The Devils’ rebuild just got a bit of an extra push. After finishing in last place in the Eastern Conference last season, the Devils, with an 8.5 percent chance of moving from the sixth spot to the first overall position saw the ping-pong balls fall the right way. This will be the first time the franchise will have the first overall pick since moving to New Jersey.
The likely candidates to be chosen by the Devils are center Nolan Patrick of the Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL) or center Nico Hischier of the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Either would fill a void for the Devils and we will leave it up to Ray Shero and company to decide exactly who they feel fills that need best for New Jersey.
Patrick is ranked number one in the NHL’s Central Scouting final ranking of North American skaters, according to Mike G. Morreale of NHL.com but he comes with some baggage. The 6-foot, 2-inch, 198-pound forward “missed 35 games during the regular season with an upper-body injury” according to Mooreale. He still posted 20 goals and 26 assists in just 33 games in the regular season for Brandon. Morreale said that he did not play in the 2017 WHL playoffs due to a lower body injury.
But despite the injuries, Dan Marr (director of NHL Central Scouting), who was interviewed by Morreale said that “Nolan’s situation is part of the game… it’s a talking point in draft deliberations, and from many recent discussions with NHL personnel, it will have absolutely no negative implications or bearing on Nolan’s draft status.”
Marr goes on to tell Morreale that “He has more than proven over the last three years that he is the real deal and he will be an impact NHL player.”
But some see the lack of depth in this year’s draft as skewing things a bit. Bob McKenzie of TSN, writing back in January in his mid-season Draft ranking, did point out that while Patrick is the consensus number one pick for this year, he would likely have gone fifth to eighth overall area of the first round in last year’s Draft. Now, that is still not a bad place to be and it is mainly because last year featured a few big name talents (guys you may have heard a little about like Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi).
But the fact remains that Patrick is a good, NHL-ready center and that is what the Devils needed.
The number two ranked North American skater is Hischier, who is 6-foot, 1-inch and 176-pounds and a native of Switzerland. The Devils could opt for him should Patrick’s injuries be seen as an issue (which would likely be the only thing that would keep a team from taking him first overall).
The uncertainty about which player will be the one the Devils select will certainly add to the drama. Unlike in other years, when the first pick was a gimme, things are a little bit different this year.
Either way, it is a good time to be a Devils fan. The team is in a really good position right now and in the driver’s seat for what they want to do in the Draft. This can be a game changer. The Devils can look to teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs to see a way that winning the Draft Lottery can change things for them.
The 2017 NHL Entry Draft takes place June 23-24 from the United Center in Chicago.