The 2015 NHL Entry Draft is set to begin this Friday night at 7:00pm EST in Sunrise, Florida, and will then continue with rounds 2-7 on Saturday morning. This year’s draft is widely considered to be one of the most stockpiled drafts in recent memory, with a plethora of young talent available for the taking. The New Jersey Devils are slated to pick 6th overall during Friday night’s festivities, and also hold two second round picks – 36 and 41 (Florida’s second round pick in Jagr trade) – a third round pick (67), a fourth round pick (97), and a sixth round pick (157). What can the Devils do during the draft, though?
Firstly, the Devils need to decide what they want to do with their 6th overall pick. In all likelihood, the team will keep the pick and use it to draft a high-end forward. The main area that the Devils are lacking in is the right wing. Unfortunately, there are not many right wingers that are projected to go in the top 10, with the only exception being Mikko Rantanen. I personally do not see the Devils taking Rantanen if one of either Dylan Strome (highly unlikely), Mitch Marner (unlikely), Pavel Zacha (likely) or Matt Barzal (likely) are available – and at the very least one of those guys will be. All four of the aforementioned players are centermen, a position that the Devils are okay in but should definitely not pass up putting some talent into that slot. Many mock drafts have the Devils taking either Zacha or Barzal at 6, and I would be perfectly content with either of them. In the extremely unlikely event that Strome somehow falls to 6th overall, the Devils need to grab him.
The Devils do possess the very sexy 6th overall pick, and I am positive that Ray Shero will get a few phone calls from teams looking to move up in the draft, if he has not already. This is a route that I would not be surprised if the Devils took, especially if they were only moving down a couple of slots in the order. If the Devils had an offer to move down from a team in picks 7-15, I could see them taking the offer provided that they get that team’s first round draft pick in return and another asset. A good package for the 6th overall pick would be the other team’s first round pick and either a second or third round pick. Another good package would be their first round pick, and a young forward or prospect. Some fans may not like the idea of trading down, but keep in mind this is a very deep draft and there are plenty of good options in the top 15 of this year’s draft class. If the Devils can still get one of those prospects and also get another solid asset in return, I am all for trading down 9 or 10 picks, but no more.
Another option for the Devils is if they want to get an even sexier pick, and turn their 6th overall pick into a 3rd overall. There was talk on Tuesday night that the Coyotes have a couple of offers to trade down with a team that is still in the top-10, and that they are good enough that the Yotes are considering moving down. We will talk about the Coyotes and Devils being trade partners in more detail further down in this piece, but for now let’s just speculate that the offer that Coyotes’ GM Don Maloney has on the table is from New Jersey, seeking to acquire the 3rd overall pick. What this would mean is that the Devils have somebody marked as their man, presumably Dylan Strome, and they want him. What would it take for the Devils to move up three spaces? Obviously, it would require the NJ’s 6th overall pick and another asset. Maloney could demand a second or third round pick, or more likely, he could ask for a player in return to help get his team closer to the Cap floor. The Coyotes need forwards, as their defense is young and seems to be set. New Jersey could send the 6th overall pick, one of either Dainius Zubrus or Tuomo Ruutu, and a mid-late round draft pick for that 3rd overall pick. This is an option that I feel has some good chance of going through, if that’s what Shero has in mind.
The last option the team has with their first round pick is to trade it away for players or other draft picks, or a combination of the two. One possible team that could be interested in taking the Devils’ 6th overall pick is the St. Louis Blues, who do not have a first round pick at all in this year’s draft. Not only that, but it is being reported that the Blues are open to trading David Backes, T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund, if it’s the right deal. Now, the 6th overall pick would not land all 3 of these guys, but the Devils may be lucky enough to get two of them if they send their first round pick and either a mid-round pick or a player back to St. Louis. This could make sense for both teams: the Blues need a first overall pick, and the Devils need young scoring help. Oshie is 28, Berglund is 27 and Backes is a little bit older at 31. If New Jersey wanted to trade their 6th overall pick to the Blues, they would be wise to target Oshie, who is a right winger that can put the puck in the net (he had 19 goals and 36 assists last season, plus a goal and an assist in the playoffs) – something that the Devils desperately need, because Oshie does not have any clause in his contract to keep him from being moved. If the Devils could land Oshie and also David Backes (26G, 58 pts) with their first round pick and maybe another asset, I would be ecstatic. However, those two have a combined salary of $8.675M, so Shero would need to convince the Blues to hold some of that salary unless we can dump some of ours in return. Is it far-fetched that the Blues trade away two of these three guys for the 6th overall pick and possibly another asset? It may well be, but it could benefit both teams if something like this went through.
As for the team’s picks in rounds 2 through 7, I think we will see the Devils taking 3 forwards, 2 defensemen, and a goaltender – provided that they do not get any other draft picks from trades made during the draft. I see the team taking a forward at 36 and 67 and a defenseman at 41. The Devils could use either their 4th or 6th round pick to draft a goaltender, as they are going to need one with Keith Kinkaid getting his promotion to NHL back-up and Scott Wedgewood being handed the reigns as the Albany Devils’ starter. With Maxime Clermont being a bust and Anthony Brodeur no longer in the Devils’ system, New Jersey has to re-stock their goaltender pool and now is a good year to do it.
That takes care of the draft as it stands now, but what other moves could GM Ray Shero make at the draft? Well, the biggest thing is trades. There are several teams besides the Devils who are under the salary cap minimum, which could bode well for the Devils if Shero is looking to ditch some dead weight. Looking at the forwards the Devils currently have under contract for the 2015-16 season, there are two contracts that many Devils fans would love to see gone: the contracts of Dainius Zubrus ($3.1 M) and Tuomo Ruutu ($3.8 M). Both players only have one year remaining on their contracts, but Shero should be able to move these players if he retains some salary in the deals. Ruutu has a no-movement clause, and Zubrus has a no trade clause so both players would have a say in where they could end up.
There are three teams that are further beneath the Cap floor than New Jersey, and two of those three are fairly attractive teams, especially for aging players like Zubrus (37) and Ruutu (32). The Arizona Coyotes are almost $18.5M below the cap floor, and as such, they would be perfectly fine taking on some salary. This is not one of the attractive teams that I was talking about, but it is an option as the Devils and Coyotes have made trades in the past. One of the other options for these two is the Buffalo Sabres, who sit about $10.7 M below the Cap floor, and are one of the more attractive teams that I was referring to. You’re probably laughing in my face for calling the Sabres an attractive team, but with the young corps of forwards that they have coming up, with Evander Kane and Jack Eichel next year leading the charge, Buffalo will be a good team again in the not-so-distant future, and they are going to be looking for some leaders with experience. The Sabres have 11 draft picks in 2016, and I would happily take one of their 5th round picks for Ruutu or a 7th for Zubrus. The other attractive team is the Nashville Predators, who sit about $12.5 M below the Cap minimum and have very few left wings currently under contract for next season. Que Tuomo Ruutu, who could bring some help to the left side of the Preds’ offense. Again, if the Devils retained maybe $800,000 of Ruutu’s cap hit and got one of their two fourth round picks in this year’s draft, I would call that a fair trade. It is also possible that Ruutu or Zubrus could be traded for a similar forward with a lesser cap hit, preferably one that plays on the right side or down the middle. Realistically, these trades are nothing more than a pipe dream, but they do make sense for all teams involved.
Another player that could be traded at the draft is 39-year-old Patrik Elias, who I could see garnering some interest from other teams. However, Elias wants to stay put in New Jersey and it seems as though Shero would like to keep him here, which I am very happy about and am fine if it stays that way. I extremely doubt that Elias will be moved at the draft, but keep an eye out around the trade deadline where he could be moved to a contender. If that is the case, then the Devils could get a second or third round pick in return, or a good player, but that is speculation for another day. Overall, though, I want to see Elias in the horns and tail until he retires, and I think that will be the way that it ends up.
Besides these main events, the Devils will be meeting with some of their players’ agents trying to hammer out new contracts for RFA’s like Adam Larsson and Eric Gelinas, or UFA’s like Steve Bernier and Scott Gomez.
So folks, what do you think the Devils will do at the draft this weekend? Do they keep the 6th overall pick, or trade up/down? Do they make a couple of trades and ditch some dead weight while reeling in some nice draft picks or players? Share your comments with us below, on Facebook, or on Twitter!
Salary information and contract details were used from generalfanager.com. Individual player statistics were used from the NHL’s website for informational purposes only.