6 #NJDevils Thoughts – May 18, 2018

1) Sorry!  It’s been awhile but I was afraid I’d somehow jinx things near the end of the regular season if I was writing non-playoff stretch items so I just stopped.  I’d like to write once a week in the offseason, but only if it feels right.  I won’t write just to write.  Away we go!

I recently came across this video of the 2015 Columbus Blue Jackets’ Draft Table.  I’m not sure if this was ever made known to Devils fans, but NJ and CBJ briefly discussed a trade of the Devils’ 6th overall pick, as CBJ considered moving up if Boston College defenseman Noah Hanifin was still on the board.  Check it out:

Shero asked for 34 and 129 to move back from 6 to 8, which I don’t think is an unfair starting point.  Always shoot high, right?  CBJ GM Jarmo Kekäläinen never counter offered, though maybe in this day and age with draft pick values on every single slot…counter offers aren’t really a thing.  If Carolina had taken someone else besides Hanifin at 5, I wonder if Kekäläinen would have called Ray back and pulled the trigger to move up and draft him at 6.  Though maybe Ray keeps the pick at 6 and takes Hanifin if he’s there.  To Fantasy GM (or make people sad), let’s take a look at some of the players who were available at both slots for the Devils if such a trade happened.  At 34, NJ could have taken a few current NHL defensemen…Toronto’s Travis Dermott (34) or Boston’s Brandon Carlo (37).  Or they could have gotten themselves a heck of a forward in Carolina’s Sebastian Aho (35).  At 129, the Devils could have taken Minnesota’s Kirill Kaprizov (135), who’s currently considered one of the best KHL defenseman.  Also available was Pittsburgh’s Dominik Simon (137), who seems to be an up-and-coming forward for them.

Lastly, even if the Devils did trade back to 8, they probably still take Pavel Zacha.  Werenski to Columbus.  Provorov to Philly.  Same outcome.

2) In April, the Hockey News released their annual edition of Future Watch, which takes a closer look at each NHL team’s prospect pool.  The Devils’ received an A- grade and were ranked as the 8th-best farm system in the league.  The publication pushes out a Top-10 individual list for each team and a lot of the NJ names are not surprising…McLeod, Boqvist, Anderson, etc.  But one that did catch my eye was 2017 5th round pick Gilles Senn, a Swiss goaltender playing in his home country’s top league, who THN ranked 8th.  Their blurb on him, albeit brief:

“Athletic and towering, he projects to NHL standards.  May stay in Europe for a while.”

I think he’s an interesting prospect (6’5″ and 192 lbs.) but neither Dave or I had him on our Top-15 lists, nor did any of the other media outlets that do a quality job of analyzing farm systems.  But the Hockey News certainly does a bang-up job in the annual issue, as this is their method:

“First, we consult personnel and scouts from every NHL franchise and come up with an updated list of their top 10 prospects. That gives us 310 players total. We then turn that group of 310 over to our hand-picked panel of scouts from around the NHL, who rank all the players, yielding an individual list of our top 100 prospects. The same scouting panel also looks at each franchise’s top 10, plus the franchise’s current NHLers aged 21 and younger, and grades each franchise, helping us determine top-31 rankings of the best development systems.”

Very thorough.  I don’t know when he’s coming over here, but I certainly plan on keeping a closer eye on Senn in the coming months/year(s).

3) Speaking of goaltenders, could the Devils bring back Scott Wedgewood?  As you all know, NJ traded him to Arizona early in 2017-18 for a 5th round pick.  He had a tough season in Arizona and was traded again near the deadline to LA for Darcy Kuempner.  Wedgewood was immediately waived, cleared and played several games for the Kings’ AHL affiliate.  Wedgewood is a UFA.  Los Angeles doesn’t really have room for him in the organization at any level.  Here’s the goaltenders in their system:

– Jonathan Quick

– Jack Campbell (26 years old, former Dallas 1st round pick who just signed a 2-year extension in November)

– Cal Peterson (23 years old, signed through 2018-19)

– Cole Kehler (20 years old, just signed 3-year ELC in December)

– Matt Villalta (18-year-old 2017 3rd round pick, signed 3-year ELC in late April)

Even with LA having an ECHL affiliate, Wedgewood is likely 6th of 6 in terms of LA’s priority list for goaltenders.  Is he a starter in the NHL?  I’d say no.  NHL backup?  Maybe.  AHL goaltender?  Probably.  Can the Devils really add another goaltender into their system?  Probably not, but Wedgewood spent 7+ years of his adult life in the Devils organization so there’s certainly a comfort factor there and if there’s mutual interest from the team, maybe they can work something out.  All that said, it’ll probably come down to money and playing time at the highest level possible, the latter of which the Devils likely can’t offer.

4) Speaking of goaltenders drafted by the Devils, 2016 4th round pick Evan Cormier of the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit remains unsigned with his exclusive rights expiring on June 1.  It would be easy to look at Cormier’s age-20 season, see a 3.18 GAA and a .900 save percentage in all-situations and write him off as a bust.  Let’s throw in some other factors and see if it adjusts the outlook on him.  One, his numbers have baby-stepped their way up since his draft year (3.72 and .890) and his draft+1 season (3.23 and .899).  Two, Saginaw was a below-average to average team this season.  They finished 29-30-9 and were the last playoff team to clinch in their 10-team conference (20-team league).  In terms of the offense in front of him, Saginaw ranked 19th in goals scored in all situations and 5-on-5.   They finished 10th in goals allowed (11th in 5-on-5) and 12th in save percentage (11th in 5-on-5).  They allowed the 9th most shots (10th in 5-on-5).  The OHL season is 68 games, so I took all the goaltenders that started at least 34 games and put Cormier’s numbers up against the other 18 goaltenders who qualified to see how he measured out.   The numbers are via Prospect-Stats:

(adj. GSAA: Adjusted goals saved above average. This stat determines how many goals an across the board league average goalie would have allowed given the respective goalie’s number of HD, MD, and LD shots against. Then the actual number of goals allowed is subtracted from the calculated value)

Cormier’s ranks don’t shift much from all situations to 5-on-5.  However, having watched very little of him this year, that .914 SV% at 5-on-5 makes me feel much better about his season, especially considering the high shot volume against in what’s widely considered the most-challenging league of the three major junior ones in Canada.

Now…working against Cormier is that recent track records of OHL goaltenders in the NHL are not great.  Here’s a list of OHL goaltenders who have been drafted since 1994 and played at least 160 games in the NHL (ranked by GP):

One guy who I left off the list is current Penguins goaltender Matt Murray, because he hasn’t hit the 160 benchmark just yet.  He posted a 4.08 GAA and .876 SV% in his 2012 draft year!  To be fair, Sault Ste. Marie had a mediocre-to-bad team that year as well.  A former OHL HC told me the following recently regarding Cormier:

“I’d like to see [what he can do at the next level].  Hard to gauge playing behind a young team that has given up a lot of shots over the past few years.  I’m interested to see how he’ll do facing less rubber.”

Consider all of the above, and that you can make a case that every goaltender in the Devils organization is a question mark, the Devils should absolutely sign Evan Cormier and give him a shot.

5) Speaking of players whose rights are expiring, on Thursday afternoon Steve Kournianos mentioned that Florida Panthers’ 2016 2nd round pick Adam Mascherin will re-enter the draft if his rights aren’t traded by June 1.  Mascherin (stats here), of the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers, went 38th overall in 2016…three picks before the Devils drafted Nathan Bastian.  Things like this make my mind tick.  Did the Devils have Mascherin higher on their draft board than Bastian?  Would he already be Devils property and perhaps signed?  Also…how does a 2nd round pick who followed up his draft year with two more highly productive seasons translate to potentially being re-drafted in a month?  Is he a 1st rounder now?  Still a 2nd?  Does he drop further than his previous slot since this is considered a deep draft?  If you’ve followed me for any amount of time, you know I love to dig for connections and try to connect dots.  The Kitchener Rangers are coached by longtime NHL defenseman Jay McKee.  Ray Shero signed McKee in the Summer of 2009 to a one-year contract with the Penguins near the end of his pro career.  Mike McKenzie is the GM of the Kitchener Rangers.  McKenzie was a four-year letterwinner in hockey at St. Lawrence University in the 2000s, just like Shero in the 1980s.  Maybe the Devils pick him.  Who knows…there’s a small chance Mascherin goes undrafted and the Devils, given the connections detailed above, would have one of the best paths to him.  Just keep an ear/eye out for Mascherin the next few weeks.

6) Speaking of connections, I’ll get lost on Elite Prospects for dozens of minutes at a time…looking for random degrees of separation between Person X and Person Y.  More often than not, this is a Devils-related exercise.  I couldn’t help but dig and find out that there are quite a few Devils connections/figures on this magical Vegas Golden Knights team.  I would assume most of you know about the more obvious ones; Jon Merrill, GM George McPhee (played 6 games for the Devils in the late 80s), David Conte (Lou’s Director of Amateur Scouting for decades) and perhaps even Deryk Engelland…a 2000 6th round pick of the Devils that never ended up signing with the team and is now one of the alternate captains for Vegas.

How about some ones maybe you didn’t know that are working in Sin City?  Jim McKenzie, who played nearly 200 games for the Devils and was a member of the 2003 Stanley Cup team, is a pro scout for the elite expansion squad.  Dan Labraaten was a European scout for the Devils from 1988 to 2016 and played a big role in the Devils drafting Patrik Elias and single-handedly made the recommendation to sign Brian Rafalski.  He’s now been in the same role with the Knights the last two seasons.  Mike Foligno was an assistant coach in NJ under Pete DeBoer for two seasons and is now a pro scout for Vegas.  Vince Williams was an ECHL AC with the Trenton Devils from 2006-11 while under the NJ Devils umbrella and he’s now a pro scout for the Knights that are Golden.

One other one that isn’t as cool but you’ve come this far so why stop now; Scott Luce, Vegas’ Director of Amateur Scouting, and Paul Castron, NJ’s Director of Amateur Scouting, were both scouts for the 1998-99 Ottawa Senators.

Of the four teams left…I don’t really care who wins, but it would be pretty cool to see a lot of Devils-related personnel get a ring.

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