Lou’s Draft Strategy is Key to 4th Pick


There are a few schools of thought your GM and staff employ when they’re on the clock.  After addressing their needs, they ask themselves some basic questions:

-Does the best player available also fill our biggest or next biggest need?

If the answer is “yes,” 99% of the time they’ll take that player.  Think Scott Niedermayer in 1991.

If the answer is “no,” the options become much greater:

  1. Take the best available player.
  2. Fill a need with the best available player at the position we need to fill.
  3. Trade the pick.

We’ve seen the Devils employ all three of these options at one point or another.  There were the late 90’s picks of JF Damphousse and Ari Ahonen, or option 1.  You could argue that Niedermayer also represents option 2, because there were a number of scouts who had Forsberg rated higher than Nieds in ’91.  However, for the purpose of this piece, we’ll use Jon Merrill, our 2nd round pick last year as an example of option 2.  1990 is a perfect example of option 3.  The guy we picked at #20 after we traded down worked out pretty well.

Putting all of this to mind, it’s hard to figure out which way Lou Lamoriello and David Conte will go.  Obviously it’s going to depend very much on who gets picked in the top three.  One thing is certain, however: barring an absolute steal of a trade, the Devils will keep the pick.  Remember, they must surrender one first rounder in the next 3 years, and this year is NOT going to be that year.

In my mind, the Devils have two glaring needs.  First and foremost is a top line, puck moving defenseman.  Second and almost as important is a creative centerman who can take our top line pivot spot for years to come.  This is not a knock on Travis Zajac by any means.  I like what Travis brings, but he’s much more suited as a 2nd line center with wingers who are creative.  Jacob Josefson is too young to make a judgement on right now, but he could be the guy at some point.   But again, who they take is going to depend on who goes in the top 3.

I see the Oilers taking Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Adam Larsson.  Nugent-Hopkins gets the nod because he’ll be a great playmaking center to create for Taylor Hall.  At second, I think Colorado will go with Larsson.  They also have the advantage of picking 11th overall as well, so if they decide a defenseman will be there at 11, they could take Gabriel Landeskog.  At third, Florida will most likely take the best forward available.  They’ve taken a defenseman in 2 of the last 4 drafts in Dmitri Kulikov and Keaton Ellerby.  That leads me to believe they’ll draft Landeskog if he’s available, and if not, it’s a crapshoot that may end with them drafting Sean Couturier or Ryan Strome.  The problem with this year’s draft is that aside from Nugent-Hopkins, I can’t for certain say that any of the next best players will be gone.  I do, however, know the Devils will have a choice between the following three players: Adam Larsson, Gabriel Landeskog, Sean Couturier.

Most Devils fans love Adam Larsson and rightfully so.  While I don’t think he’ll be there, it’d be great if the Devils had the chance to take him.  That being said, I’m often hesitant in suggesting a team like the Devils take a defenseman with such a high pick.  Defensemen, no matter how high they’re drafted, are rarely NHL ready.  They’re not nearly as far along in their development as forwards are.  With only a few years of Marty left, can the Devils really wait for a defenseman to develop?  If they, like many fans, think that goaltending is becoming an expendable position in the NHL, then they may take a blueliner.  They’ve got 15 years of Ilya Kovalchuk, and hopefully many years of Zach Parise.  They can obviously wait a few years for a d-man to develop if they get an adequate replacement for Brodeur.  Larsson is the ideal pick.  If he’s not there, Dougie Hamilton is the next best choice and would represent option 2 above.  If they decide they must win now with what few years left of Marty they have, then they’ll be smart to take a forward.

The best forward available when the Devils pick will most likely be Sean Couturier.  Landeskog will most likely go to Colorado if they don’t choose Larsson.  They already have Duchene and Stastny down the middle, so they could use a winger if they decide to go with a forward.  Regardless, whoever Colorado and Edmonton don’t pick of the top three will be taken by Florida at third, thus removing Nugent-Hopkins, Larsson, and Landeskog off the board.  Up until mid-season Sean Couturier was the top ranked skater by the ISS.  He’s dropped as far as 5th and now looks to be up to 3rd.  Either way, we know those rankings mean just about nothing to Lou (see Adrian Foster).  Couturier is a supremely talented playmaker with size.  You can’t teach vision and you can’t teach size.  Couturier has both and represents a very big need for the Devils.  While defense is the most glaring need, I just don’t think you can justify drafting Dougie Hamilton at 4th.  Hamilton is a nice player who could be excellent 3-4 years from now.  However, many scouts have pointed out his bad decision making in his own zone that could see him drop out of the top 10.  Also, many scouts have Ryan Murphy ranked higher, so after Larsson, defensemen are a craps shoot this year.

One thing’s for sure, the Devils are the one team in the top 5 that any player would be thrilled to go to.  Most signs point to October-December of 2010 as a fluke, meaning the Devils should contend next season.  Any player who ends up in NJ, because of his skill, and because of the Devils cap issues, will probably be relied upon to make an immediate impact.  Whatever Lou and David decide to do, this is by far the most exciting draft for Devil fans since 1991.