For the first time in months, there is a NHL event that will directly involve the New Jersey Devils. Due to the pandemic, there was nothing on the ice for four and a half months. Due to the Return to Play format, the Devils have been idle for another two months while most of the NHL played at least some competitive hockey. The Stanley Cup was awarded, the Return to Play bubbles were a resounding success, and the offseason is now truly happening this week. Tomorrow begins the 2020 NHL Draft. It is time to see what direction the New Jersey Devils will go in now that they have a new full-time general manager in Tom Fitzgerald and nine picks ahead of the two-day event.
The Event: The 2020 NHL Draft
The Location: N/A. The NHL studios in Secaucus, New Jersey will be a hub, but everyone is making their picks from remote locations.
The First Day: Tuesday, October 6, 2020
The Rounds Selected on the First Day: The First Round
The First Day Start Time: 7:00 PM ET
The First Day Broadcast: TV - NBCSN (US), Sportsnet (CAN), and TVA Sports (CAN - French Language)
The First Day Picks for the Devils: The Devils own the 7th, 18th, and 20th overall picks.
The Devils’ Coverage: Online, you’ll want to follow the team’s Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook pages. Their official website has this special 2020 NHL Draft page. The team also is planning some virtual events for fans. For season ticket holders and/or Black & Red Members, there will be an exclusive Draft Pre-Show that will start on October 6 at 6:45 PM. The show will include defenseman Damon Severson and new assistant coach Mark Recchi. The Devils’ virtual Draft Party that is open for the public will start at 7:30 PM ET. It is a little odd it is not scheduled for 7 PM ET, but 7:30 PM ET will be about when the Devils should make their first of three picks in the first round. It is also virtual, so it is what it is.
The Devils are also running a contest for the 2020 NHL Draft. If you are a legal resident of New Jersey and are at least 21 years old, then you can participate in Predicting the Picks. If you can correctly predict the Devils’ three first round picks, the number of forwards picked, the number of defensemen picked, the number of North American skaters picked, the number of European skaters picked, and the pick number of the first goaltender selected, then you could win up to $20,000. It is a lot to predict. Other than being put on the team’s and the arena’s mailing list, it does not appear to cost anything to try.
The Second Day: Wednesday, October 7, 2020
The Rounds Selected on the Second Day: The Second through Seventh Rounds
The Second Day Start Time: 11:30 AM ET
The Second Day Broadcast: TV - NHL Network, Sportsnet
The Second Day Picks for the Devils: Assuming they keep all six of them, here is what they own:
- Third Round - 84th Overall
- Fourth Round - 99th Overall, 120th Overall
- Fifth Round - 130th Overall
- Sixth Round - 161st Overall
- Seventh Round - 192nd Overall
How Did the Devils Get These Picks Again?: Here is a quick refresher. The 7th overall pick was a result of the first phase of the NHL Draft Lottery. The Devils had the sixth worst record and moved back a spot by virtue of a non-playoff-team-to-be-determined winning the first overall pick. The second phase of the NHL Draft Lottery determined that to team to be Our Hated Rivals, the New York Rangers.
The 18th overall pick is the conditional first round pick from the Taylor Hall trade to Arizona made in December 2019. The condition was that the first rounder was lottery protected for 2020. As Arizona beat Nashville in the play-in series, they were not in the lottery at all so the Devils were guaranteed their pick. Their elimination in the first round combined with Montreal and Chicago - also play-in winners - being knocked out set that pick at 18th overall.
The 20th overall pick is the conditional first round pick acquired from Tampa Bay from the Blake Coleman trade made in February. This conditional first round pick belonged to Vancouver, which Tampa Bay received in the J.T. Miller trade. The condition was simply whether Vancouver made the playoffs. If they did, it is a 2020 first rounder. If not, it is a 2021 first rounder. Vancouver made the playoffs, won a round, and fortunately lost in the second round. This meant the Devils owned their pick for this draft and it was to be at 20th overall.
The 84th overall pick in the third round is the conditional pick from the Sami Vatanen trade to Carolina earlier this year. The conditions were modified by the league after they announced the Return to Play format. What the pick would become would be determined by whether Carolina beat New York, whether Vatanen played in at least two games in that series, and if Vatanen played in at least 70% of Carolina’s playoff games beyond the play-in series. All of that was met, so the conditional pick became Carolina’s third round pick in 2020.
For the 120th overall pick, this was acquired last year. By the 2019 trade deadline, the Devils traded Marcus Johansson to Boston for their second round pick in 2019 and their fourth rounder in 2020. This is the fourth rounder.
The other picks were originally owned by the Devils and were set up based on their record in the 2019-20 season.
What Happened to their Second and Third Round Picks?: The Devils’ second round pick for this year was sent to Nashville last year as part of package sent to the Preds for P.K. Subban at last year’s draft. The Predators still own it. Their third round pick in 2020 and their second round pick in 2021 were sent to Las Vegas for the rights to sign Nikita Gusev last July. Vegas still owns the third round pick.
Will the Devils Use All of These Picks?: The answer is definitely maybe.
There is going to be a lot more rumor and speculation than usual for this year’s draft. The NHL salary cap ceiling is remaining flat. Many teams have internal budgets for players that are below the $81.5 million cap due to the expected lack of revenue from a lack of fans attending games - assuming there will be games. Qualifying offers for restricted free agents are due by 5 PM ET on Wednesday, hours after the NHL Draft will end. Unrestricted free agency - Free Agent Frenzy - will start at noon on Friday; yes, two days after the NHL Draft. As the Devils have a lot of cap space and a new boss in charge, they could do a lot of different things.
Rather than give in to what insider is saying today that they may not say tomorrow, let us focus on something more concrete. From Randy Miller at NJ.com, Fitzgerald has stated that for him to move 18th or 20th overall, it would have to be for someone who is under contract, plays on a top-six at forward or top-two pairing on defense, and is within the age group of the core. In other words, someone young, good, and will not need a new contract a few days after the NHL Draft. Of course, Miller reported that on September 26. Miller confirmed that is still the case on October 2 based on a media session Fitzgerald held that Friday. (Aside: Of note, Fitzgerald says he has no restrictions cap-wise. Hmm.) A lot can change in a short amount of time depending on who is calling up Fitzgerald and what they are offering and/or discussing.
It is possible that the Devils could move down from one of three first rounders to pick a second rounder up or an extra third rounder along with another asset. It is possible they could package a bunch of their picks to move up, although that may be difficult given the talent involved in this year’s draft. However, it is also possible and perhaps more likely all three picks are kept short of an amazing deal. If Fitzgerald wants to add young talent for the future, then the smart move would be to keep it simple and use the three first rounders he will have. As for the other six picks set for the second day of the draft, there could be some minor movement but nothing significant. I would plan on those six picks being used on Wednesday. I think that is what will happen, but, as always, I could be wrong.
I Heard the Devils Are Considering Player X, Does That Mean He Will Be Picked?: The answer is maybe and not necessarily so.
The 2020 NHL Draft is a unique challenge. Due to the pandemic, every league in the hockey world ended early. There were no fully completed playoffs. International events such as the World Under-18 Championships were cancelled. There was no NHL Combine. June came and went without a NHL Draft. The Return to Play format did not involve Los Angeles, Ottawa, Detroit, Anaheim, San Jose, Buffalo, and New Jersey. What this meant is everybody is working off additional time to view game tape and other view, go over reports, have extended interviews with players, hold more extensive scouting meetings to develop the team’s draft board, and all of it from what are essentially incomplete seasons. And for these seven teams, including the Devils, they had an additional two months to do all of this.
While having additional time to make a decision can be a good thing, having extra months can make an organization prone to overthinking a decision. Throw in the fact that some European hockey leagues have just finished preseason hockey (e.g. Liiga) and started their regular season (e.g. the KHL), and now there is some fresh new data on a few prospects that could influence someone’s decision. The QMJHL also just started their season, so that includes some new information on prospects right before the 2020 NHL Draft takes place. This new data means that scouts and team personnel can see whether the prospect worked on their skating or strength over the extended offseason; or earned a new role on a professional team, which is a positive sign for development. It could help make or break a decision that may have been made and broken a bunch of times already within the organization. To that end, it is almost a relief that the 2020 NHL Draft will be held tomorrow. Just to finally move on from all of this.
Going back to the question, all of this extra time to analyze prospects means that many teams are considering more players than usual. In this NHL.com article about preparing for the draft, the Devils remotely interviewed 40 to 50 prospects. They have likely discussed and thought about even more than that. While that shows interest in a player, that does not mean they will be picked. Being considered can result in the team deciding to not want to take that player. Or make them their fourth option for a spot, expecting the other three to be available. The Devils have nine picks and have had two extra months along with six other teams to prepare for this. Yes, it is true they are considering Player X. It does not mean he will be picked in a particular spot.
Who Do You Think the Devils Will Draft?: After the first round, it is a total guess. The first round picks will be driven by whoever picks ahead of them. There are a lot of choices available for each and not a lot of a consensus. That stated, I did do a round up of mock drafts ahead of the draft. Assuming the Devils keep their three first rounders, the common theme among the mock drafts out there is that the Devils are likely to take a forward at seventh overall and a defenseman with either of their other two first round picks.
The forwards available at seventh overall will likely be one of Marco Rossi, Lucas Raymond, Cole Perfetti, and Alexander Holtz. Even if the first six picks are all forwards, one of these four will be still be available. While there has been discussion among fans and pundits about defensemen Jamie Drysdale and Jake Sanderson being a pick at seventh overall, the mocks did not agree. Most have Drysdale going within the first six picks and while Sanderson’s stock has increased over time, the concern about his upside and offensive skillset may keep him from being going at seventh or higher. Goaltender Yaroslav Askarov is a total wild card by nature of being a goaltender. He is arguably the most accomplished goaltender prospect in a long time and the fact he is getting games in the KHL with SKA St. Petersburg at age 18 is further evidence that he is not just anyone. That said, he is still a goaltender and with goalies, the margin for success makes it really risk to take high in any draft. If Askarov is the next Price or Vasilevskiy, then it works out. Anything less and it is a reach.
As for the defensemen at eighteenth or twentieth overall, a popular pick was Kaiden Guhle as most mocks have Braden Schneider going a little earlier. Other defensemen that could be available would include William Wallinder, Justin Barron, or Jeremie Poirier - but the real goal would be one of Guhle or Schneider. The forwards in that range are a bit more varied depending on which one you read. The common names include center Connor Zary, Dylan Holloway, Jacob Perreault, Noel Gunler, and Hendrix Lapierre. If they fall, Rodion Amirov and Dawson Mercer could be very fine choices. If the Devils really liked them, they could snag Lukas Reichel or John-Jason Peterka a little earlier than what some may think they will go in. While the 2020 NHL Draft class is pretty strong at the top, the difference between the 20th and 30th overall picks may not be significant in terms of quality.
I will say to expect two trends to continue for picks is beyond the first round. Do not be shocked if the Devils select a goaltender on the second day of the draft. The Devils have drafted one in every draft since 2015. Unless the current management really believes in Cole Brady, Gilles Senn, and Akira Schmid, they may opt to make it six straight drafts with one goaltender pick. Also, do not be shocked if the Devils make some European selections within their final three picks. This has been a trend for the last four drafts. In 2016, it was Yegor Rykov and Jesper Bratt. In 2017, it was Marian Studenic, Aarne Talvitie, and Yegor Zaitsev. In 2018, it was Yegor Sharangovich and Eetu Pakkila. In 2019, it was Arseni Gritsyuk and Nicola Pasic. While Fitzgerald is now the full-time GM, Paul Castron is still the Director of Amateur Scouting and most of the scouting staff has been retained for this draft. I would expect both trends to
If It Were Up to You, Who Do You Take in the First Round?: In our internal AAtJ mock draft, we picked Marco Rossi at seventh, Noel Gunler at eighteenth, and Kaiden Guhle at twentieth overall. In the network-wide SB Nation mock draft, we took Cole Perfetti at seventh, Rodion Amirov at eighteenth, and Jacob Perreault at twentieth.
In both cases, we obtained a highly skilled offensive forward, a winger who is very good at shooting the puck, and a smart third player. Personally, I am not as sold on the defensemen available in the first round as others. Drysdale, I can defend the Devils taking. I think Sanderson, Guhle, and Schneider all project to be solid second-pairing caliber defensemen with limited offensive skills. They may be nice to have, but with who else the Devils could be taking in the first round, I think swinging bigger on offensive talent is a smarter move. Especially since the Devils already have several defensemen in their system in this mold. I’m sure Sanderson, Guhle, and Schneider will be fine NHLers but I do not expect them to be top players at their position. You can never go wrong with adding more offensive talent that is hard to acquire and those players will be there at all three picks in the first round.
Who Do You Think Should the Devils Totally Avoid in the First Round?: Askarov at seventh overall would be a very risky pick. Almost a pick that would define Fitzgerald’s job in New Jersey. That may not be totally fair, but it is a pick that you make if you fully believe he is going to be an amazing goaltender for the next decade or so. And if you are willing to wait to even come to the NHL as he is signed through 2022-23 with SKA St. Petersburg. Later in the draft, I would be more willing to take that risk, but I seriously doubt he will be available at the Devils’ other two first round picks. Trading up to get him would be similarly risky. In my opinion, the Devils should pass on Askarov at seventh overall. The Devils can and should find a capable goalie on day two instead, such as overager Nico Daws, Drew Commesso, or Samuel Hlavaj.
Hendrix Lapierre’s injury issues are a total red flag to me. It was first thought that he had three concussions within a year’s time. Now we know it was a concussion and spinal issues. That is not much better to think about. I have seen a lot of mock drafts and chatter about him going in the top twenty this year. I understand he is a very skilled passer of the puck. I also understand he could be one or two bad hits away from not being able to play. I do not think he is so talented that it is worth the risk. I can see the Devils taking one forward at eighteen or twenty. I do not think it should be Lapierre.
Among the defenders, the one I want the Devils to avoid in the first round more than anything else is Jeremie Poirier. The word on Poirier is that he is very good at handling the puck, skating it up ice, and generating offense with it - and that is it. The man does not make good decisions and he is a liability on defense. A defenseman prospect who is weak on defense is not desirable. I think whoever takes him should consider converting him to a forward. You could teach him to defend - and he will need to at the next level - but how much learning will turn him into a defender you can rely on? If the Devils want to take a defensemen in the first round, then Poirier is not the one I want New Jersey to pick. Not even if they trade down.
Where Can I See All of the Prospect Profiles Done at AAtJ This Year?: I compiled this Prospect Index. It includes links to all of the prospect profiles we did this year, tiered in a way to identify players who are likely to be lottery picks to players who will get picked on the second day of the draft, if at all. It also includes a list of resources and people to check out if you want to get more into hockey prospects.
What Are This Site’s Plans for the 2020 NHL Draft?: We will try to have a post up with a poll for every pick made. If there is a significant trade, we will cover that too. We will continue our practice of having something short up and updating it later with more information. As there are multiple picks in the first round, I will have a summary for each day’s activities in the evening. Of course, there will be an open post for each draft day for you to have your say about anything and everything happening at the 2020 NHL Draft.
Anything Else?: The top prospects in this year’s draft will have a lot of extra hats as per Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News.
The draft will take place tomorrow to begin what will be a very busy and active week of activity in the NHL. Please leave your thoughts, expectations, hopes, and dreams for the 2020 NHL Draft in the comments. Thank you for reading this year’s preview of the 2020 NHL Draft for the New Jersey Devils. Go Devils.