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FEATURE: Devils Poised to Take Advantage of Deep Draft

The New Jersey Devils hold 10 picks in a deep 2019 NHL Draft, including three second-rounders

by Chris Wescott / newjerseydevils.com

"Ray Shero might be up for GM of the year by his scouting staff," quipped Director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr.

"I think New Jersey is in a very good situation right now because of all the picks they have," said The Hockey News Senior Writer Ryan Kennedy.

Video: DRAFT | 1-on-1 with Dan Marr

One by one, draft experts and analysts alike at the NHL Scouting Combine in Buffalo last week spoke glowingly of the opportunity that lies before the New Jersey Devils.

The 2019 NHL Draft is heralded as having a very deep pool of prospects, particularly in the top 50.

Canadian sportscaster and hockey analyst Sam Cosentino says it's one of the deepest drafts he's covered over the last several years.

"I think it starts early on," he said. "You look at teams picking in that 6-12 range and I think there's a wide variance of players that are going to be eligible to be selected there."

As different, unexpected names come off the board, top-rated players could slip.

"Pretty comfortably over the last 3-5 years… you'd be able to look at the top 10 and have some definition in terms of the order. I don't think we're going to see that this year and there are going to be some teams that look down quickly sitting at seven or eight and they'll say, 'cool, I'm going to get a guy here that I really like that I probably would have had higher up.'"

After a brief settling between 13-20, Cosentino thinks the uncertainty continues, pushing big names further down the board.

"Once we move into the 20-40 range, again, there's a wide variance of players and there's going to be teams that are going to be well-appointed with multiple second-round picks that are going to get some guys that no doubt they would have in the first round."

The Devils are one of those teams with multiple picks in the second round.

Marr agrees with Cosentino on the overall depth of the draft.

"It's exciting in the sense that there are a lot of quality centermen and quality defensemen," Marr said. "Every year it seems to drift and change as to what position looks good and what's appealing for us is that a lot of times our list cuts off where we'll say there's a group of the top 10, then maybe the next 15 and then it might go down a little bit. But all through the first round this year, at various positions, there's going to be quality players available that are actually going to have a chance to go in and make teams think if he should be signed and given an opportunity to make the club. We've got it at 40-45 before we think it kind of breaks down a little bit. On an NHL list, that 45 could take a team right into the third round."

The Devils currently hold 10 picks overall, including the first-overall selection, three in the second round and two in the third.

"I don't care what manager or executive or scout you ask, they know that when you have more picks you have a greater opportunity to make those picks work," said TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button. "If you have three picks in the draft, well - I tell you what - you don't have a margin for error. Everybody knows the draft is imperfect and you're not going to hit on every pick so when you're given an opportunity to have more picks and say, 'hey we really think this player is someone we think can really progress and we're going to, I don't want to say take a flyer on him, but we're going to use this selection on him and see where he's at."

More picks means more swings at the piñata. It's more opportunity to take chances on prospects your scouts believe in.

"Think of Jeremy Davies," said Button. "Jérémy Davies was a late-round draft pick (7th round in 2016). He got drafted in his last year of eligibility and just got signed by the Devils. That's exactly what I'm talking about. That type of player. Goes to Northeastern, really good offensive defenseman, really excelled in Hockey East on a really good team and now he's turning pro. That's exactly what you get the opportunity to do when you have more picks. You say 'I really like this kid. He needs to grow, he needs to mature a little bit, he needs to be in better competition, but we really believe, because of his skill set, that he's a guy that fits.' That's what you get when you have more picks."

But that's an example for later in the draft. As for the aforementioned pick-packed second round, the Devils will have a plethora of talented players to choose from.

"I look at a player like Egor Afanasyev from the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL and I see a player who is still a little raw but he has a ton of upside as a power forward," Kennedy said. "He might be available early in that second round if he's not snapped up late first. Ryan Johnson also played in the USHL, for Sioux Falls, and won a title this year. The scouts call him a one-man breakout. He's a defenseman who is very mobile and we know that is a huge thing in the NHL these days so that's another player. Then, if you want to go safer, Tobias Björnfot from Sweden. Another defenseman, he's worn a letter for Swedes a couple of times internationally and he's a pretty safe, two-way guy. A lot of character. He's another player who is probably available early in that second round.

"I think the Devils are, obviously, going [with a] forward with that number-one pick," Kennedy continued. "Maybe you follow it up with a defenseman just to even things up. I know they have Ty Smith coming up but you've got to keep stocking that cupboard."

Holding more picks also gives you ammunition to make a move for NHL-ready bodies or it makes you a valuable trade partner for teams looking to jump up and grab prospects who may slip.

"I think the fascinating part for me is if I'm looking at someone like Toronto or San Jose, who really aren't in the game in the first round, and those teams are going to find some value and try to get into the second round because you're going to see some first-round players rated players that are on lists that are going to be available in the second round," said Cosentino. "No doubt there is going to be movement. It's going to be fun to watch the tables because if you can kind of keep an eye on the tables, people are going to be looking down and they'll be scrambling a little bit. Eyes will be wide."

With the potential for fireworks or the ability to take home some really good players, Marr puts it best.

"That's going to be a fun day at the draft for the New Jersey Devils."

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