The disappointing, underachieving 2018-19 New Jersey Devils season is on the verge of completion. With the goaltending, defense, injuries and other issues that plagued the team this season, the Devils dropped off over 20 points in the standings, leaving fans looking forward to another draft lottery, rather than a second straight playoff appearance. Next Tuesday night, April 9th should be marked on every Devils fan’s calendar right now, be it for better or for worse.
As of this writing (before Game 81 for the Devils tonight), New Jersey sits with the third worst record in the league; in a best case scenario for drafting, they could finish with the second worst record in the league if the Los Angeles Kings pass them in the final pair of games. At worst, they would pass Buffalo and have only the fourth best chance of winning the lottery; passing Detroit does not seem possible, as it would require the Devils winning out in regulation or overtime, with Detroit losing out in regulation and the Devils improving their goal differential to be better than the Wings’.
Finishing with the second worst record in the league would give New Jersey a 13.5% chance of winning the lottery; staying where they are currently sees them with an 11.5% chance of winning it, while dropping a spot would see them fall to only a 9.5% chance. Personally, I think the Kings have a chance to beat the Ducks tomorrow night, whereas unless Taylor Hall and/or Kyle Palmieri appear in the finale, I don’t see the Devils winning either of their last two games.
This year’s draft buzz is currently revolving around two prospects: Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko. Both of these players are seen as being experienced and skilled enough to be in the NHL as early as next season. For a franchise like the Devils, there is a immediate need to insert another NHL Top-6 forward (which again, both project to be) into the lineup. Yes, there are gaps elsewhere (hello defense) but the opportunity to add another impact player on an entry-level contract would free up salary cap to marginally overpay a good free agent defender to play for the Devils. Plus, last year’s first round pick Ty Smith should wind up in New Jersey next season to bolster the back end.
Even if the Devils fall completely out of the lottery spots, they still have a very high first round pick that would be at absolute worst 7th overall if everything that could go wrong were to happen. More than likely, it will be at least a few spots higher, if not a Top 3 pick. The Devils absolutely need to hit on this pick; it may not be a superstar player, or even an NHLer next year, but they need a player who is going to make an impact on the ice at the NHL level. The team has whiffed (or seemingly whiffed) on too many important first round picks in the past; with where the team is currently, they literally cannot afford for this one to be a miss.
Tuesday at 8 PM could be an important moment for the momentum of the New Jersey Devils franchise. The lottery balls lining up in the team’s favor again could be the difference between moving forward or the team spinning its wheels in the dirt of rebuilding for another few years. Thankfully, we still have Taylor “Lottery Good Luck Charm” Hall, so we fans should see the team’s logo toward the end of the broadcast.
I’d like to hear your thoughts on the draft lottery; do you foresee the Kings passing the Devils or the Devils passing the Sabres? Would you be happy with the Devils having Top 3 odds, whether they have the second or third worst record? Do you think an NHL ready prospect plus a healthy Devils team could make some noise next year? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!