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Since we’ve been looking towards next season for quite some time now, it’s easy to jump into a topic like this. The dust has finally settled as the Devils enter an early offseason for the fourth time in five years. This will also mark the third instance in that timeframe the Devils will have a top-ten draft pick. As we keep our fingers crossed that New Jersey will defy the 92.5% odds against them winning their second draft lottery in five years, one has to wonder what direction Lou Lamoriello and co. will take if that isn’t the case.
The Devils are currently slated to draft sixth overall (seventh if a team behind them wins the draft lottery). After drafting Adam Larsson fourth overall in 2011, Lamoriello executed the groundbreaking trade that got the Devils Cory Schneider with his next top-ten draft pick in 2013. Lou has repeatedly emphasized the Devil’s need for immediate scoring help and isn’t keen on going through the conventional rebuild that teams like the Blackhawks and Blues took to get to where they are today. At the same time however, he’s faced with a comparatively barren prospect pool to the rest of the league, with an especially noteworthy absence of scoring forwards.
Are we more likely to see the Devils trade their first round pick, or draft a quality forward with it?
The first determinant in this scenario is how worthwhile it is to surrender another early first round pick to attain top-six scoring help. There’s no shortage of potential trade partners, with teams seeking cap relief, looking to reformat their roster, or needing viable defensive depth (which the Devils can add in addition). Dangling that first round pick will surely attract takers, however with Lou the greatest concern would be what he winds up getting back in return. Aside from putting up points, any top-six forward coming back in exchange for New Jersey’s top-ten pick would be youthful in age and possess enough speed to keep up with the pace of today’s game to make it a worthwhile deal for the Devils. Lamoriello has continually committed to a squad of veteran forwards in recent years that are mostly in their mid-late 30s. He’s tried to construct win-now teams, and what we saw from this year’s Devils was how temporary that formula truly is and the damage it causes when that veteran core becomes depleted.
If Lamoriello entertains any offer that involves acquiring another player in this age range (scoring capability aside), we might be fated for another season similar to the previous three. The rising concern for Lamoriello orchestrating a transaction of this nature is justifiable when you look at the acquisitions he’s made in recent years. Dating back to 2008 when he signed Brian Rolston (35) and Bobby Holik (37), he traded for Jason Arnott (35) two summers later. Fast forward to recent times when the Devils committed to veterans on the downturn of their careers like Bryce Salvador, Dainius Zubrus, Marek Zidlicky, and signed players (granted these all seemed like good pickups at the time) like Michael Ryder (33), Jaromir Jagr (41), Martin Havlat (33), and Scott Gomez (34). This isn’t to say none of these players ever contributed positively, rather how they’ve been the assets that Lamoriello thought could propel his team back into the postseason.
If Lamoriello sacrifices his first round pick for a player that can instantly help this team, the concern for who comes back to New Jersey is understandable based on the examples cited above.
There’s a double standard because if the Devils are quiet at the draft, you know some fans will lament about what Lou should, would, and could have done (especially since Lamoriello said he would try and use the draft picks he acquired at the deadline as trade bait). If the right pick is made, drafting a player sixth or seventh overall could be the equivalent of acquiring that top-six scorer.
Out of the 90 picks that comprised the first ten selections of the NHL draft between 2005 and 2013, 91% of these players are still in the league today. Out of these 90 top-ten picks from 2005-2013, 65.5% of them were forwards. 90% of the forwards drafted in the top-ten during this timeframe are still playing in the league today. Not all of them developed into marquee top-six scorers and many have changed teams over the years, but many forwards in this selective group have defined roles on their current teams that they effectively, fill.
The offseason is always an eventful time of the year in the hockey world, and the direction the Devils’ summer will take starts to be determined tonight when the team privileged to make the first overall selection in the 2015 NHL draft is revealed.