Hi everybody, just wanted to give my opinion about how we did this year at the draft. While it's still too early to really give this a grade (since nobody's played an NHL game yet), I will be giving this as an initial overview for the draft.
Apologies on the tardiness of it. Let's get down to business:
1st round - 6th overall - Pavel Zacha (C):
Before I go into talking about Zacha, let me just say how surprised I am at how far Barzal fell. I know I was very high on him (and still am), but I was expecting him to go no higher than 10th or 11th overall. Drafts can be crazy though!
Alright, so let's talk about Zacha. For those interested, here is a link to my original write-up of Zacha.
So we've gone with the Czech power forward. Physically, Zacha has it all. His size, speed, and frame are really in league of their own here. Also if you look at some of his numbers before coming over to play in the OHL last season, he really shot through the Czech leagues. He was playing in the U20 league when he was only 15 years old, and still made quite the impact (for example: scoring 40 points, 14G 36A, in 39 games as a 15 year old in the U20 league). A user on HFBoards was nice enough to do a comparison between Zacha and some other recent top Czech prospects like Hertl, Pastrnak, Palat, and others. I won't take credit for this, so I'll instead post a link to that post...you can decipher the numbers themselves (hint: it's a very good sign!).
So the big question now is: what do we do with him? Physically, he's very NHL-ready, but is that good enough? I say no, honestly. Personally I'd like to see him at Camp and how he competes with other NHL-ready prospects like Matteau and whatnot. In pre-season I would love to see Zacha on a line with Elias just so Zacha can have some experience under the wing of not only a great leader, but one of his personal idols. Perhaps we could see some kind of resurgence from Elias because of it! Unless Zacha blows the doors off the hinges at development camp and during pre-season, I'd like to see him return to Sarnia of the OHL to help further his offensive game development. After all, he's only played 37 games on the smaller North American ice. Give him is 9 games in the NHL, or whatever the number is of not burning a year of the ELC.
Needless to say I'm very happy with this pick, but would like to see us take our time with him. We are in no rush to compete right now and I ultimately think Shero will make the right decision when it comes to Zacha's development. If he DOES go back to Sarnia, then I will be following them a lot, since they'll have two high prospects for us in Zacha and defenseman Joshua Jacobs.
On one other note, I really do think Zacha will develop his game as a Center, and not as a winger.
2nd round - 42nd overall - MacKenzie Blackwood (G):
I know some of us were upset with taking a goalie at 42, especially after trading down and with other high-quality forwards still available on the board. And while I can certainly understand the frustration, we can't just ignore some organizational needs while addressing others. We haven't drafted a goalie in what, 5 years? And while we are set for a while with Schneider and hopefully Kinkaid, we don't have a top goalie prospect outside of Wedgewood. In fact, looking at this pick in a vacuum, it's amazing the top-ranked North American goaltender (and 2nd ranked goalie overall in the draft) fell to us at 42nd overall. I was able to watch Blackwood play for the Barrie Colts of the OHL while mostly watching Blandisi last season. Blackwood is going to be one of the top goaltenders at Team Canada's World Junior roster camp coming up (along with center John Quenneville invited!), and he's a huge guy at 6'4" with a little potential to grow more...but not by too much. If anything he gets 1 inch taller, but it's not like 6'4" is small at all.
This was a phenomenal selection for us, especially considering we originally had picks 36 and 41, then traded #41+ to Anaheim for Kyle Palmieri, a young RW with top-6 potential that's going to have an immediate impact...then trading the #36 for #42 and a 2016 third round pick, all while selecting Blackwood at #42. This was not a random throw at a dartboard. This was tremendous asset management by Shero. Blackwood is an incredibly promising young man, and I very much look forward to seeing him in Barrie next season.
3rd round - 67th overall - Blake Speers (RW):
Very intriguing forward prospect playing RW for the SSM Greyhounds of the OHL. I must say that there is a reason why we cannot simply look at statistics as a measurement of a player's capability. That can sometimes be used to justify oftentimes poor stats in a season, but in this case it's used to be even more promising for Speers. Speers was able to put up very impressive numbers despite not playing a large role on an extremely deep SSM team. Speers is extremely fast and possessing a good set of hands. I've said the word before but I'd like to repeat it. Speers is extremely intriguing, and in a very good sense. I will be watching a lot of SSM next season to get a handle on his progression and how he develops his game. In terms of improvement he needs to work on his overall strength to help him in board battles. In everything I've seen and read, he seems more than willing to engage in physical battles along the boards against opponents and he is committed to a two-way game. I think the little blurb about him by Elite Prospects sums up his potential well though, "For Blake Speers, offense in the best defence." I think Speers has a very high offensive potential, and I look forward to seeing him hopefully unlock it as he take on a more important role.
I can't stress how much I like this pick. I think Speers has some incredible potential, but don't want to let all the horses out of the barn on this one. What I specifically like about it: young highly offensive RW with untapped potential and role on a deep team, and is committed to a complete game. He is very intelligent and knows what he must do to improve his play. (apparently he also put on about 20 pounds last year, which is promising.) He had the 4th highest PPG rate out of all 17 year-olds in the OHL last season. I mean look at some of those names!
Very happy with this pick.
4th round - 97th overall - Colton White (D):
I'll be honest, I don't know too much about White. All I know is that his situation is very similar to Speers' in that he is an incredibly promising prospect that is somewhat buried on a very deep team. White is a great skater and it seems like Shero has really placed an emphasis on speed and overall skating ability this draft. I do like this pick because White is a Left-Handed defenseman, which is what we rather lack in our pipeline...which is strange because many teams far too many LHD's. For a 4th round pick, he does seem extremely promising. There's no promise as to what will hold for White's future regarding NHL play or not, but with Nurse leaving SSM, White will certainly see his role increase as well as his playing time. I think we will get a better idea of what he is capable of when that happens. From what we have seen though, there is a lot to look forward to with the two-way defender. I'm very much looking forward to watching White progress with SSM next season.
6th round - 157th overall - Brett Seney (LW):
Our only selection of the draft that did not come from the OHL (sorry Don Cherry) is overage prospect Brett Seney (eligible for the 2014 draft but wasn't selected, mainly because he was playing in the OJHL - the league below the CHL). This left winger isincredibly fast, like my goodness did Shero just say to Conte "go draft me a track team"? Seney put the team on his back and was the leading point scorer for his Merrimack College team, despite missing a few games due to injury. While size may be a concern, since he's 5'9" 159lbs, he still has a lot of bulking up to do, and already practically plays with his head on a swivel. Seney's game mostly revolves around his speed and agility burning past defensemen and setting up plays.
Even though a pick in this round has an extremely unlikely chance of making the NHL, I very much like this selection as it's based on pure speed and skill, which is what I think all late-round selections should be based on. Some very good numbers for comparison for Seney is the PPG rate for true freshmen. In this case it is:
Eichel (BU) - 1.78
Larkin (U Michigan) - 1.34
Seney (Merrimack) - .76
Tuch (BC) - .76
What I also like about Seney is that despite his tremendous speed, not all of his offensive game is based off the rush. He's actually quite good in the cycle game. I also like how Seney was able to do this on an offensively-starved team like Merrimack. I think he's definitely a project pick, and will need 4 years of college for development, and even if he doesn't make it to the NHL (like statistics say), I think this is the right way to draft.
Overall, I think this was a fantastic draft for the Devils. Not only did we add 3 incredibly talented forwards, a promising defenseman, and the best North American (and 2nd best overall) goaltender in the draft, not to mention getting an immediate impact player in Palmieri...I think this was as close to as slam-dunk as possible for Shero, Conte, and all the Red and Black.
That's my overview, I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Also follow me on Twitter @DTJ_AHockeyBlog for more write-ups and so we can chat.
Thanks for reading!