I hope you all watched Game Five last night. I’m happy we get to see more hockey. As I wrote this in the intermissions of the game (and I was glad for the two extra), I thought about what the New Jersey Devils need to do to get to this stage with this team. Not necessarily the whole team that we saw last year - but the core of Nico Hischier, MacKenzie Blackwood, Jack Hughes, Damon Severson, and Jesper Bratt. What do the Devils need to add that would help this core become competitive enough to play for the Stanley Cup?
High aspirations that would need some luck to accomplish? Yes. But the Devils will have a lot going well for them (even after the drop in the Arizona and Vancouver picks) on Draft night. They have:
- Round One, Pick 7
- Round One, Pick 18
- Round One, Pick 20
- Round Three, Pick 83
- Round Four, Pick 98
- Round Four, Pick 119
- Round Five, Pick 129
- Round Six, Pick 160
- Round Seven, Pick 191
With three first round picks and six picks from the third to seventh rounds, the Devils will have a lot of flexibility on Draft night. They could just sit on their picks and take advantage of the draft’s great first round. Or, they can:
Option One: Trading One of their First Rounders Down
With how many forwards are expected to go in the first round this year, the Devils might end up in situations where their best picks available are forwards each time they’re on the clock. If they’re dead-set on getting a defensemen early, rather than picking Jake Sanderson at seven, they should consider trading down. Of course, this assumes Jamie Drysdale is picked in the top six. If he falls to the Devils, then this point would be moot - but I don’t think Drysdale will be on the board at seven. Additionally, I do not think the Devils should trade down from seven. The possibility of trading that pick will be discussed later.
This is the Draft order after the Devils pick at 20:
21. Columbus Blue Jackets
22. New York Rangers (from CAR)
23. Philadelphia Flyers
24. Colorado Avalanche
25. Washington Capitals
26. St. Louis Blues
27. Anaheim Ducks (from BOS)
28. Ottawa Senators (from NYI)
29. Vegas Golden Knights
30/31. San Jose Sharks (from TB) and Dallas Stars
Of these options, ideal trading down partners would be the Anaheim Ducks, Ottawa Senators, or San Jose Sharks. Each of these teams have second round picks - and the Devils currently have none. Ottawa has four second round picks and two thirds. San Jose is a bad team who is currently stuck with the 31st overall pick - and they have two second round picks. Putting San Jose in a position to select someone like Mavrik Bourque or Noel Gunler might be enough to get at least a second round pick.
While the talent available at 20 will surely be very good, I would think the Devils want to walk away from the first night with a defenseman. If they have two forwards at seven and 18, there are very few defensemen in the Draft that would not be a reach at 20, assuming Sanderson and Schneider have already been picked by then. But if the Devils want to be sure they are not making a mistake at 20 with a defenseman - then trading down would be a good way to avoid that.
Option Two: Trading Up?
I do not see much possibility in trading up, looking at the draft order.
The only viable trade partner here is the Ottawa Senators, they are the only team with two picks in the lottery. However, with 13 picks already in this draft, it’s probably going to take a player to entice the Senators to trade the fifth pick. I highly doubt they pass on the chance to select third. So for the Devils to trade up in the Draft for a higher top selection, it would probably take a valuable asset - think Damon Severson, Will Butcher, Jesper Bratt, Kyle Palmieri, or perhaps Ty Smith or Nolan Foote. The Senators already have a ton of Draft picks, and I doubt another third, fourth, and fifth would intrigue them all that much for such a high pick.
Option Three: Acquiring a Legitimate NHL Player
This is probably the option fans are clamoring most for. It was recently rumored that Patrik Laine could be traded from the Winnipeg Jets. If the Devils were to acquire Laine, it would probably take the seventh overall pick and at least one other asset. The Devils might have to part with an effective young player - like Jesper Bratt, an inconsistent young talent in Pavel Zacha, and/or a young defenseman like Damon Severson or Will Butcher. Alternatively, the Devils can trade them two or all of their first round picks for Laine. I think the last option would be too drastic a move, however - and Laine is not exactly a two-way player.
For what it’s worth, Patrik Laine’s xGF has been improving over the years. There is a good chance that by next season, he will have positive impacts in this regard. But his defensive inability concerns me - especially for the price I expect will be asked for him. There are cheaper, potentially similar-impact moves that can be made by moving a first round pick. Namely, the Devils can acquire Brock Boeser from the Vancouver Canucks.
Brock Boeser’s name was mentioned in trade rumors earlier this playoff, when Vancouver was still in play. It appears that Vancouver might be hoping to clear cap room (and playing time) to re-sign Tyler Toffoli. Brock Boeser currently makes $5,875,000 - and his contract expires after next season. Afterwards, he will be a restricted free agent. If Vancouver wants to re-sign Toffoli, they’re going to need to clear about that much space - perhaps a little less. But if they want to re-sign Toffoli and Markstrom, they’re going to have to get creative. Let’s take a look at Boeser’s RAPM chart:
For Brock Boeser, I think that both of the 18th and 20th overall picks or one of those picks and a prospect like Nolan Foote, or a combination of prospects in the caliber of Michael McLeod, Nathan Bastian, Reilly Walsh, and Nate Schnarr could get a deal done between New Jersey and Vancouver. And frankly, I think this would be a far better move than trading the seventh pick for Laine. Boeser, if only because of reputation, will likely cost less to acquire than Laine and will do just as much good for the New Jersey Devils.
Aside from these specific examples of players that could be available for the Devils on Draft night, they should be listening for any teams that are willing to move a proven top four defenseman or a restricted free agent that they might be unable to sign. A team that comes to mind is the St. Louis Blues, who can still re-sign Alex Pietrangelo. However, for the Blues to re-sign Pietrangelo, they may have to move Vince Dunn. Dunn has not played top four minutes in the NHL, but he is effective and has been able to rack up respectable point totals in third pairing minutes. His impacts are also very solid:
Restricted free agents of Vince Dunn’s caliber are what the Devils should be seeking with their latter two first round picks - if they don’t get someone like Boeser or Laine. Acquiring Dunn would take out a lot of the uncertainty surrounding the future of the Devils’ defense. Dunn would add a dynamic puck mover who can spring the Devils’ transition game - and he would be well worth the 18th or 20th pick, and perhaps an additional prospect or later round pick (or two). In addition to Dunn, the Devils would possibly be taking on one of the Blues’ contracts. This would be a mutually beneficial trade - one that helps the Blues’ cap problems and one that addresses two of the Devils’ immediate needs (and one of their long-term ones). For example, if Tyler Bozak waived his no-trade clause, the Devils could move him to wing in an attempt to give Jack Hughes a defensively-capable linemate.
What do you think the Devils should do on Draft night? Should they keep all three picks? Should they trade down or up? Should they acquire a proven NHL player? Of Patrik Laine, Brock Boeser, and Vince Dunn, who would you most want to acquire? Is there another defenseman you would like to see the Devils trade for? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Credit to Evolving-Hockey for the RAPM charts.