Ever wonder why the New Jersey Devils have missed the playoffs just once since 1990, winning three Stanley Cups in the process? It’s not just the system they play; it’s also the hockey smarts of the organization’s brain trust.

Despite the fact the Devils haven’t had a top-15 draft selection since 1996 (where, ironically, they whiffed on Lance Ward with the No. 10 pick), the team has graduated several awesome talents lately, led by dynamic linemates Zach Parise and Travis Zajac.

New Jersey famously traded up from No. 22 to No. 17 in 2003 to nab Parise, leaving the Isles and Rangers to explain to their fan bases why they took Robert Nilsson and Hugh Jessiman, respectively, before the recently minted 94-point man.

Zajac, coming out of Jr. A Salmon Arm in B.C., was subjected to scrutiny because of his peers – scouts wished they could have seen him play against major junior competition.

Similarly, David Perron was knocked for his lack of size when he was coming out of Lewiston of the Quebec League in 2007. Of course, that didn’t bother the St. Louis Blues, who took Perron 26th overall, then watched the speedy youngster make the team in his draft year.

In hindsight, there will always be examples of draft day flubs and steals that we will look back on with incredulity. But in every draft class, whether it be a juicy crop such as last year’s, or the horrific talent drought of 1999, patience is the key to a successful team.

Though NHL teams are nearly unanimous in their claims of following the “best player available” philosophy, that assessment is very much in the eye of the beholder. Just look at the Parise situation: Depending on your preferences, the hot young Devil would only rank behind all or most of a group consisting of Marc-Andre Fleury, Eric Staal, Ryan Getzlaf, Shea Weber, Mike Richards, Corey Perry and Dion Phaneuf from his draft class. That puts Parise as the No. 8 selection — assuming you don’t prefer Jeff Carter — instead of 17th overall.

Which is why the draft is always so exciting — did a GM just mess up big-time, or does he know something the rest of us don’t?