Over their history the New Jersey Devils have drafted sixth overall just once: when they selected right winger John MacLean in the 1983 NHL Draft. If they were able to select a player that can have the type of career that Johnny Mac had in New Jersey with 701 points (347g-354a) in 934 games, the franchise (and its fan base) would certainly be happy with that. This is uncharted territory really for a team that is not used to selecting a player in the top-ten due to a run of 20+ consecutive seasons of being in the playoffs. This will be a very important pick, one that new GM Ray Shero (and the scouting staff) has to get right if he has hopes of rebuilding a team that has missed the playoffs in four of the last five seasons.
One option that Shero has is to trade the pick for a proven talent that isn’t a teenager, but let’s assume that the Devils hold on to the pick. What kind of player could they be looking at? The names that have been linked to the team in mock drafts have included Ivan Provorov, Mitch Marner, Lawson Crouse or even Noah Hanifin (unlikely he slips to six); but are any of these kids ready to join the NHL and help New Jersey in the 2015-16 season? Only time will tell in this situation, but coming up we briefly look at the past six players selected in the sixth overall slot — and there are some good ones here.
In 2009 the Arizona Coyotes selected Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who has developed into one of the league’s top defenders, while toiling in the anonymity of the desert. To be able to come out of this draft with a player like that would be unrealistic expectations (unless Hanifin is still sitting there) and the Devils don’t really need another defenseman. Chances are they take the best player available, but they are pretty stocked up on the blue line with players like Steve Santini and Josh Jacobs waiting in the wings behind Adam Larsson, Jon Merrill and Damon Severson, etc.
In 2010 the Tampa Bay Lightning chose Brett Connolly at six and although he has yet to hit his stride in the NHL they were able to acquire two, second round draft picks (2015, 2016) from the Boston Bruins at the past trade deadline. In 2011 the Ottawa Senators drafted Mika Zibanejad with the sixth pick and in his three NHL seasons to date he has progressed a little in each, culminating with this past season when he was a 20-20 man (20g-26a); the 22-year-old Swede also chipped in four points in six playoff games vs. the Habs this past April.
The 2012 NHL Draft saw the Anaheim Ducks snag Hampus Lindholm (Swedes are popular at this slot apparently) with pick six and he has been quite the find. In his first two NHL seasons he produced two, 30-point seasons and also tallied 10 points in 16 playoff games before the Ducks recently bowed out in the Western Conference Finals. Again, the Devils would be elated to get a player like this at six, but their true need is adding a scoring forward who could slot in among their top-6 forwards in a year or two.
Nothing boring about this goal from Calgary’s sensational Sean Monahan:
The Calgary Flames found themselves quite an awesome player with the sixth overall pick in 2013 with Sean Monahan. The 20-year-old had a nice rookie season with 34 points (22 goals) in 2013-14 and this past season he exploded with 62 points (31g-31a) as one of the league’s and Calgary’s rising stars. This is exactly the type of player that New Jersey should be looking for and hopefully if Marner or Crouse is available that is the path that they will follow in their NHL careers.
At last year’s NHL Draft the Vancouver Canucks chose Jake Virtanen at sixth overall; he recently completed his Junior career with the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen and last month joined Vancouver’s AHL affiliate, the Utica Comets. In his draft year Virtanen put up 71 points in 71 games but fell off that pace this past season after shoulder surgery; he still had a very respectable 52 points in 50 games though.
The NHL Draft is one of the biggest crapshoots in professional sports (the MLB draft is by far and away the biggest), but there is no reason why New Jersey shouldn’t be able to select a player that can be a building block going forward. Hopefully, whomever they select can join Stefan Matteau, John Quenneville, Ryan Kujawinski and Joseph Blandisi as a hopefully future NHL talent.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.