Ray Shero made it clear when he was asked about what he was looking for before the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. He said he wanted to add more talent to the Devils and that’s exactly what he did. First round? Forward. Second round? Forward. Third round? Forwards. Fourth round? Another forward. It wasn’t until the Devils’ second pick of the fourth round that they picked something other than a forward and that was a goalie. Everybody in the hockey world knew the Devils needed better forward depth in their system and Shero made that his mission this year. Out of the nine draft picks the Devils had this year, they picked six forwards. That says it all.
In the first round, the Devils took Mississauga Steelheads (OHL) center Michael McLeod 12th overall. They originally had the 11th overall pick but decided to move back one spot and swap with Ottawa. In doing so, they picked up an additional third round pick which would prove to be very important. In moving back to pick McLeod, they passed on 6’6″ center Logan Brown. Only time will tell who the better player will be, but it was clear Shero wanted more speed in the lineup. By all accounts, McLeod can absolutely fly and plays a complete 200 foot game. Sounds like a perfect fit with the Devils. Moving back one spot, picking up basically a free third rounder and getting the guy you wanted anyway? I’d say that’s a pretty solid move.
With the 41st overall pick, the Devils took right wing Nathan Bastian. What I loved about this pick is that Bastian was linemates in Junior with McLeod at Mississauga. Having your top two draft picks from not only the same team, but the same line provides some great chemistry right off the bat. Assuming both go back to the OHL for another season, they can continue to play together and build that chemistry even more. As far as the player himself, Bastian is a big winger who has a strong shot and is a very good passer. The combination of McLeod and Bastian will be fun to watch for the foreseeable future.
Entering the third round after the trade in the first, the Devils had three picks. With two of those picks they drafted right wing Joey Anderson, who scored seven goals in seven games for the USA at the World Junior Championships, and center Brandon Gignac, who had 61 points in 67 games for Shawinigan of the QMJHL. As I said, offense and offense and more offense.
However, it was the second pick of the round that made the most noise as the Devils traded the 77th overall pick – the one they got from Detroit in the Marek Zidlicky trade – for the Pittsburgh Penguins’ oft-injured forward Beau Bennett. The 24-year-old former first round pick in 2010 has had a tough go of it recently as he simply hasn’t been able to stay on the ice. He played just 33 games last season and 49 the year before. When he has been healthy, he hasn’t been productive as he scored only six goals and had six assists last year.
All that being said, I think it’s a smart trade for the Devils. Ray Shero drafted Bennett when he was at the helm of the Penguins so he’s familiar with him. He knows the potential of the player and hopefully a change of scenery can spark him like it did with Devante Smith-Pelly. When Shero traded Stefan Matteau for DSP at last year’s trade deadline, it was looked at with some confused faces as DSP’s career high in goals was just seven. All he did was score eight goals and 13 points in 18 games with New Jersey. Now DSP is viewed as a solid bottom nine option at RW and hopefully Bennett can follow in his footsteps.
I also like the trade because the Devils really didn’t give up much to acquire Bennett. As I mentioned earlier, they moved back one spot in the first round to pick up an extra third round pick giving them a total of three. So Shero used one of those three to take a shot on a young forward who still could easily fulfill at least some of his potential. In my mind, they traded a pick that they didn’t have two days ago so in essence they got Beau Bennett for pretty much nothing. The Devils have a pretty empty roster at the moment and aren’t anywhere near the cap so neither of those are issues either.
One other thing to like about the trade is that he’s an immediate upgrade to the bottom six. He honestly cannot be worse than some of the players the Devils had eating up minutes in their bottom six last season. If you think of it as Bennett replacing Tuomo Ruutu – one assist all season – on the roster, then it’s a no-brainer. Maybe Shero hits a home run and Bennett turns his career around or maybe he’s just a better player than Ruutu. Either way it’s a win for the Devils. I see no downside whatsoever with this trade.
Long story short, the Devils are better today than they were Friday morning and that’s really all you want. They added speed and scoring to the system as well as a low-risk, high-reward depth player. Ray Shero with another terrific weekend as he continues to rebuild the Devils the right way.