine breakout passes. It’s hard to truly utilize someone like Hall when the defense can’t get him the puck in transition. The Devils don’t have any promising prospects on defense besides Yegor Rykov, who is stuck playing in Russia for the foreseeable future. With 11 picks in this year’s draft, it’s imperative that the Devils restock their defensive pipeline.
In the second round the Devils should certainly look at USNDT defenseman David Farrance. The New York native is an extremely skilled offensive defenseman who will be playing for Boston University next fall. Farrance was a leader on the blue line for the U.S at U18s, and led the program’s draft eligible defensemen in points. Farrance excels in the attacking zone where his agility and playmaking turn him into a lethal threat whenever he decides to jump into the play. He’ll also be able to quarterback a power play at the next level due to his vision and passing ability. Farrance has a hard and accurate wrist shot that he utilizes along with his skating ability to create an open shooting lane for himself. The Devils have not had a player with this type of skillset since Marek Zidlicky. Given that the Devils don’t have a reliable puck moving defenseman outside of Damon Severson, it’s certainly a position of need and after 1-2 years of NCAA experience, Farrance should be able to step in and become a top 4 offensive defenseman.
Henri Jokiharju is a playmaking defenseman out of Finland who played the past 2 years on the Portland Winterhawks (WHL). Jokiharju put up 9 goals and 39 assist in 71 games this past season, and is one of the steadiest puck handlers in this draft class. There is almost no panic in his game. Where a player like Steven Santini has this quality with the puck and it helps him make safe plays and not turn the puck over, Jokiharju combines that skill with amazing vision and an accurate wrist shot, which allows him to create offense under pressure. Jokiharju uses his skating not only to create shooting lanes and offensive chances, but also to get back on defense and control his gaps against opposing forwards. He’s a very smart player that can read the ice under any kind of duress. This intelligence coupled with his playmaking ability will propel Jokiharju into the NHL in due time.
The younger brother of Devils 2016 draft pick Joey Anderson, Mikey Anderson is a defenseman who should be available to the Devils in the 3rd round. They younger Anderson is committed to joining his brother at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and has played the past two seasons with the Waterloo Blackhawks (USHL). He was invited this past fall to the CCM Top Prospects game as well. This past season, Anderson put up five goals and 29 assists in 54 games. Anderson is routinely lauded for his ability to play both a physical defensive style, while also exceling in being able to transition the puck up ice. In the modern NHL where puck possession is of extreme importance, it is vital that all members of the defensive core can make a clean exit of the defensive zone. Anderson projects more as a reliable defensive defenseman who can be trusted to move the puck when it’s warranted. The Devils desperately need to acquire young talented defensemen and in the middle rounds, Mikey Anderson is definitely someone they should keep their eyes on.
Other Defensemen the Devils should target:
Pierre Olivier-Joseph (Charlottetown, QMJHL) 2nd Round
Cale Fleury (Kootenay, WHL) 2nd Round
Luke Martin (Michigan, NCAA) 3rd Round
Dylan Samberg (Hermantown, USHS) 4th Round
Eemeli Rasanen (Kingston, OHL) 3rd Round