In late January, I took a look at some of the players the Devils could potentially pick up with their first round draft pick. Of course, things have changed a bit since then, but slightly. The Devils currently are 10th in the league in points with 90, and could potentially surpass the Boston Bruins for 8th in the league, a tie with their opponents tonight, the Chicago Blackhawks. Of course, they can potentially keep moving up if they manage to get a few more wins, and have the potential to move up further in the draft if they make the conference finals. Before that, the Devils were picking in the middle of the first round.
With that being said, the Devils still have to forefit a 1st round pick as part of the penalty for Ilya Kovalchuk's contract (yes, that penalty is stupid, we all know). Last year, it was kind of obvious that the Devils wouldn't surrender their draft pick for the penalty because they had the 4th overall pick. This year, they don't happen to have a top 5 pick, or potentially even a top 15 pick. Considering the circumstances, should the Devils forefit this year's 1st rounder?
The Draft Crop
A lot of people talk about this year's draft and how the defensive crop is very strong. In comparison to last year's group, it's significantly better. There's a good chance that there will be quite a few defensemen drafted in the top 10, in comparison to the three defensemen draften in the top 10 last year (Larsson, Dougie Hamilton and Jonas Brodin). Ryan Murray, Jake Trouba, Mathew Dumba, Derrick Pouliot, Cody Ceci, Griffin Reinhart, Morgan Reilley and Slater Koekkoek could all potentially find themselves in the top 10. Add in defenders like Gianluca Curcuruto, Jordan Schmaltz, Matt Finn and Olli Maata and you pretty much guarantee that the draft is going to be very strong in terms of defensemen.
Now look at the Devils prospect pool. It's pretty obvious that the team's strength is defense. While Adam Larsson isn't really a prospect, he's still only 19. The Devils also have a top 10 defensive prospect in Jon Merrill, as well as two potential studs in Eric Gelinas and Alex Urbom. It's a 50-50 chance that the Devils can get a gifted offensive C or RW with that pick. Those two positions are where the Devils are looking to improve, not defense.
Getting it out of the way now
Another reason to do it now is that the Devils can get it over with and won't have to worry about paying the penalty later. If the Devils don't surrender it until 2014 and flop like they did in 2010-11, they could be screwing themselves out of top ranked talent because they wanted to draft Pontus Aberg or Scott Laughton, two players who probably might not have spectacular NHL careers. Getting it out of the way now means less pressure on the team to succeed now.
Another reason to get it out of the way now is just in case Zach Parise decides to leave as a free agent. The team will likely be worse because the Devils will have some problems replacing the offense left by Parise. Of course, there's also Patrik Elias not getting any younger. The team also lacks a lot of high end offensive prospects outside of Jacob Josefson and Mattias Tedenby- most of the prospects are more suited for bottom 6 roles, which isn't encouraging. Add in the uncertain future about the team's goaltending and it might not be a good idea to wait, mainly because the Devils window of getting a very late 1st round pick which could be considered "suitable" is starting to close. Of course, if the Devils do re-sign Parise and the team is successful after the pick has been forfeited, would it really matter that they gave it up this year? Probably not.
The reason I brought this up is because this is something that's not going away. If the Devils can't get the big, offensively talented center/right wing with this year's draft pick, they might be better off surrendering it and not having to worry about a figurative Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads.