12 Prospects Devils Should Target Deep in the Draft

A pandemic may have halted the NHL season, pushing back notable dates on the calendar like the NHL Draft. But after a more than successful return-to-play in the bubble format, Draft Week is finally upon us. 

The New Jersey Devils have three first-round choices that should help them load up on more young talent. But they also have six picks in the third round and beyond. They’ve made off well in the mid to late rounds in recent drafts, and they have the opportunity to do so again in what’s a deep class. Here are 12 mid to late-round picks they could target. 

Emil Heineman

Heineman is one of the more underrated prospects to come out of Sweden this year. He finished with 26 goals in 29 games playing for Leksands IF J20 in the J20 SuperElit — the Swedish Junior League. That tied for fourth-best in the league. And as you might’ve guessed, his shot is the strength of his game. 

Heineman is ranked as high as 46th overall by Elite Prospects and as low as 95th by Future Considerations. If he’s available around the 85th overall pick, where the Devils select in the third round, he’d provide great value in that spot. He projects as a middle-six scoring winger due to his shooting talent. And he’d add to the Devils collection of prospects whose strengths are their shots (Nolan Foote, Tyce Thompson, Graeme Clarke). 

William Villeneuve

Villeneuve had a strong season in the QMJHL playing for the Saint John Sea Dogs, where he had 58 points in 64 games. The 18-year-old defenseman’s strengths lie in his offensive ability, specifically in his transition game, an area where the Devils have struggled from the blue line. 

William Villeneuve Saint John Sea Dogs
William Villeneuve of the Saint John Sea Dogs (Photo from Dan Culberson/Saint John Sea Dogs)

Villeneuve’s ranked as high as 50th by Future Considerations and as low as 105th by McKeen’s Hockey. If he’s available around the 85th overall pick, the Devils would be wise to consider him. He has top-four potential and would be among the Devils’ top defense prospects after Ty Smith. 

Oskar Magnusson

Magnusson is in a bit of the same boat as Heineman. He was one of the top scorers in the J20 SuperElit, finishing with 22 goals and 48 points in 38 games. He’s a good shooter, like Heineman, but his playmaking is a step above Heineman’s. If there’s a knock on Magnusson, it’s his skating needs work, though he’s not a bad skater by any stretch. 

As far as rankings go, Magnusson is as high as 70th overall by Elite Prospects and as low as 138th by McKeen’s Hockey. Elite Prospects lists him as a center and right-winger. But if his skating doesn’t improve, it’s hard to imagine him sticking as a center in the NHL. He likely projects a middle-six winger and would be a good pick in the third or fourth rounds. 

Anton Johannesson

Johannesson is one of the most intriguing prospects in the 2020 Draft. The Swedish defenseman finished with 24 points in 20 games in the J20 SuperElit. He’s one of the best passing defensemen in this draft, but there are red flags. He’s only 5-foot-9, 154 pounds, and he needs to get much stronger to play in the NHL. He struggles when he needs to play physically on defense, though that’ll improve if he adds strength to his frame.

Related: Anton Johannesson — 2020 NHL Draft Prospect Profile

Johannesson is the 31st-ranked European prospect by NHL Central Scouting and 82nd overall by Future Considerations. He might be off the board by the time the Devils draft in the third round. But it wouldn’t be a surprise if he fell due to his size. If he’s available in the third or fourth rounds, he’d be a good value pick. 

Alex Laferriere

Laferriere, not to be mistaken with projected first overall pick Alexis Lafreniere, had an impressive season in the USHL. The Chatham, New Jersey native, had 45 points in 42 games playing for the Des Moines Buccaneers. He’s a skilled right-winger who has a great shot and a decent frame, at 6-foot, 180 pounds. 

Alex Laferriere Des Moines Buccaneers
Alex Laferriere of the Des Moines Buccaneers (Photo from Michaela Schnetter/Des Moines Buccaneers)

Laferriere is ranked as high as 62nd by McKeen’s Hockey and as low as 98th by Elite Prospects. If he’s available at the 85th pick, he might be the Devils’ best option if they’re looking for a forward. His shot and general offensive upside make him projectable as a middle-six scoring forward in the NHL. 

Alex Cotton

Cotton, who’s a defenseman, had a breakout season in the WHL playing for the Lethbridge Hurricanes, finishing with 20 goals and 67 points in 63 games. That was a significant uptick in his production from 2018-19 when he had 11 points in 54 games. He has decent size, at 6-foot-2, 183 pounds, and is a right-handed shot, as well. 

Cotton is 19 years old, meaning he’s an overager. There’s always some risk drafting an overager, especially when they have such a sudden spike in production from season to season. But Cotton isn’t expected to go higher than the third or fourth rounds. The Devils have two fourth-round picks (99th and 120th overall), so that could be a good spot to take a chance on him if they’re looking for a defenseman. 

Samuel Knazko

Knazko had a solid looking season playing in the Jr A SM-Liiga — the junior league in Finland. The Slovakian-born defenseman finished with 28 points in 48 games. The strengths of his game lie in his skating ability, as well as his offensive upside. He already has an NHL frame, as he checks in at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds. 

Related: Samuel Knazko — 2020 NHL Draft Prospect Profile

For someone not projected to go in the top 75, there’s a lot of fanfare around Knazko. He’s ranked 86th overall by TSN’s Craig Button, as well as 42nd by NHL Central Scouting among European skaters. He has top-four potential, so grabbing him in the fourth round could be a pretty smart gamble to take. 

Artyom Galimov

Galimov, who’s a center, is one of a handful of prospects that has a good résumé of pro experience under his belt. He played in 40 games in the VHL in 2018-19 and had 24 points. He spent last season in the KHL, where he had 23 points in 55 games as a 20-year-old playing for AK Bars Kazan. 

Team Russia Valery Bragin Artyom Galimov
Team Russia’s head coach Valery Bragin and players Pavel Shen, Artyom Galimov, and Kirill Slepets (L-R sitting) on the bench during the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship (Photo by Andrew ChanTASS via Getty Images)

Galimov is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, prospects eligible for the 2020 Draft, having turned 21 years old on Sept. 8. Of course, pushing back the draft to next week due to COVID-19 played a bit of a factor in that. 

But his production in the KHL as a 20-year-old does catch your eye. He’s ranked 117th by Future Considerations and 119th by McKeen’s Hockey. The Devils have the 120th and 130th overall picks, and Galimov would make sense in that range if they’re looking to add someone who could be a depth scorer. 

Dmitri Ovchinnikov

Ovchinnikov was one of the top scorers in the MHL — the Russian Junior league — in 2019-20, finishing with 55 points in 54 games. The Russian forward is off to a hot start this season, too, as he has seven points in three MHL games. He’s an excellent skater who has high-end offensive ability, including a pretty nice looking shot. 

Ovchinnikov is ranked as high as 121st by Elite Prospects and as low as 172nd by Future Considerations. The issue with him is he needs to put on weight, as he’s only 161 pounds at 5-foot-10. But he could be a nice late-round find if he adds strength to his frame because he has the makeup of someone who could be a top-six forward in the NHL. 

Pavel Gogolev

Gogolev was one of the top-scoring wingers in the OHL, finishing with 96 points in 63 games. He has a hard and accurate shot, and it’s not a stretch to say he’s one of the best shooters in this class. He’s also a creative offensive player due to his stick-handling abilities. 

Gogolev is an overager, at 20 years old, and has gone undrafted in each of the last two drafts. There’s usually a reason for that, and his OHL production before the 2019-20 season indicates as much. But some players hit their strides later than others, and that could be the case for him.

Pavel Gogolev Guelph Storm
Pavel Gogolev of the Guelph Storm (Photo by Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

When it comes to rankings, Gogolev is as high as 72nd by Elite Prospects and as low as 239th by Future Considerations. The latter might be a bit harsh, and it seems more likely he goes somewhere in the mid-rounds. In the Devils’ case, drafting him with one of their fourth or fifth-round picks makes the most sense. If he makes the NHL, he could make an impact as a middle-six scorer because of his shot. 

Samuel Johannesson

Johannesson, no relation to Anton, is one of the more intriguing prospects out there. The Swedish defenseman finished last season with 18 points in 19 games in the J20 SuperElit. He also played in 44 games in the SHL — the top division in Sweden — and had 11 points. He’s begun the 2020-21 campaign in the SHL with Rögle BK, where he has one point in two games. 

For someone who’s gotten regular minutes in the SHL and fared well in them, it’s a bit surprising to see where Johannesson is ranked. He’s the 33rd-ranked European skater by NHL Central Scouting and 219th overall by Future Considerations. Otherwise, he doesn’t pop up in many prospect rankings. 

Related: Samuel Johannesson — 2020 NHL Draft Prospect Profile

Johannesson turns 20 in December, so maybe that plays a factor in why many scouting services don’t have him rated. He’s also a bit undersized, at 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, so he’ll need to add weight to his frame to play in the NHL. But he’d be a pretty sneaky value pick in the fifth round or later, as his performance in the SHL indicates he has NHL potential. 

Gunnarwolfe Fontaine

Fontaine, who may arguably have the best name in the 2020 Draft, had a strong season in the USHL, where he had 57 points in 45 games for the Chicago Steel. That’s a noticeable jump in production from 2018-19 when he had 43 points in 60 games. 

Gunnarwolfe Fontaine Chicago Steel
Gunnarwolfe Fontaine of the Chicago Steel (Photo by Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Like Gogolev, Fontaine is an overager, having turned 20 years old only two weeks ago. But his strong 2019-20 in the USHL has put the forward on the map. He’s ranked as high as 83rd by Craig Button and as low as 156th by Future Considerations. If he’s available in the fourth or fifth rounds, the Devils could use one of their picks on him to help strengthen their system’s scoring depth even more. 

Contenders Build Deep in the Draft

The Devils have found NHL players in the later rounds (Jesper Bratt), and they have a few more with NHL potential (Tyce Thompson, Arseni Gritsyuk, Nikola Pasic) who they drafted anywhere from the fourth to seventh rounds. 

That’s how teams become sustained contenders. They don’t do it just by hitting on their first-round picks, but they also have to find some hidden gems deeper in the draft. And given how deep the 2020 class is, the Devils should be able to do it again.

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