In a summer full of changes for the New Jersey Devils, one of the biggest moves the organization made was relieving David Conte of his duties as Director of Amateur Scouting and hiring Paul Castron as his successor. Castron held the same position with the Columbus Blue Jackets from 2006 until he was hired by New Jersey in July and boasts an impressive résumé.
It’s no surprise to say the Devils have had trouble turning their high-end draft picks into full time NHLers. New Jersey has seen high draft picks such as Nicklas Bergfors, Mattias Tedenby, and Matt Corrente come through the system without sustaining any long-term success. This has led the Devils into the trouble they’re currently in, especially after the losses of Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise.
Historically, Conte had a history of drafting many great players that have went through the Devils’ system and won Stanley Cups with the team or other teams throughout the league. However, in recent years Conte struggled with top picks in the draft, although he did manage to find some diamonds in the rough with the likes of Adam Henrique and Damon Severson, among others, who went in the later rounds but managed to find their ways to prominent spots in the Devils’ lineup.
In an article written on nhlnumbers.com in May 2014 (http://nhlnumbers.com/2014/5/9/drafting-for-success), Byron Bader did an overview of how many draft picks each team had from 2003-2013 and how many games they played in the NHL. On average, teams had 31% of their players play at least 50 games and only 15% would go on to play 200+ games. In that time frame the Devils had only 26.5% of their picks play in 50+ games with 7.5% of those playing 200+ games, while Columbus had 37.9% of its picks play in 50+ games with 16.7% of them playing 200+ games. That kind of retention rate is impressive and a good sign that the Director of Scouting knew what he was doing
As noted by the numbers above, the Devils were drafting well below league average from 2003-2013, while Columbus was drafting slightly above average.
To focus in on Paul Castron specifically, I took a look at his draft history from 2007-2014 and compared it to David Conte’s. Here are the results of those draft picks from that time period.
Like Bader, I omitted certain players who have been drafted recently and haven’t played enough NHL games to yet constitute success. If you were a player drafted from 2012-2014 and have not played 30+ games in the NHL, you were omitted from the table. If you were a player drafted from 2012-14 and had played 30+ games, you were included in the 50+ games column. There was only one case where that applied and it was Marko Dano.
As a league, the average for 50+ games played from 2007-14 was 22.5% while the average for 200+ games was 6.75%. The Devils 50 games played percentage was 26.5% while their 200 games played percentage was below the league average at 2.9%. Compare that to Columbus whose 50 and 200 game played percentage were above average at 27.7% and 9.1%. Going by the aforementioned numbers, it’s clear that Castron was enjoying a relatively good amount of success as the Blue Jackets’ Director of Amateur Scouting.
One area where Castron had a large amount of success was drafting forwards, an area where the Devils have not had great success since 2007. Of the 12 players that played 50+ games in Castron’s tenure, 7 of them were forwards and that’s including Marko Dano, who played 35 games for Columbus before getting dealt to Chicago in the Brandon Saad trade earlier this summer. All 4 players that played 200+ games for Columbus were also forwards. Those 4 forwards include Matt Calvert, Cam Atkinson, Ryan Johansen, and Jakub Voracek. While Voracek is no longer with Columbus, you can easily argue he’s one of the center pieces for the Flyers and Ryan Johansen is undoubtedly the building block for the Blue Jackets going forward.
While Castron had success at drafting high-skilled forwards in Columbus, the exact opposite has been going on in New Jersey since 2007. The only forward to play in 200+ games for New Jersey is Henrique. While Henrique is a quality forward, he’s not a piece you build your team around. The Devils have had their fair share of forwards come through the system and get their feet wet in the NHL, but weren’t able to sustain long-term success with the franchise. Some notable draft picks from 2007-2014 that are no longer with the franchise include Nick Palmieri, Mattias Tedenby, and Matt Halischuk. These 3 played 50+ games with New Jersey, but were either traded away or did not pan out.
From 2007-2014, the Devils did not draft one elite forward, which is a large reason why they’re in the situation they are in now, especially after the losses of Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk. If we look at Columbus’ situation, they have Ryan Johansen who is well on his way to being an elite, first line center. Castron also drafted the likes of Alexander Wennberg, Sonny Milano and Kerby Rychel, three players who project to be regular NHL contributors for Columbus somewhere down the road.
Castron will bring a new eye to scouting for the Devils. New Jersey could be looking at a relatively high draft pick in what is looking to be a very good draft class that includes Auston Matthews, Matt Tkachuk, the son of former NHL great Keith Tkachuk, and cousin of Devils Assistant GM, Tom Fitzgerald, and top Finnish prospect, Jesse Puljujärvi, who played for Finland at the World Junior Championship as a 16-year old.
If the Devils are in a position to draft players such as the ones mentioned in the previous paragraph, it would speed up the rebuild and give Castron an opportunity to make a mark on the organization in what will be his first draft as the Devils’ Director of Amateur Scouting. Giving Pavel Zacha a winger such as Puljujärvi or Tkachuk would give the Devils a potential top-line scoring threat that they have not had in quite some time and more importantly, two blue-chip prospects the Devils can build around for years to come.
Castron’s draft record in Columbus is impressive and gives Devils fans something to look forward to going into future NHL drafts. While only time will tell what Castron will bring to the Devils prospect pool, there is certainly reason to be encouraged, especially after some abysmal drafts from David Conte over the last 7-10 years. In an offseason that’s been full of change for New Jersey, this is the change they needed most. The Devils are in good hands with Castron leading the scouting department and it’s one development that Devils fans should certainly be excited about going forward.