The New Jersey Devil’s are beginning to rebuild; there’s no denying that. There’s most likely going to be more bad times than good in the near future. These should be considered growing pains, as the Devils try to grow into a completely new team. There are very few pieces in place for the future. The only major components signed past 2016-2017 are Adam Henrique, Mike Cammalleri, Andy Greene, Travis Zajac, and Corey Schneider. Besides those five players, the only thing the Devils can look forward to, are young defenders like Adam Larsson and Damon Severson. With so many spots needing to be filled, in addition to a weak prospect pool, this first round pick only becomes more important to the franchise. A bust here could add years to our rebuild. Luckily, the Devils were terrible in a year with an incredibly deep draft class that has an abundance of players who could help accelerate the rebuild. Here is a quick look at some of the first round selections that could help the Devils out enormously.
Mitch Marner of the OHL’s London Knights is the 1A for the Devils at 6th overall. If he’s still available, the Devils should sprint to the podium and call this kid’s name immediately. Marner tallied 44 goals and 82 assists in 63 games played. Simply put, He’s a scoring machine. He’s a quick center/winger with great hockey sense. His stick handling is amazing to watch and he has a great shot. He has great vision and can seemingly pass to an open teammate in any situation. His entire offensive game is at an elite level. You don’t just draw comparisons of Patrick Kane by playing bad hockey. The only knock on Marner is his size (5’11”) and weight (163 lbs). He could certainly stand to gain more weight, but with the success of players like Johnny Gaudreau and Tyler Johnson, it shouldn’t be much of a detractor. It’s still up in the air if he’ll be available at 6, but if he is, consider it a gift from the hockey gods.
The next prospect to discuss has the potential to be a true top line center. Mathew Barzal from the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds, is an amazing skater with elite playmaking ability. Though he is coming off a knee injury, his production at the end of the season didn’t taper, finishing the year with 12 goals and 45 assist in 44 games played. Barzal’s ability to distribute the puck and create offense is amazing due to the fact he plays on a subpar Seattle Thunderbirds team. He’s their main guy and despite facing the toughest defensemen the WHL has to offer, he consistently gets points. Before the year started, he was ranked fairly higher than he is now. His injury slightly affected his ranking but he’s appeared to make a full recovery. His hockey sense is off the charts and he’s one of the more intelligent players in the draft. The Devils need speed and offense, which Barzal’s game has both of.
Ivan Provorov of the Brandon Wheat Kings is the 2nd best defenseman in the draft. He has the ability to run an offense at a high level and is also responsible in his own end. Last year with Brandon, he had 15 goals and 46 assist in 60 games while being +36. He’s a smooth skater with the ability to join the rush and beat opposing defenders. He has patience with the puck and great passing ability. Some even say Provorov could be better than Noah Hanifin. After watching Provorov play, it’s easy to see why. He could develop into a top-pairing defenseman and become one of the best in the league. The Devils could pick him at 6, but it comes with many conditions, mainly if one of Merril, Gelinas, or Larsson is out the door for a young forward. Provorov is an amazing prospect, but he might not be what the Devils need right now.
Another option the Devils could consider is trading down, since there’s no guarantee they’ll select any of the top-5 players in the draft. Beneath the top-5 A tier is an A- tier. Barzal is close to the top with Provorov but after them, the rest could be taken anywhere. So trading 6 for another 2nd round or late first round pick wouldn’t be a bad idea. There are 2 players in the A- tier that would fit the Devils need for scoring wingers.
Yevgeni Svechnikov is a prototypical Russian sniper. Playing for the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles last year, he netted 32 goals and 46 assists. He has an NHL-ready body, standing 6’3″ and weighing 205 lbs. He plays left wing and the Devils are in desperate need of wingers. It would be easy to compare Svechnikov to Ilya Kovalchuk. His wicked wrist shot and ability to get open, conjure up memories of the former Devil. Svechnikov may possess a better set of hands than Kovalchuk with his incredible deking abilities both to get by defenders and goaltenders alike. It’s possible to move down to anywhere from 10-15 and still end up with this guy.
Pavel Zacha seems to be a wild card this year. His size and skill suggest he could be an NHL-ready rising star but his production for the Sarnia Sting doesn’t. Zacha had a rough season that was filled with injuries and suspensions, which ate away at his playing time. The 6’3″ Czech scored 16 goals with 18 assists. With his skillset and his size, he could jump into an NHL lineup if a team was willing to take the risk, one the Devils should take. Zacha arguably has the best shot in the draft. Coupled with his speed it makes him an offensive force. He plays with a very physical edge for a young player, which has proved costly for him at times, but the low energy Devils last year could use someone like him to shake things up. All of this, coupled with the Devils’ relationship with Czech players, could make Zacha a prime candidate should GM Ray Shero opt to move down to the 9-12 range of picks.
With many options in this coming draft, it will be of extreme importance to the future of this team. The Devils can’t afford to miss. They have to start a rebuild somewhere, and this draft is as good a place as any. With so many potential superstars the Devils should easily find someone that will immediately strengthen their prospect pool. New Jersey’s first round pick this year should automatically become their best prospect in the organization. The future of the Devils is in the scouting department’s hands and they need to redeem themselves for almost a decade’s worth of mediocre drafting. This draft will determine the success of the New Jersey Devils for years to come.