After a very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very long second day of the 2020 NHL Draft, the New Jersey Devils’ draft concluded in the early evening. They went into today with six picks. They ended with five players selected, as they traded their seventh round pick in this year’s draft to Arizona for their seventh round pick in 2021. This now means the Devils have a pick in every round for next year’s draft. And it is a seventh rounder, so not much of value was gained or lost. The Devils ended their marathon day today a little earlier.
Seriously, I am really baffled as to why the second through seventh rounds took so long. In recent years, the second day of the draft goes through all six rounds in about three to four hours. Picks are made quickly. Trades are announced quickly. Every team in the arena makes their pick from their table on the floor. There are no stoppages for commercials or presentations of players being picked. You would think this would be tailor-made for a virtual draft held remotely. Somehow, the opposite happened. I do not know if, due to the remote nature, every team was given more time to make each pick in case an outage or a technical issue happened. It sure seemed like every team opted to employ Lou’s phrase “If you have time, use it” for every pick. Seriously, even the Devils took a timeout to make their fifth round pick. Seriously. They had more time than most teams in this draft. Their draft board should have been ready to go. Yet, they needed extra time to decide the pick should go to Artem Shlaine. Seriously. I really hope this does not happen again for 2021, regardless of it is in person or otherwise.
Getting back to the Devils themselves, this year was definitely different than past drafts in recent years. Under Ray Shero and after Paul Castron joined the organization, I was able to figure out a common theme among the picks selected. Tom Fitzgerald, who was Shero’s assistant for his time in New Jersey, is now the GM and clearly things are different. The theme for the 2020 class is that there is no easily identifiable one. The best I can do is that they went all over the place. Here is who they picked, with links going to our posts for each selection:
- First round, 7th overall - Right winger Alexander Holtz, Djurgårdens IF (SHL)
- First round, 18th overall - Center Dawson Mercer, Chicoutimi (QMJHL)
- First round, 20th overall - Defenseman Shakir Mukhamadullin, Salavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL)
- Third round, 84th overall - Goaltender Nicolas Daws, Guelph (OHL)
- Fourth round, 99th overall - Center Jaromir Pytlik, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
- Fourth round, 120th overall - Defenseman Ethan Edwards, Spurce Grove (AJHL)
- Fifth round, 130rd overall - Center Artem Shlaine, Shattuck-St. Mary’s (U.S. Prep School)
- Sixth round, 161st overall - Center Benjamin Baumgartner, HC Davos (Swiss National League)
The picks of Mukhamadullin, Edwards, and Shlaine are all project picks. They are players that will need plenty of time to develop. Edwards and Shlaine are college bound to Michigan and UConn, respectively. Mukhamadullin is in the KHL and is signed with Ufa for the next two seasons. However, those three do not define the class as a whole. The other five picks are not really projects in the traditional sense of the term for a prospect.
New Jersey took two overage prospects in Daws and Baumgartner. Daws had an impressive 19 year old season with Guelph. He won the OHL Goaltender of the Year award and managed to win Gold with Team Canada in the World Junior Championships. The latter is impressive since Daws was not good enough in the past to make Germany. Given his December birthdate, he could be eligible to go to the AHL if and when there is a 2020-21 season in the AHL. Baumgartner is already AHL eligible and 20 years old. The small center was rather productive in Switzerland last season. So much so that he could have a game that translates to North American hockey. I like these picks for where they went. However, two overagers taken on day two of the draft do not define the class as a whole.
What about size? Well, this is also mixed. No one would call Holtz, Mercer, or Shlaine small as they are 6’0” to 6’1”. While Edwards and Baumgartner are under six feet tall, the Devils did get bigger players in Mukhamadullin (6’4”, 178 pounds) and Pytlik (6’2”, 200 pounds) well before both. Plus, Daws is a big man as a goaltender as he stands at 6’4” and 199 pounds. While there was some fear that Fitzgerald was going to heavy on heavy players, it does not appear to be the case in this draft class.
How about the kinds of talent selected? Is this a fast, attacking, and supportive group - something the previous GM preferred in some of the past drafts? The best I can conclude is sort of. Holtz and Mercer are definitely offensive-minded players. However, there are a few issues with their skating that could detract from the “fast” and “supportive” part. While Mukhamadullin has been praised for how he can skate given his size, his potential for being offensive or effective as a defensemen is very raw. Daws is a goaltender, so he would not really fit this credo at all. Pytlik could be a supportive player as a two-way center who works hard, but his skating is not that impressive and who knows how much his offensive skill will grow. Edwards was an offensive-minded defenseman in Junior A and skated quite well there; but the hope would be that gets refined at the college level. Shlaine was akin to a two-way center, but he was not particularly fast or flashy with the puck. Like Edwards, the hope is really in how he develops in college. Surely, Baumgartner’s production with HC Davos helped get him notice to be picked after being passed over in the last two drafts. Andhe moved quite well there. But at age 20, he is closer to a finished product and being able to be successful in Switzerland that does not mean he will be able to do so at the next level. the late picks are closer being based on hope, which is common as they are late picks in the draft. But I do not think it accurately defines this class.
What is accurate is how diverse the picks were in terms of the sources of these players. Some teams have a tendency to lean on a league or a country. New Jersey’s first draft under Fitzgerald really did not do that. Holtz is playing pro hockey in Sweden right now. Mukhamadullin is playing pro hockey in Russia in the KHL. While three of the picks are in Canadian major junior hockey, Mercer is local in the QMJHL, Pytlik is a Czech player who transferred to the OHL during 2018-19 and just finished his first full season with the Soo Greyhounds, and Daws was born in Germany and earned his improved season over season in the OHL. They are three different situations and three different players. Edwards is Canadian like Mercer and Daws, but he played in Junior A and is committed to Michigan in the Big 10 for 2021-22. Shlaine was born in Moscow, but spent the last four seasons in America, went through prep school, and will join UConn whenever UConn’s hockey season happens in 2020-21. The oldest player of this draft class, Baumgartner, is Austrian and played in the Swiss league. The Devils’ eight picks are really from all over the hockey world in terms of where they came from and where they are going. The lack of a common trait in this is the common one in this draft class.
More important than any of that, was it a good one? That remains to be seen. Generally, it takes five or so years before you can really determine if the prospects have developed into anyone that can help the team soon or are already helping the team by then. As of how I feel about them today, I think they did OK overall. I think they could have done better at certain points. However, I do think they did get good value for most of their selections.
I summarized my thoughts about the three first rounders after the first day yesterday. Basically, I liked the Holtz pick, I love the Mercer pick, and I do not like the Mukhamadullin pick. You can read that post for more detail on those selections. For the picks made today, I do like who the Devils took with Carolina’s third round pick and their own fourth round pick. While there were certainly some better players available, I do think Daws and Pytlik represented good value for where they were in draft. Given that the Devils have drafted a goalie in every draft since 2015, I expected one to be taken. After seeing Drew Commesso, Joel Blomqvist, Leevi Merilainen, and Calle Clang go ahead of the 84th overall pick, I am pleased that Daws was available. While he is an overage prospect, I do appreciate how much he has improved and how well he played in a high-scoring OHL with Guelph last season. I would rather see the Devils bet on a goalie who has had success like Daws did than go with someone that was impressive for only a short amount of time even if they were 17 or 18. As for Pytlik, a lot of the projections and rankings I saw had him as a second rounder. Given the concerns about his skating and about his upside, I can understand why some would not be interested in taking him then. But in the fourth round? By all means, go for it. I think he could be an interesting player to monitor even if he ends up being a bottom-six forward at the pro level. I liked those selections.
I also liked what would be the last selection of Benjamin Baumgartner. Similar to Yegor Sharangovich, I think the intent was to find someone who was doing fairly well at age 20 and could, in theory, jump right to the AHL. This was a player that Will Scouch highlighted through his tracking as being remarkably productive when it came to primary assists and generating high danger shot attempts. He noted how he improved enough to be a rookie in the Swiss league. Yes, he is not big. Yes, he was passed over in two drafts. Yes, he did this in the Swiss league. But I am willing to take a flyer on such a prospect just to see what he can do this late in the draft. It is not like the Devils are bereft of forward prospects, they can afford to take this chance in a round where pretty much everyone taken is a chance.
I am less confident about the other two picks today. It is not so much that I do not like Ethan Edwards or Artem Shlaine. It is more that other players could have been taken over one or the other that have proven much more already such as Martin Chromiak (128th overall), Ty Tullio (126th overall), Brett Berard (133rd overall), and Antonio Stranges (123rd overall) among others. That stated, I do appreciate that both are going through the college route to further develop. Both players clearly need time, and a college environment where they will practice more frequently and go up against young men could really show to see what they have to offer. I see them as projects and we shall see if they turn out to be successful ones. As they were taken in the fourth and fifth round, the expectation levels should not be high to begin with. If I were voting in the polls - which will end this evening - I would say I’m in the middle on this one. I would have preferred to go in a different direction at 120th or 130th overall, but the team did not pick anyone that is just heinous.
That ties into the final thought I have about the Devils’ picks as a group at the 2020 NHL Draft. It was not what I would have preferred; it was not my ideal draft given who was on the board at almost every pick. But I do like or can understand what the Devils were going with for most of the picks. I can agree with others that may point how it was a real up-and-down draft for the Devils or that is was OK but not as good as it could have been. But by no means did Fitzgerald and Castron totally blow it. They have a winger in Holtz who could be a serious finisher in the NHL one day. They have a forward in Mercer who can help out in a lot of ways. They may get more out of Daws than the other goalies the Devils picked since MacKenzie Blackwood in 2015. Pytlik could be a NHLer in the future, which is always a good thing to find in the fourth round regardless of what role he may have. Baumgartner is someone worth taking a shot on to see if he can offer anything at the pro level. The team can afford to wait on Edwards and Shlaine to see if they have anything there in three to four years. The only pick I did not like was the selection of Mukhamadullin, but as I stated yesterday, I hope to be proven wrong about that one. That’s good. Maybe not great, but good.
Feel free to take my opinion with a grain of salt, though. There were past draft classes I was excited about only to turn out that it was not as successful as I thought. There were groups of picks where I was less sure about, but they turned out better than I initially expected when those picks were made. Of course, there was the 2014 class that I did not like and turned out to be correct - but that was two GMs, a Director of Scouting, and six years ago. If you like this class a lot, then feel free to share why. If you do not like this class a lot, then feel free to share why as well. Please let me know what you think of Tom Fitzgerald’s first draft class as the team’s full-time GM in the comments.
Thanks to everyone at All About the Jersey who contributed to the draft effort. Just about everyone on staff chipped in with prospect profiles earlier in the year. I want to highlight Alex, Chris, and Dan for helping out yesterday and today with posts about picks as they happened. I especially thank Brian for going above and beyond for prospects as usual. He organized a lot of what we did this year. He facilitated the mock draft we did internally, he was a second set of eyes for the SB Nation draft, he organized the list of prospects we profiled, and, of course, helped out a lot with posts about second day picks today.
I also want to thank all of you, the People Who Matter. We disagree on things. We agree on others. But however you feel about this draft, I am happy you all chose to spend some of your time over the past 48 hours with us at All About the Jersey. I hope you all return for what will be a potentially frantic free agency period that opens on Friday. As the second day of the 2020 NHL Draft dragged on, a lot of teams decided to not qualify plenty of players ahead of the 5 PM deadline today. Some of them, such as Dominik Kahun and Anthony Duclair, are really good. Others, such as Mirco Mueller and John Hayden, are not. All add to a UFA class that will be dealing with 31 teams with varying cap situations, roster spots, and internal budgets while trying to get the best deal for their own situation. It will be more of a challenge than usual for both sides, I think. Fitzgerald has plenty of all three - so we will see how involved he does or does not get. We will go more into that tomorrow and Friday. In the meantime, thank you for reading this summary and any of our draft-related posts for this year.
P.S. The All About the Jersey Top 25 Under 25 will return sooner than you think for 2020, and it is going to be massive.