Ladies and gentlemen, Taylor Hall did it! He brought yet more lottery luck to our New Jersey Devils and gifted us with another first overall pick to help right the ship that veered off course starting in 2012. Well, okay, Hall didn’t really have anything to do with it, and rebuilding is the price you pay for two decades worth of competitive hockey that yielded three Stanley Cups and two more finals appearances. No matter how you look at it, the Devils will be able to choose any prospect that they want from this year’s draft class first overall, though realistically, experts have the choice narrowed to either Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko.
Hughes seems to be the more NHL ready player right now with Kakko not far behind which could sway Ray Shero to pick Hughes. Conversely, Hughes is a center while Kakko is a right wing and right wing is a huge area of need for Jersey’s Team right now, which could mean Shero goes for him instead. It’s not a position to envy, but it could result in the depth chart being shuffled next year; while later first round picks usually need at least one more year of development prior to entering the NHL, players drafted first overall tend to make their team out of camp.
If the Devils go with Kakko, it might not result in much shuffling; as I noted above, the Devils are weak at right wing, and all his drafting would mean is that Drew Stafford is probably not re-signed or returns to the 13th forward role. Hughes would be a bit more interesting in terms of depth chart shake-up; the Devils currently have Nico Hischier, Travis Zajac, Pavel Zacha, Kevin Rooney, and Brett Seney all at the very least fighting for spots. If you want to make it even more complicated, Blake Coleman is technically a center as well. Bringing Hughes onto that roster puts the Devils at seven centers.
Now center depth is always important and a great thing to have, but to play Devils’ Advocate for a minute (side note: CJ bring that series back!) does adding Jack Hughes allow the Devils to trade a middling player? By middling, I’m referring to players who have shown some value, but aren’t integral the way a Hall, Hischier, and Kyle Palmieri are. If this were the case, the Devils could use one (or maybe two?) of those players to upgrade one or more positions where the team needs depth, aka defense and right wing.
So who would or could be available to fix some of the holes in this case? I would think Zacha could be dangled, though the Devils would probably need to attach something else (perhaps one of the three picks in round two) to him if they wanted to bring back a solid piece. Jesper Bratt or Miles Wood could possibly be traded for someone of the opposite shooting hand, but in Bratt’s case specifically, it would be best if the team just kept him on the right side. He should only be traded if someone is willing to seemingly overpay for him; I love Wood and his speed, but again he could realistically be someone that other teams are interested in.
I’m sure the name “Blake Coleman” would probably come from some GMs as well, but after the season he had and with how cost effective he is, he should be in the same group as Bratt. Coleman is too good of an all-around piece to part with right now, but what about his PK partner Travis Zajac? I know some fans are down on him, but he had a great season in 2018-19 (including having to return to his role as the #1 center even though he’s no longer a true #1) and his no trade clause makes dealing him difficult.
The Devils could also trade someone of less value to free up a roster spot, such as Stefan Noesen; they could also elect to simply not re-sign Kenny Agostino and seemingly open an NHL spot that way. The point is the team has options with the fact that they’re going to be adding someone who should be able to make an immediate impact. They may elect to declare a player like Zacha, Wood or Noesen expendable; they may get an offer for Coleman or Bratt that blows them away to help fix the defense. Any way you spin it, the summer got a lot more interesting for our Devils as of this past Tuesday...and THAT is never a bad thing.