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LBC Mock Draft: Mathew Barzal goes sixth overall to the New Jersey Devils

The Devils have many needs, but rebuilds start up the middle, and Barzal is the top center available at six.

Brian Liesse and Kyle Scholzen

When you miss the playoffs by 20 points and finish the season with a 32-26-14 record, and score more goals than only Buffalo and Arizona, there are....issues. Compound that with a www.hockeysfuture.com prospect pool ranking of 27th in the league and you have all the ingredients that suggest your organization has many, many, many needs (and I could have kept adding "many" by the way). Seeing that the Devils only gave up 216 goals-against last season (good for 17th in league), we will go with a build up the middle in the form of a center with their first round selection.

With the sixth overall pick in the Litter Box Cats  Mock Draft, the New Jersey Devils select:

Mathew Barzal - C Seattle Thunderbirds

From the Hockeysfuture.com New Jersey Devils team weaknesses:

"The organization has struggled to draft and develop top-six skilled forwards for the past several seasons. The right wing position especially has been lacking depth for some time. There is little to no elite talent amongst the forwards and goaltenders. The majority of the forward prospects are future bottom-six grunts and role players."

Top-flight right wing prospect Mikko Rantanen is still on the board, but the proven way to rebuild and win is to build through the middle. Front-line centers are very hard to come by in free agency, especially for a notoriously stingy team like the Devils (absent the Kovalchuk deal, of course). At this point in the draft Barzal is the top-ranked center prospect left on the board- from the Consensus Draft Rankings at www.mynhldraft.com- and only one forward remains available who is ranked higher (winger Lawson Crouse at 8th).

Barzal played in the big, nasty Western Hockey League for the Seattle Thunderbirds, putting up 57 points in 44 games (12 goals, 45 assists). Barzal is not a large center, coming in at 6'0, 177 lbs., but his game is exactly what the Devils love, as described by www.futureconsiderations.com:

A smart, creative player with a wide, strong, fluid stride…plays a 200-foot game…makes good decisions with the puck…has decent strength, and looks bigger than listed…shows flashes of dominating offensive skills, but need to do so with more consistency…not overly physical, but will engage in contact for the puck…shows his creativity, vision and playmaking ability on the power play…finds seams and open ice with his impressive senses...really doing well in his rookie WHL season…has high-end offensive NHL upside. (August 2014)

Hockeysfuture.com writes of Barzal's superior skating ability: "Also at an elite level is his skating as Barzal has quickness and acceleration as good as any player in the 2015 draft pool." If you are still in need of convincing, consider this write up from Steve Kournianos of The Draft Analyst:

Barzal is a smooth-skating playmaker who boasts superior playmaking ability. He plays a smart, disciplined game, specifically when controlling the puck. Possesses excellent hockey sense. Can run a power play and is highly effective at entering the zone with either speed or patience. Great vision. Can stop on a dime and thread the needle through traffic and over long distances. Extremely dangerous player in the offensive zone. Very hard to telegraph. A student of the game. Not very physical and while he does compete in puck battles, he will need to add strength to improve his board play. He also has a tendency to force things, such as overpassing and dangerously walk the puck along the offensive blue line into heavy traffic. Possesses an accurate shot but does not use it enough.

Barzal ranks as high as 6th on some analysts prospect lists, and as low as 15th on others, but the majority are clustered in the 6th to 8th best prospect range. For a team whose centers were Adam Henrique, Travis Zajac, Scott Gomez, and Jacob Josefson, there is quite a need for high-end center play to someday anchor the likes of Reid Boucher or Stefan Matteau at left wing.

The Philadelphia Flyers are up next. While you wait, check out some highlights of Barzal: