Tonight, the New Jersey Devils beat the odds and Our Hated Rivals for their biggest win yet in 2019. Luck was on the Devils’ side as the New Jersey Devils won first overall in the 2019 NHL Draft Lottery. After decades of the Devils not having any first overall picks in New Jersey, they have their second in a row as the Devils won the 2017 NHL Draft Lottery, their previous lottery appearance.
The three lottery winners tonight were the Devils, the New York Rangers, and the Chicago Blackhawks - in that order. Yes, for the second straight week, the Devils beat the Rangers. This one may be a bit longer lasting.
Winners & Losers
According to Tankathon’s pick odds, the Devils had an 11.5% chance of winning first overall. Our Hated Rivals had a 7.8% chance of taking second overall, and Chicago had a 3% chance of moving up from twelfth to third overall. They are all winners. While the Devils will take first, the 2019 NHL Draft Class has two main talents above everyone else. As much as I would like to dunk on the Rangers, they’re not going to be upset at finishing behind the Devils for the second time in as many weeks. Chicago will have a lot of choices at third overall and all of them are better than what they would have had they not moved up in the draft order.
One could argue that Ottawa fans also won the night as Colorado will not get a top-three pick on top of a playoff appearance. Of course, they too will get a very, very, very good prospect. So Colorado certainly won this evening as well. It was a no-lose situation for the Avs. The larger hockey world also won simply from not seeing Edmonton win yet another lottery. (Side note to Ray Shero, don’t go full Oilers. Granted, I do not think you or the ownership are anywhere near their level of ineptitude.)
On the losing side, poor, poor, poor Los Angeles and Buffalo. Los Angeles finished 30th and will select fifth overall. Plenty of vocal Devils fans were unhappy that the Devils finished just ahead of the Kings. They are silent tonight. While they will be able to get a very good prospect, they endured a dramatic and awful season to not end up with one of the top tier prospects that they really need to turn things around. As for Buffalo, they crashed hard in 2019. They nearly fell behind the Devils down the stretch with a miserable run in the last few months. They ended up just ahead of a late-surging Detroit squad. All to drop two spots in the lottery. While Detroit fell two spots too, they were known to be bad and will still pick ahead of Buffalo. A lottery win could have dulled some of the sting of Buffalo’s second half of 2018-19. Nope.
By extension of the Kings falling to fifth overall, Sherman Abrams also lost a bit today. I still contend that the 2018-19 Devils tanked plenty between their relative inaction during the first half of the season, trading players away by the trade deadline, being one of the worst road teams in hockey, and being undercut by injuries such that the team’s talent level dropped like a stone. Yet, some wanted even more futility. Some were mad that the Devils beat Our Hated Rivals last Monday and won in overtime in Florida in their season closer. All things being equal, if the Devils lost those games, then we’re talking about how the Kings are getting Jack Hughes. Don’t misunderstand me: the Devils were real bad and fully earned a bottom-three finish this season. But be careful of demanding a maximum possible tank in a lottery system. Tonight was another reason why.
Lastly, jeers to NBCSN for making half of their one-hour 2019 NHL Draft Lottery show about playoff series previews. The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs do start tomorrow. The timing makes sense. However, there was no real notice that it would take up the first half of the special. Fans of the teams in the playoffs - Colorado excepted - likely were not watching since their teams are not in the lottery, so they likely did not see the series previews. Fans of teams not in the playoffs had to endure another reminder that their teams are bad and coverage of teams that they do not support.
The Taylor Hall Factor
The Devils’ lottery win this evening is another piece of circumstantial evidence that Taylor Hall is a lucky charm for NHL Draft Lotteries. He tweeted this before the lottery show:
This has been some kind of heater folks. This is like when you’ve hit the blackjack tables and made 10x the money you came with. For one final bet, you toss on half your winnings and hope for the best. Either way, you’ve gotten lucky and came out ahead. Here goes https://t.co/sbrRmx770V— Taylor Hall (@hallsy09) April 9, 2019
Coincidence? I think so. Fun to pretend otherwise? Of course.
The Projected First Overall Pick
Originally, we were going to have a short primer of potential first round picks. Then the Devils won the whole 2019 Draft Lottery. There are two names to know.
Jack Hughes has been the consensus pick to go first overall in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. This was true back in October and it is true as of early April. As 2018-19 went on, many fans just kept on hoping for that the New Jersey Devils would Lose for Hughes. Or, #LoseForHughes, for the social media inclined. Now the Devils can get Jack Hughes. So what is the big deal about him?
Briefly, Hughes is a fast skating, fast thinking, fast playing point machine. Look at his Elite Prospects profile and marvel at his production. Hughes broke Clayton Keller’s record - and blew past the likes of Auston Matthews, Phil Kessel, and Patrick Kane - of most points by a player with the United Stats National Team Developmental Program. As a 17 year old, he was the MVP of the IIHF World Under-18 Championships in a tourney filled with players a year ahead of him. The best summary of why Hughes is an elite prospect that I have read so far is Corey Pronman’s explanation in The Athletic ($). He just has it all together and he keeps making things happen no matter the environment or the situation. An exhibition against college opponents? Hughes does it. USHL games? Hughes does it. International competition? Hughes does it.
Hughes was brought on the show and he was interviewed before and after the drawing. The media currently expects him to be the second first overall selection in Devils history. We will have a more in-depth profile later, but he is very much a big, big deal.
The other name is Finnish winger Kaapo Kakko. Some will say to pick the center, Hughes, over the winger, Kakko. However, like Laine to Matthews, do not sleep on this Finnish forward.
While Hughes was with the USNTDP, Kakko was playing with men in the professional Liiga in Finland. Check out his Elite Prospects profile. He played 45 games with TPS, put up 38 points, put up five in five playoff games with his team. Unlike a lot of under-20 players in European pro hockey, Kakko averaged over 18 minutes with TPS. His 22 goals was the most by a rookie in the whole league and the most by an under-18 team player in Liiga history, just surpassing Aleksander Barkov. While Hughes will go to the World U-18s, Kakko is set to go to the World Championships to continue playing with men.
Do not be surprised if a debate forms between Team Hughes and Team Kakko. Or Team Jack and Team Kaapo. Whatever. The point is that the Devils get to have this wonderful debate. You cannot really lose here.
For now, celebrate! The Devils just got the best possible shot in the arm for their offseason plans. The Devils will get to choose first in the 2019 NHL Draft. They won a lottery and finished ahead of the Rangers whilst also beating them last week. They can take one of two elite prospects. They can build around one of two of these prospects. The Effort to Keep Taylor Hall just got a boost provided the prospects are as good as they seem - and they likely are. For a team that seemingly lacked a lot of talent last season, they will get to address that for next season with whoever they pick first overall.
So celebrate! Cheer! Whoo! Dance if you want to. Laugh like Ray Shero did when the roll call of representatives were made on the show. (I don’t think he knew; I think someone made a funny among the executives.) Impress your friends with a YES! Cartwheel.
Please share your happiness and your initial thoughts about the eventual Hughes vs. Kakko debate in the comments. Thank you for reading!
The Postscript of Vindication
Shero: "Some people argue on social media (for us to lose), but if we would have lost the last game then we would have picked 5th."— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) April 10, 2019
In order to eat some cake, you have to have some cake. The cake is delicious.