After five years of missing out on playoff hockey, Taylor Hall and a new, youthful New Jersey Devils team made it back to the postseason in 2017-18.
Hall took his game to an entirely new level this season but the additions of 19-year-olds Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt, as well as 23-year-old defenseman Will Butcher and a mid-season acquisition of Sami Vatanen pushed the Devils over the edge.
The Devils have a pretty weak prospect pool because all of their top prospects are already playing for their NHL-team. Hischier had a strong rookie season after going No.1 overall last year, Bratt was a surprise after being picked in the sixth round in 2016 and Michael McLeod (No.12 in 2016) is on the verge of making the NHL after turning pro following his fourth year in the OHL. One prospect who hasn’t panned out as expected yet is Pavel Zacha. Since going No.6 overall in 2015, Zacha has yet to top 25 points in his first two NHL seasons—his 49 ties him for 252 out of 341 players who have played at least 135 games over the last two seasons.
The Devils will likely take the “best player available” approach this year because they do not have a second or third round pick in this draft. They will need to make a splash with their one pick or trade back to try and pick up a few extra selections.
With the No.17 Overall Pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, the Colorado Avalanche select…
Rasmus Kupari — C — Finland ????????
Kupari played for a variety of different teams in 2017-18, but spent the majority of his time in Finland’s top-league. In 39 games with Kärpät, the 18-year-old scored six goals with eight assists (14 points) before being held pointless in six playoff games. He also represented Finland internationally, on both the U-18 and U-20 teams. Overall, he had 11 points (4G / 7A) in 21 international contests.
The Devils don’t really have long-term commitments to anyone other than Damon Severson and Cory Schneider so whoever they draft could work their way onto the team rather quickly. Kupari, who projects to be a future top-6 centre, would slide in nicely behind Hischier. Travis Zajac is getting up there in age and Zacha looks more like a third-line centre with each passing season. Kupari gives them another great, young centre option which will compliment their strong top-6 wingers; Hall, Bratt, Kyle Palmieri and Marcus Johansson.
“You can see there are a lot of tools to like in Kupari’s game. He’s a very strong skater, who explodes out of his first few strides and puts pressure on defenders using his speed. His stride is incredibly smooth, with so much power coming from every push off. I’ve heard some scouts call him a world-class skater; I’m not there yet, but he’s close. Kupari also has high-end puck skills and can make skilled plays in tight and off the rush.” — Corey Pronman (The Athletic)