The NHL Draft is less than two weeks away. The New Jersey Devils hold the Nos. 4 and 28 selections in the first round, which is being held Friday, July 23.
As things start to really ramp up, we welcome Mike Morreale, writer and draft expert for NHL.com, to give his insights on the best prospects, best fits for the Devils and his sense of whom New Jersey will select.
Video: Mike Morreale Draft Predictions | 1-on-1
Matt Loughlin: Let's cut right to the chase who goes, No. 1?
Mike Morreale: Owen Power from the University of Michigan. Great size. Athleticism. I think he's proven himself at the University of Michigan this year. I particularly liked his play at the World Championship for first place, gold-medal winning Canada, played a little over 24 minutes in that contest. He really elevated his game, and was just given so much credit by Adam Henrique, the captain of the Canadian team, coach Gerard Gallant, goalie Darcy Kuemper couldn't help but praise the play of Owen Power and what he was able to bring to the table as the youngest player on the Canada team this year. So, I like Owen power No. 1 for sure.
ML: He seems to be everyone's consensus No. 1. And then it becomes a matter of where someone winds up on a team's board. This draft maybe doesn't get enough credit for the talent that's available. What's your take overall, before we dive into some of the other positions.
MM: This draft in particular, you look at it and it's going to be a little bit unpredictable. I really believe. The first maybe 10, 15 picks, everyone has an idea who should go in those particular spots. The order, forget it. With the exception of Owen power at the top, I think you can choose between two and six. I think it's that type of player that really fills a need, maybe a player that you liked on a particular zoom interview or what you saw on video, or maybe in live in certain situations. But from 2-6, it's kind of a flip-a-coin type of deal. But for me two other players from the University of Michigan that are making strides, Matty Beniers I thought played really well. The forward for Michigan this year was named to the Big 10 All Freshmen Team along with Owen power, and along with this other player, Kent Johnson. Good-size player from the University of Michigan, another forward, a right wing, goes about 6-1. Some people have labeled him a 6-foot-1 Patrick Kane, the way he skates with the puck and what he's able to do and bring.
Two international players that I really like in that 2-7 range, Simon Edmondson from Frolunda in Sweden. Goes about 6-5, 180-plus pounds. He's really played well in his 10, 11 games, in the Swedish Hockey League this year. That's where he'll play next year for sure. But he contributed for Sweden on an international level as well. I liked what I saw at the U-18 tournament out of him. William Eklund was named the Swedish Hockey League rookie of the year. Really dynamic. Plays for Djurgardens in Sweden, and was actually a linemate, Matt, of Alexander Holtz. So, Devils fans will know Holtz soon enough as he makes his run to join the team this year. And maybe you can add a player like William Eklund to play alongside him. I actually spoke to Holtz mid-season and asked them about William Eklund and what he meant and what he was like. And he loved him. He says he was a dynamic player, feels as though he's going to be a top 15 pick in this draft. I think we all do.
And then Luke Hughes. I really like what Luke Hugheswas able to do with the National Team Development Program Under-18 team this year. Obviously, a lot of great players have come out of that program. Luke is one of those guys that can play both sides as far as the point goes. He's a left-handed shot, but played the right-hand side the entire season with the NTDP this year.
They want it to be flexible player in that regard. I think they did a great job with that. The thing I like about Luke huge was he's more of a defensive-minded player, but he has so much offensive upside scored 34 points in the NTDP this year before his unfortunate injuries. So, he didn't get an opportunity to play at U-18 s, which would have been nice. I think he also probably would have had a chance to play at World Championships as well, with the big boys. He's doing well. He's skating again. He's practicing with his brothers and some other skaters over in Plymouth at USA Hockey Arena. So, we'll see what happens with Luke Hughes, but I like him as well.
And then finally, Brandt Clarke. Another right-handed D, plays for Barrie in the Ontario Hockey League, went overseas to play this year. That was a feather in his cap to go overseas and play and maybe make the most out of a tough situation since the Ontario Hockey League canceled their season this year in April. Good on Brandt Clarke for going out there and doing what he does best. And he also contributed to Canada at the Under-18 tournament. He played really well there. So, Brandt Clarke is another player I think could go top 6, top 7 in this draft.
ML: Family connections, teammate connections abound. And of course, if Luke Hughes didn't have, and it's not fair to compare him to his brothers, but if he didn't have a little offensive upside, you'd have to question if he's actually a Hughes because we know Quinn and Jack are offensive performers. I'm guessing, as you mentioned, that will develop. If you asked people a month ago, six weeks ago, they would have said defense, defense, defense will dominate the first 10 picks, the first 15 picks, but you brought up a bunch of offensive players as well. What other changes might we expect between now and July 23rd when the first round takes place?
MM: In that top 10 range, Matt, we could also see a goalie go. I'm a big fan of Jesper Wallstedt, played with Lulea, in the Swedish Hockey League. And he had an outstanding season. He's probably going to represent Sweden at the World Junior Championship next year. I think the world of this goalie. He's going to be taken in the first round. And I think if a team is in desperate need of a goalie, wanting someone to marinate and mature in their system, I think Jesper Wallstedt is that type of goalie. I do think Wallstedt's going to be selected in the top 15. When I watched the draft, when I'm covering the draft, I always want teams to take the best available. Even when I was young, when I used to follow my favorite teams, I was always following a draft saying, just take the best player that's available no matter what positions they play. Some fans like to see, well, we need this position or we need that position, but that's not the purpose of the draft because a lot of these players, as you know, Matt, aren't going to be playing with team for another 2-3 years. So, you want to take the best player, that player with maybe the highest ceiling on your draft board. Wallstedt is one of those players that I think is going to be very high on a lot of draft boards. In addition to the goaltending, which I think is strong this year, yes, defense is solid. But as you mentioned, the forward spots look good too. There are quite a few forwards in this draft that could go late, that could turn out to be bonafide stars later in the draft. You look at guys like Josh Doan. He was passed over in the draft last year, the son of Shane Doan. He played for Chicago, which won the Clark Cup in the United States Hockey League this year. Josh didn't get a lot of playing time last year, but this year he did. And maybe that's the difference between where he's ranked this year and where he was ranked last year, and how scouts perceive him. But he's got that same type of personality as his dad. And what he brings to the table on the ice as a big time forward. Forwards, I think are aplenty in this draft. And as I said, we're going to see a lot of players taken in the second, third, fourth rounds - and a lot of scouts have agreed with me on this - that are going to be stars, just because there's a lot of uncertainty with this draft this year.