The 2014 NHL Draft was held June 27 and 28 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia and the New Jersey Devils were looking for two things according to Director of Scouting David Conte: character and strength. Their six picks in the annual Entry Draft gave them just that and a direct connection to the Devils’ early days to boot.
The first round was held in one day, Friday, June 27, and the team’s first pick, 30th overall, on that day was one that had to be fought for. Initially, the team was given the choice of forfeiting a first round pick in either 2011, 2012, 2013 or 2014 as part of the penalty for circumventing the salary cap in the Ilya Kovalchuk signing in 2011 (the penalty also included a $3 million fine and the Devils giving up their third round pick in 2011). Upon appeal and review, the NHL reduced the fine to $1.5 million and gave the Devils their first round pick this year (they had chosen to keep the picks in 2011, 2012 and 2013 meaning that they would have had no choice but to give up their first round pick this year). The only caveat was that the Devils had to pick last in the first round, 30th overall. They turned that pick into John Quenneville, a center from the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League. Quenneville already had family connections to the NHL: his brother Peter was taken by the Columbus Blue Jackets 195th overall in 2013. His uncle (through marriage) is Johnny Boychuk of the Boston Bruins and his second cousin is Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. His connection to the Chicago head man already gives him a connection to the Devils already, as Joel Quenneville was an original Devil in 1982-83, coming over from Colorado with the Rockies. A defenseman, he scored 5 goals with 12 assists in 74 games and was a -13 with 46 PIMs for the Devils that year. He was traded to Calgary on June 21, 1983 along with Steve Tambellini for Phil Russell and the man who would go on to become the second captain in team history: Mel Bridgman. As for John, according to NHL Central Scouting’s David Gregory (via devils.nhl.com): “He has the pro makeup and is a hard-worker. He makes good plays very quickly and is good at moving the puck. I’d like to see more consistency from him, but I like the way he finds open spaces and his ability to make any kind of pass.”
The second through seventh rounds were held the next day on Saturday, June 28. Taken in the second round, 41st overall was defenseman Josh Jacobs of the Indiana Ice of the USHL. While Jacobs does not have quite the pedigree that John Quenneville possesses, but he is a solid pick for the Devils. He had 5 goals and 18 assists and a plus-36 rating for the Ice, leading the team to the Clark Cup (the USHL championship) one year after they finished last in the league. He has committed to Michigan State for the 2014-15 season, so it will be a while before the Devils can sign him to a pro contract, but according to Greg Rajanen of Central Scouting through devils.nhl.com: “Josh is a solid two-way defender and is still growing into his body. He moves well in all directions and handles the puck well. He can one-time the puck with good pace on his shot and is good at stick defending.”
The Devils next pick was in the third round, 71st overall: Connor Chatham (Plymouth Whalers, Ontario Hockey League). Best comparing himself to St. Louis Blues captain David Backes, Chatham is a right wing that plays a strong two-way style according to devils.nhl.com. He grew up a fan of Brett Hull and the Blues and, at the 2014 NHL Scouting Combine, completed 18 bench press reps, tying for second overall. According to David Conte: “He made great improvement; his productivity was all in the second half [of the season], which lends us to believe it should be significantly better next year. He lends a physical presence, he’s got speed. He’s a big prototypical winger, where, if you ask the general manager, “What do you want to draft?”, they’re going to tell me: a big winger. Well, that’s Connor Chatham.”
The Devils’ fifth round pick, 131st overall was defenseman Ryan Rehill of the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL. The Golden, British Columbia native was ranked 76th among North American skaters and put up four goals and sixteen assists in 72 games for Kamloops last year. David Conte’s assessment: “He’s a big, strong, tough defenseman, in-your-face, very difficult to play against. There’s players in the League like [Boston’s] Adam McQuaid that are somewhat similar profiles. … He has the willingness and he has the size and he has the grit. He needs to improve on the skillset in order to use that toughness, but we look forward to having that presence.”
The Devils secured two picks in the sixth round (their last two picks, as the team had traded their seventh round pick to the Arizona Coyotes – the Coyotes would pick left winger Jared Fiegi with that pick). The 152nd overall pick was Joey Dudek. Like many recent NHL draft picks, he comes from a family who has professional sports connections, but not in hockey. Dudek’s father played for the Denver Broncos of the NFL and was picked to win the 1985 Heisman Trophy by Sports Illustrated when he broke Walter Payton’s NCAA record for career touchdowns that year. His son, a Derry, New Hampshire native is a center who switched from winger two years ago, according to devils.nhl.com. He will play next season for the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL and has committed to Boston College for the 2015-16 season. David Conte: “He has a significant ways to go, but he has a very high skill level as-is. … He does have pure, natural talent which deviates a little bit from the physical presence that dominated the early part of our draft. … No better program than Boston College.”
The Devils final pick in the Draft, 161st overall was winger Brandon Baddock of the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL. Baddock helped lead the Oil Kings to the Memorial Cup (the Canadian Hockey League Championship) last year with six goals and eleven assists in 56 games. The 6 foot 3 inch, 200 pound Baddock also had 128 PIMs. As Conte stated: “A big, strong tough guy that’s evolving. Played on a Memorial Cup champion and got minimal ice time because he was on a team that (is) laden with so much pure talent and older players. His future’s yet ahead of him. He has a willingness and a dimension that when you need it, it’s impossible to find.
With that pick, the Devils wrapped up their 2014 NHL Draft. While the Philadelphia crowd may have given the Devils a rough reception (on TV you could hear the booing every time the Devils were mentioned, which is payback for last year, when the Flyers were booed at every instance at the Draft in Newark!), they certainly reaped a lot from this year’s draft. While ideally, all of the picks would pan out, most sports fans know that this is almost never the case. In some instances, even the top pick overall does not pan out, and lower round “diamonds in the rough” are not uncommon. The Devils are banking on at least their top two picks being NHL-ready within a season or two. If their lower round picks can come through and be NHL-caliber players, that would be great, but the team is looking towards Jacobs and, especially, Quenneville playing for the team in the future and, hopefully, becoming stars in the National Hockey League.