Early 2017 NHL Entry Draft Targets for the New Jersey Devils

The 2017 NHL Entry Draft is still months away, but with mid-season draft rankings coming out recently, it’s a good time to check out some names.  If the season ended today, the New Jersey Devils would have a 3.1% chance at getting the 1st overall pick, and a 10.1% chance at moving into the top 3.  If nothing changed the Devils would have the 11th overall pick.  For the purpose of this writing, I’m going to keep them there.

The two rankings used are Bob McKenzie’s Mid-Season Draft Rankings (read the full list here) and the International Scouting Service February 2017 Top 31 (which can be seen here).  The New Jersey Devils have a chance at adding a nice piece to their prospect pool with this draft.  There’s no generational talent, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t good players available.  Let’s take a look at some potential draft targets for the Devils.

Juuso Välimäki | Left-Handed Defenseman | Tri-City Americans | Age: 18

The New Jersey Devils currently have some solid prospects on offense, but the defense is a little lackluster. Steve Santini is a good prospect, but he’s not going to put up a ton of points, the same with Colton White and Colby Sissons.  Basically, the Devils do not have a scoring defenseman in the system.  Välimäki could change that.

A big defenseman from Finland, Välimäki has produced throughout his time in Finnish junior leagues, also representing Finland in various international tournaments.  He jumped shipped to the Western Hockey League for the 2015-2016 season.  In 56 games played, Välimäki put up 7G/35A/32P.  That was good for 4th in rookie scoring for defenseman.  His PPG pace was a very solid 0.57, which slotted him 3rd among rookie defenseman.  He also captained Finland’s U18 team at the U18 World Championship.  Needless to say, it was a solid first year in North America.

Välimäki’s has been great.  In 43 games played, Välimäki has a stat line of 15G/35A/45P.  21 of those points have come at 5v5, and 35 his 45 points have been primary points. That puts him first among draft eligible defenseman in the WHL, and 7th in WHL scoring for defenseman altogether.  He represented Finland at the U20 World Junior Championship, where he had 2 assist in 7 games.  Välimäki is a -4, but I don’t put too much stock in +/-.

He puts up points, something the Devils desperately need from their defense.  Andy Levangie of HockeyProspect.com described Välimäki as a mobile and smart player, and one who is always communicating on the ice (interview can be heard here).  The Devils need someone like Välimäki.  A mobile defenseman who puts up points is hard to pass up and would add a nice threat to the Devils defense.

Eeli Tolvanen | Left-Handed Left Winger | Sioux City Musketeers | Age: 18

The New Jersey Devils could use a shooter like Eeli Tolvanen. The Finnish winger has scored goals everywhere he has played. He would instantly become the Devils best goal scoring prospect if drafted and would add a threat for the future.

Tolvanen made the jump to North America for the 2015-16 season, playing for the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL.  He ended up 6th in rookie scoring, with a very solid 17G/21A/38P in 49 games.  More impressively, he put up 176 shots, which was good for 2nd among rookies and 15th among all players.  Again, Tolvanen represented Finland in both the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge (9G/1A/10P in 5 games) and U18 World Championship (7G/2A/9P in 7 games).

Tolvanen has been fantastic season in the USHL this season.  His 17 goals is good for 6th in the league, and his 32 points is good for 14th in the league.  More importantly, Tolvanen is leading the USHL in shots with 157.  That’s 16 more shots than the next highest shot producer, and good for around 5 shots per game.  He represented Finland at the World Junior Championship, putting up 6 points (4G/2A) in 6 games.  In June of 2016, Tolvanen announced his commitment to Boston College, where he will play during the 2017-18 season.

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Tolvanen is the kind of pure goal scorer the New Jersey Devils have lacked for a long time.  Jeff Marek of Sportsnet describes him as an exciting player who can get the fans out of their seats.  Bob McKenzie also sung Tolvanen’s praises, saying, “a pure sniper — with an NHL shot and NHL release — who has the tools to be the best pure scorer in this draft.”  He is the type of guy the Devils would be lucky to have.

Cale Makar | Right-Handed Defenseman | Brooks Bandits | Age: 18

A right-handed defenseman who puts up points, Cale Makar making is an interesting prospect. Add that with his skill-set and you have a player who could make an impact for an NHL team.

Makar had an amazing 2015-16 season. His stat line of 10G/45A/55P in 54 games would bring him plenty of hardware and accolades, such as AJHL All-Star, AJHL All-Rookie Team, and AJHL Rookie of the Year. His playoff stat line (3G/11A/14P in 13 games) was equally impressive and helped the Bandits win the AJHL Championship. That wasn’t the end for Makar, though. He put up 1G/4A/5P in 6 Western Canada Cup games, as well as 4G/3A/7P in the Royal Bank Cup (A Memorial Cup like tournament). He was the RBC Top Scorer, Top Defenseman, and MVP. Makar also represented Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge, winning gold and scoring 1 goal in 4 games.  His play earned him a WJAC All-Star Team award.

Makar’s current season hasn’t been too bad either. In 42 games played, he has 16G/39A/55P. That’s places him at 11th in AJHL scoring, and first among defenseman. He leads AJHL defenseman in goals and assists and is ranked 5th in assists for the entire league. Makar represented Canada West for a second straight year, putting up 4G/4A/8P in 8 games, and was again named to the WJAC All-Star Team. If all goes right for Makar, he should add some more trophies to his case before the season ends.

Makar is a talented defenseman. He’s not as good as Välimäki but is still very good. Plus, he is a puck-moving right-shot defenseman. Those don’t grow on trees and would be a great add to the New Jersey Devils system.

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