NEWARK, N.J. – Missing the playoffs for the first time since 1996 did have one positive for the New Jersey Devils.
With the help of the lottery, the Devils will have the No. 4 pick in the NHL draft Friday night.
The last time New Jersey drafted that early was in 1991, and general manager Lou Lamoriello added one of the cornerstones to the franchise’s three Stanley Cup championship teams. He took defenceman Scott Niedermayer with the third pick.
Lamoriello has had great success with other early picks, selecting John MacLean, Kirk Muller, Bill Guerin and Brendan Shanahan with selections in the top six.
“Without question, you have an idea,” said Lamoriello about who the Devils will select in the event being held in St. Paul, Minn. “Our scouts have been at this all year long. Whatever the people in front of us do will determine what we do.”
The Edmonton Oilers have the No. 1 selection for the second straight year and centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels is expected to be their choice.
After that things are not so clear.
Colorado has the second pick and Florida the third. They are mulling their selections. The Devils, who won the lottery and moved up the maximum of four places, will then pick unless they make a trade.
Swedish defenceman Adam Larsson is the top-rated European player, while left-wing Gabriel Landeskog of the Kitchener Rangers, centres Jonathan Huberdeau of the Saint John Sea Dogs and Sean Couturier of the Drummondville Voltigeurs and defenceman Dougie Hamilton of the Niagara IceDogs are among the top North Americans who are expected to be taken early.
Lamoriello would not say whether the Devils are looking to fill a position need or they will take the best player on their board. He also would not say if there is an expectation of the pick being ready for the NHL next season.
“They are all 18-years-olds,” Lamoriello said. “To say how quickly they will make it, there are always surprises. I wouldn’t want to make any predictions. They are all talented. You never know and I wouldn’t say.”
Lamoriello is old school, too.
While many teams are pushing their young players to the NHL, he would rather wait an extra month rather than bring them up too early.
“They have to be better than the players you have to play,” Lamoriello said. “That’s the best way to put it.”
The Devils posted a 38-39-5 record this past season, which included a 9-23-2 start that led to the firing of MacLean, their rookie coach, just before Christmas.
The defence, which lost Paul Martin to free agency last year, lacks a puck-carrying defender who can quarterback the power play.
Ilya Kovalchuk, who signed a US$100 million contract to stay with New Jersey, played well after Jacques Lemaire replaced MacLean and finished with 31 goals overall. However, the team went almost the entire season without Zach Parise after the high-scoring left wing had knee surgery in early November.
Veteran Patrik Elias led the team with points with 62 (21 goals), while Swedish rookies Jacob Josefson and Mattias Tedenby showed promise.
Lamoriello refused to say whether the talent available in the draft was good.
“In a couple of years, I will be able to do that because we’ll see how many players are playing in the league,” he said. “That’s the key.”
The Devils have been without a coach since Lemaire announced in April he was retiring again.
Lamoriello said the coaching situation won’t be determined until after the draft.