Between the schedule coming out last week, the NHL Draft taking place on Friday and Saturday, impending Free Agency starting Wednesday this week and the Devils season ticket holder Q/A with GM Ray Shero and coach John Hynes today (more on that later) it feels like we just had the first week of the 2015-16 season, even if there will be another four months to go before actual games and a long, quiet lull after the initial FA flurry of July 1-2. I never did post my thoughts on the Devils’ picks during the second day so I’ll just start there first:
Kyle Palmeri – RW, Anaheim NHL
Yes the trade did go through Saturday morning and we gave up our #41 and a 3rd rounder next year to get the 24-year old RW from the Ducks. Ironically enough we got back a third rounder from Ottawa trading down a few spots from #36 to #42 so essentially we recouped part of the cost of this deal. What’s hilarious to me is Ducks GM Bob Murray’s quote on Palmeri after trading him, I can’t find the exact quote at the moment but essentially he said, ‘we felt Kyle would score 20 goals this year and if he did we wouldn’t be able to afford him next offseason’. That’s about as much a stamp of approval from a player that’s being given up by a GM I can imagine. And there’s at least some truth to it, Palmeri had 15 goals and 15 assists in 59 games last year, playing limited role on a stacked Ducks team. As a young RW we desperately needed, he’ll certainly get more icetime in key situations here.
#42 Mackenzie Blackwood – G, Barrie OHL
I admit I was initally taken aback…how can you take a depth goalie this soon? The more I thought about it (rationalizing?), the more it makes sense to me though. Really you’re taking goalies for 6-7 years down the road anyway since most aren’t starters until they’re 24-25 years old and this kid’s 18. By the time he is 24, current starter Cory Schneider will be 35 and toward the end of a six-year contract he hasn’t played a game in yet. Plus if you go by the BPA rationale in most cases, clearly from everything that was said afterward this guy was not only the top rated goalie on the Devils’ board but the top player rated at that point of the draft. His athletic ability given his size, and his puckhandling skills make him an intriguing name for down the road. Some fans think of goalies the way they do running backs in the NHL, apart from the top few guys they’re a dime a dozen. Tell that to all the teams that were flipping 2nd, 3rd (and even first in the case of Buffalo) round picks just for lightly proven guys or short-term backups. If this guy lives up to billing he could wind up being worth it one way or another down the road.
#67 Blake Speers – C, Sault St. Marie OHL
If the Devils got a NHL RW they needed with Palmeri, they got a prospect RW they needed in Speers, a 5’11, 181 pound forward who up up a 24-43-67 line in just 57 games this year. Given the supposed depth of this draft Speers might have been a second-round pick in another year, but he was a high third-rounder for us and fit in with the speed and skill mandate that seems to have been the main focus of Shero and head scout David Conte. What I like about Speers besides his tangibles are the fact he seems self-aware about what he needs to do to improve his game and willing to do it:
“I’ve gained 20 pounds since my rookie year in the Ontario Hockey League,” he said. “I still have a little ways to go in terms of strength and stuff like that, but once I get that in order I think my development will really hit a good curve….I’ve just go to work on my strength. Once my strength gets in order I think more and more things will come easier. Game-wise. I’ve got to take the puck to the net a little more, shoot the puck a little more. Once I start doing those things more, things will fall into place and I’ll get better.”
#97 Colton White – D, Sault St. Marie OHL
Clearly the Devils caught a lot of Sault St. Marie’s games this year, picking Speers’ teammate White with a high fourth rounder. We needed another left-handed defenseman in the system and White fits that mold. White is regarded as a good skater and passer with untapped offensive potential from the blueline. If this guy ever makes the Devils though, seeing a C. White that can skate and create offensively won’t compute for me. At least Shero won’t be able to give him #5 to make me die laughing, as long as Adam Larsson remains a Devil anyway.
#157 Brent Seney – LW, Merrimack College Hockey East
Without a fifth rounder and seventh-rounder thanks to trades in prior seasons, Seney was the last pick of this draft. Clearly he’s a pocket skater, standing at 5’9, 156 pounds and is a 19-year old that was passed over in his first year of draft eligibility. Seney put up 26 points in 34 games during his first season of college, and also fits into the speed and skill mold Shero was clearly aiming for this year. Heck, he’d better be fast at that height and weight.
Overall I’d give Shero’s draft a solid thumbs up…grading at this point is a fool’s errand – especially with my limited knowledge of draft prospects outside the top ten or so – but combining need with value it seemed to me they did a good job and getting Palmeri was a nice, unexpected boost for the NHL forward core. Zacha on Day One will be the guy counted on to make the most immediate impact, and judging by this weekend at least he seems like he truly wants to be here, citing Patrik Elias and Jaromir Jagr as great Czech players he admired and the fact he wanted to play for us precisely because of our history with Czech players. Zacha even made a surprise appearance at a season ticket holder meet and greet this afternoon, joining GM Shero and coach Hynes and garnering a standing ovation upon his arrival.
Of course with the Devils being the Devils, this event couldn’t go off without a hitch. It was supposed to start at 4 PM but wound up beginning at 4:50, with EJ Hradek asking questions of Shero, Hynes and eventually Zacha before the audience got its turn. I do think EJ did a fine job with his part of the hour, among other things asking Shero for details about the Palmeri trade and what went into their first and second-round picks. After he was finished, there was only time for several questions from the audience unfortunately, but one of the better ones was an older guy who wanted to know whether we would have a defense of just Andy Greene with five relatively inexperienced guys next season, which is what our defense will be barring any trades or FA signings. Shero didn’t seem too worried about that prospect, and given his actions in the last few weeks in terms of leaving forward spots open for younger players I’m inclined to think he’s going to do the same with the defense, even with all the still relatively inexperienced guys already set in starting positions there. At this point I could see us signing one RW to fill out our NHL roster (the Jets’ Michael Frolik has been mentioned as a possibility) and being done with FA after that.
In any case, it was still nice of Shero, Hynes and Zacha to fly straight up from Florida the day after the draft to be here, especially in Zacha’s case considering he’s got to go back to Florida to meet up with his family before going back home to the Czech Republic. Zacha inadvertently provided the highlight of the afternoon when someone asked him if he felt he’d play in the NHL this year, on the fly he said laughingly – that’s a question for them (referring to Shero and Hynes). Some of the other audience questions were a bit bizarre and not really worth recapping. Made me wish I had asked one of mine, particularly of coach Hynes who wasn’t as much a subject of the questions as the other two. At least the Devils offered up some light sandwich bites and cold pasta salad along with soft drink and a few snacks and to their credit almost a thousand season ticket holders showed up for this event on a Sunday afternoon (judging by the fact the entire center-ice section was filled up).