NHL Draft: Could the Devils search for a FWD be D-railed?

provorov

Drafting young players is far from science in any sport. Invariably, despite the most intelligent minds that spend months analyzing, interviewing and projecting, it’s at best an educated guess. Talent doesn’t always translate into success, and as the saying goes, you can’t measure work ethic and desire.

With most prospects, it takes some time for them to find their game in the AHL before making major impacts in the NHL. The New Jersey Devils are loaded with defensive prospects who served their time in the minors (with the exception of Damon Severson) and are now well on their way to becoming a talented group of defenders with the big team. However, the Devils’ farm system is barren of NHL-ready talent at the forward level. Even if the Devils draft a forward 6th overall at this year’s draft, it will likely take a year or two before we see him in the NHL.

The Devils need help now.

Most pre-draft rankings have universally agreed on the top-5 picks for some time, with Dylan Strome, Mitch Marner and Noah Hanifin rounding out the group after Connor “McHockey” McDavid and Jack Eichel go one and two respectively. Unfortunately, this leaves the Devils just on the outside of what’s considered the “can’t miss” prospects.

But teams’ draft boards don’t necessarily reflect scout rankings nor do they take into account needs and “intangibles.” With all the media attention growing as we approach the draft, players’ stocks fluctuate greatly the closer you get to D-day, and we’re starting to see that now.

According to many, defenseman Ivan Provorov of the Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL) could be the dark horse to crack the top-5. That would create some very interesting scenarios for New Jersey. 

While I’ve seen many interpretations, the majority of pundit mock drafts have the Devils taking Matthew Barzal at 6. He projects to be a high-quality impact player in a few years and they could surely do worse. Not to mention, the overwhelming consensus is that given the Devils’ dearth of forwards (and abundance of young talented D-men) they “need” to replenish their forward core. Makes sense. The problem with Barzal, however, is that it will likely take him a couple of years to develop into the player that the Devils think he is capable of being, and will not have an immediate impact on the big club.

But there’s something to be said for taking the “best available” player (which most teams claim to do). On many boards, Barzal’s value doesn’t match the Devils’ draft position. He’s been ranked in the upper end of the top ten but has shown up anywhere from 12 – 14 in several projections. Despite the Devils overwhelming need for help upfront, a premium talent like Provorov should garner serious consideration.

An overwhelming number of experts agree that Provorov’s game screams pro — there are no holes. Plus, of all the skill he possesses, hockey sense might be his best asset.  He’s seen as a highly intelligent defenseman with no obvious shortcomings in his game. In assessing his individual skills, ISS ranked none of them as any worse than “very good” and called his hockey sense “elite.”

As it happens, Kevin Allen of USA Today reported just Thursday night that “the buzz around the draft is that the ‘Canes may take Russian defenseman Ivan Provorov.” That would mean the Devils would have seriously lucked out and could have someone like Marner available to them—in which case Ray Shero should sprint to the podium while giggling like a schoolgirl.

But if all goes as speculated, the specter of Provorov is interesting—I’d rather have a guy who projects to be the next Seth Jones or Drew Doughty than the next “solid” 2nd line forward (cough, Zajac). Also, having an abundance of young defenseman could allow Ray Shero more flexibility to acquire a proven scoring forward at a young age.

Taking the best player available is something that both GM Ray Shero and Director of Scouting David Conte have discussed openly with the media, and if Provorov happens to be that guy—and he very well could be— then the Devils won’t think twice about snagging him at 6. 

It also stands that, depending on what happens 3-5, the Devs could trade down a few spots and still hope to land a Barzal, RantenenZacha or Connor while picking up a few extra, and much needed assets. But that could also prove risky.

Regardless of what happens Friday night, Devils fans need to keep an open mind for the next era of Devils hockey. We’re all anxious as to what Shero will do, and he’ll have no shortage of options. The only option he doesn’t have is getting it wrong.

The 2015 NHL Draft will be televised on NBCSN at 7pm and live streamed on NHL.com

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