Unless the New Jersey Devils start channeling their inner St. Louis Blues soon (read:now), the 2019-20 NHL season will go down in history as a major disappointment for them. While there were certainly question marks surrounding the team, there was a feeling of optimism thanks to the improvements and additions to the team over the summer. We’re less than half a year removed from that time, and all those feelings of positivity and hope have essentially vanished. The team is tied for fourth worst in points in the league bad, and after trading Taylor Hall, they seem destined to be forging a new path revolving around Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes.
While there are other complementary pieces for the team as it stands right now, they need more than just the pair of impact pieces listed above. The Devils already stand to have a pair of picks in the upcoming draft (provided that the Coyotes don’t collapse AND win the lottery) and could have more depending upon whether they move certain players at the deadline or not. A third selection in the first round would go a long way to helping the Devils restock the cupboard; as such, I’ve started looking around for early draft rankings.
TSN’s Craig Button put out his most recent list roughly 24 hours ago for prospects in the upcoming draft. Let’s assume that the Devils do not win a lottery spot this year, and that their first rounder falls to roughly the 5-6 range; let’s also assume that the Yotes pick falls somewhere in the high 20s and that the Devils also get another pick in the mid-low 20s. There’s quite a few promising players at these spots who could be available.
With Their Own Pick:
The Devils obviously need help on the back end, and another early draft pick could help to provide some. Jamie Drysdale of the OHL’s Erie Otters is ranked by Button at #6 currently and is currently viewed as the best available defender in the upcoming draft. Listed at 5’11” and 172 lbs., Button refers to Drysdale as “an impact player” in every area of the ice. Impact is good and the Devils could certainly use it, particularly if Sami Vatanen is traded to get that third pick in round one.
Another interesting choice could be Yaroslav Askarov, a goalie currently ranked at #7. If the Devils do not believe MacKenzie Blackwood is the long-term solution in net (or if they want a player who could be seen as an upgrade) he’s another player that could go early. Depending on how the draft falls, there could be a number of teams who don’t need a goalie, and Askarov could be available later in the first round. If the Devils could walk out of Montreal with Askarov and Drysdale, it would be a major success.
With Their Other Pick(s):
Assuming the Devils wind up with two later picks in the first (and that they don’t get both of Askarov and Drysdale), there’s a plethora of other names available later in round one that could help to improve the defense. Button has Justin Barron (19), Yan Kuznetsov (22), Eemil Vero (26), Shakir Mukhamadullin (27) and Kaiden Guhle (31) all listed within the range of first round choices. While none of these names are being talked up to the level of other prospects (looking at you Alexis Lafreniere), they obviously possess a good amount of talent to be projected to be drafted in these spots.
With no other goalie projected to go in round one (Nico Daws comes in next at #35 just inside round two), the Devils will need to take a long look this offseason at what their needs are once the full draft order is finalized. If they determine Askarov to be the priority, then the late first(s) should be spent on improving the defense. If they go for Drysdale early, then perhaps they trade down to take Daws (remember that the Devils traded their second for this year) if goalie is still seen as an area of need.
The Thought Process
I think organizationally (despite all the recent changes) the Devils realize their defense is still suspect at best, even if Sami Vatanen is re-signed instead of being dealt for another pick. Andy Greene is closing in on retirement, Damon Severson is inconsistent, P.K. Subban is not the Subban of old and if Will Butcher isn’t bringing offense, he’s not really bringing much of anything. Connor Carrick and Mirco Mueller need to be replaced ASAP and while Ty Smith should be coming through next year, he’s not a savior that will magically eliminate all of our defensive woes.
The Devils should be drafting for defense in round one this year, as even a highly touted goalie will get lit up behind this porous group. Whether they choose to do so early or late in the round (again, depending upon available picks and positioning) is up to them’ they cannot stand pat and leave this group and the pipeline as is, because if they do, this organization will have taken another step backwards.
What do you think of the Devils attempting to address multiple positions of need in the 2020 NHL draft? Can it be done? Will they take a defender? Is there any player that you are personally excited that the Devils could take if they do not win a lottery spot? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!