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The currency of draft picks: building towards a bright future

New Jersey will have 10 NHL Draft selections this year in Vancouver

by Amanda Stein @AmandaCStein / newjerseydevils.com

When the New Jersey Devils team management head to Vancouver in late June for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, they'll do so in an enviable position.

The team will have 10 draft selections in hand, in what is considered a deep draft.

The Devils own their first-round selection, three second-round picks (New Jersey's, Nashville's and Boston's) and two third-round picks (Anaheim's and Dallas'), and the club's original selections in rounds four through seven. They are one of six teams with 10 draft selections, while also owning the greatest number of picks (6) in the first three rounds, tied with the New York Rangers.

Whether it is this upcoming draft, or ones in the later future, draft picks serve not only to restock the pipeline, but they are also a form of currency as the NHL Draft approaches. Along with the NHL Trade Deadline, the NHL Entry Draft is often a place where general managers are making impactful moves to improve their clubs.

Before the clock stuck 3 p.m. on Trade Deadline Day, General Manager Ray Shero acquired three of those 10 picks, and two picks for later draft years (2020, 2022).

"Getting that second-round pick in 2019 [in the Johansson deal] was important to us and getting that fourth-round pick in 2020," Shero said. "I also think the picks, it gives us more options, whether you trade back or trade up, trade back a year, it is just where we are as an organization, I think it is important to have. As we continue to grow, you give yourself options with assets.

"I know one thing, to get into anything to get better, you need assets," Shero continued. "Those are draft picks, whether you use them on players to draft or in potential trades like we've done in the past, it is difficult to say right now. But you can't improve yourself through those avenues without draft picks, whether they are used at the entry draft or in trades. We'll see how that goes and where that takes us and what the market might be."

One of those options is using draft picks as trade bait on the draft floor for NHL-ready talent. In the past, the Devils general manager has made important deals simply by trading draft picks. Marcus Johansson was acquired two a second and third round draft pick in the summer of 2017, forward Kyle Palmieri was acquired on the draft floor from Anaheim in 2015 for two selections, while a week leading up to the 2017 Entry Draft, defenseman Mirco Mueller was acquired from San Jose for multiple picks as well.

Now, with an abundance of picks, Shero has the ability to maneuver on the draft floor in June, to improve his team should the right offer present itself.

"There's no guarantee. I know one thing - to get into anything to get better, you need assets," Ray Shero said after the trade deadline wrapped up last week. "Those are draft picks, whether you use them on players to draft or in potential trades like we've done in the past, it is difficult to say right now. But you can't improve yourself through those avenues without draft picks, whether they are used at the entry draft or in trades. We'll see what transpires over the next few months, but we are in a better position now to do that."

At the NHL Trade Deadline, the Devils parted ways with four pending unrestricted free agents in Brian Boyle, Ben Lovejoy, Keith Kinkaid and Johansson. But with a plan in place to build towards the future, Shero was not willing to part with several players already under contract that he considers part of the team's long-term plans, despite phone calls of interest from other general managers.

It is an interesting situation for Shero. Stick to the plan, but listen intently to gage, outside of your own walls, how the rest of the league perceive your current assets already under contract.

There was never an intention of moving key pieces that are integral in building towards the future for the Devils', but the insight is always a welcome part of Trade Deadline Day.

"It was good to hear that teams like [our prospects] but I think then you really start chasing your tail a bit in terms of what you're doing as an organization and we're not trying to extend this longer than we have to," Shero said. "We want to do it productively, prudently and in a measured way that makes sense. When you're making progress, you've got younger players under control, under contract and they've earned that. So, I just think it makes sense unless something came up that you totally could not turn down, but I never got to that point. I really want to keep them. I'm glad we did."

Now it is time for that young core talent to pave their way in the NHL and learn under the tutelage of head coach John Hynes and his staff.

The exit of Boyle, Lovejoy, Johansson and Kinkaid have paved the way for several AHL call-ups. It is a chance for younger players in the system to gain NHL experience and is a chance for team management to evaluate their prospect pool.

"This a great way for them to get their feet wet and gain some confidence," Shero said Tuesday after the deadline. "That's the direction we're going with some of these younger guys and I think that was the culmination with some of the moves over the last day and few weeks starting with Brian Boyle."

Since the deadline has passed, the Devils have recalled several players including Nathan Bastian who scored his first NHL goal against the Montreal Canadiens, Michael McLeod, John Quenneville, Nick Lappin, Blake Pietila, Mackenzie Blackwood and Joey Anderson.

The Devils also have newcomer Connor Carrick on the blueline, acquired from the Stars in the Lovejoy trade.

"Connor Carrick is another young defenseman, so we get a look at him and it'll open up some ice time for some of our younger players," Shero said. "Calling up Bastian, McLeod, Quenneville. There's a lot of 20-somethings in the lineup, so a lot of competition but hopefully a lot of enthusiasm with 20 games to go or so."

And so, whether its draft selections, players in the system, or players already on the NHL roster, Ray Shero is staying the course to build towards a bright future, one draft selection at a time.

Recap of New Jersey Devils 2019 NHL Trade Deadline Deals: 

•   Traded Brian Boyle to the Nashville Predators for a 2019 second-round pick. (February 6th, 2019)

•   Traded Ben Lovejoy to the Dallas Stars for Connor Carrick and a 2019 third-round pick. (February 23rd, 2019)

•   Traded Keith Kinkaid to the Columbus Blue Jackets for a 2022 fifth-round pick. (February 25th, 2019 - Trade Deadline Day)

•   Traded Marcus Johansson to the Boston Bruins for a 2019 second-round pick and a 2020 third-round pick. (February 25th, 2019 - Trade Deadline Day)

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