One of the themes of this year’s NHL Draft was how there would be a lot of variation and picks that are seemingly off the board may not end up that way in retrospect. For the sake of General Manager Tom Fitzgerald and Paul Castron, they better hope that this pick ages really well. The New Jersey Devils kept the 29th overall pick and used it to select right winger Chase Stillman of Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League.
The Sudbury Wolves did not have a 2020-21 season as the OHL did not have one. Stillman did go out on loan to a Danish under-20 league and played with Esbjerg. Per Elite Prospects, he put up nine goals and 17 points in eight games. Not exactly a lot of work, albeit productive. Stillman did make Canada’s gold-medal winning team at this year’s World U-18 Championships. He put up two goals and four points in seven games. That’s something. It is a bit hard to look at that same EP profile and note that all of the rankings listed him in the second and third round range.
It is even harder to look at who else was on the board for this pick. I can imagine some fans are unhappy the Devils made the pick at all. Given how bonkers some of the deals were made today, perhaps that was wise. Still, there were plenty of interesting and talented forwards who had better 2020-21 campaigns and displayed more potential and skill than the son of Cory Stillman (pictured in the headline as we do not have a Chase Stillman picture). Logan Stankoven, Nikita Chibrikov, Simon Robertsson, Francesco Pinelli, and Aatu Raty would have been great forward picks. If a defenseman was preferred, there would have been good arguments to take Owen Zellweger, Scott Morrow, or (if they want to reach) Shai Buium. Instead, they get a player with this description in his EP profile:
Call it motor or energy or engagement or drive — Stillman has it. He is willing to go above and beyond, willing to play whatever role needed to the maximum of his ability to give his team the win. He knows when to go after to try and retrieve it, and will head to the best areas of the ice to get a scoring chance off.
My issue with this kind of description is what it is not stating. Nothing in particular about how he skates or shoots or develops offense or plays defense or anything. He works hard. He has a lot of energy. He can go to good scoring areas. Those are nice to have but they are not actually talents. Especially to take in the first round when other players who were available can do those things and more.
I am a bit more encouraged by Ben Kerr’s profile of the player at Last Word on Hockey. There, Kerr praises his skating. But he also hits on why I think he was picked at all. Quote from Kerr:
Stillman plays a power forward style. He loves to drive the net, both with and without the puck. Stillman can finish when he gets there with the soft hands to make a move and get the puck over the goalie as well the hand-eye coordination for deflections and pounce on rebounds. He gets in on the forecheck quickly, pressuring defenders into mistakes and gaining control of the puck. Stillman is a real pest.
And supporting this assertion, here is Brock Otten’s take on Stillman. He ranked him 6th (3 spots behind the available Francesco Pinelli) among the OHL draft eligible based players this year:
How can you not love the energy and physicality that Stillman brings to the ice? Much like his brother Riley (a former OHL Champion with Hamilton), Chase just lives for the big hit and to make his presence felt physically. This is most effective on the forecheck where he forces a lot of turnovers through big hits or his very presence and ability to rush decisions. Defenders certainly know when he is on the ice. I think a big part of why Stillman was able to take his game to another level this year is his improved speed and quickness. By adding more of a speed element to his game, he has been able to play that physical role more consistently, without the fear of taking himself out of the play. Additionally, that speed is allowing him to be someone who can lead the attack in transition and not just follow. One thing that I really look for in wingers like Stillman is their ability to make reads and passes in the offensive zone to get the most out of their puck touches. Stillman is not the most creative player or the most skilled player on the ice. However, he really takes care of the puck in the offensive zone and is the perfect complimentary piece because of it. He is low maintenance, but effective none the less. Two factors will determine whether Stillman becomes a fourth liner or a high end middle six player at the NHL. The first is his shot and confidence in it. Too often does he hesitate or look to pass first, and his ability to catch and release under pressure is currently not up to par. Given the kind of game he plays, he is going to make his living near the net and in the slot. He is going to get his share of scoring chances. He just needs to bury more of them. The second is his ability to receive passes and maintain possession at full speed. A faster player without the puck than with it, Stillman’s ability to improve the finer component of his dynamic puck control will be key for him. But I am very happy if I can add Stillman to my stable of prospects in the second round as he destined to be a fan favourite and the type of kid who will help you win playoff games.
Yep. He can go hard to the net. He can be a “power forward.” He may have that proverbial “jam” and “toughness” and other things that really do not make a good hockey team any better. Sure, I get that style of hockey is entertaining. But for a first round pick? Who, per Kerr’s profile and Otten’s summary of the player, needs a lot more seasoning and work on his shot? And that his upside is somewhere between the middle of the forward lineup and the fourth line? When other, more talented players who can be just as “in your face” were available? Especially Nikita Chibrikov, who could fit this role and has a lot more to offer than Stillman? I am baffled.
And, here’s the thing, Stillman is not even particularly large. With an official height of 6’1” and 183 pounds, you cannot even say that he’s a big forward that is big and it is so important to be big and shut up if you do not like bigness what is a matter of you for questioning the unteachable thing that is being big. He is not small, but Stillman is not big. The Devils took a not-big potential “power forward.” Swell.
There is some hope to be had here. After all, the OHL didn’t have a season in 2020-21. Stillman did have a good rookie season in 2019-20 (he was on the All-Rookie team). He did make a stacked Team Canada for the World U-18s. Should he get with Sudbury and show off an improved shot, a more complete game, and plays like of the Wolves’ leaders (and it would be nice if he made the WJCs for Canada too), then I think a lot of us (myself included) may feel better about this selection. Still, this was a reach of a pick. This was not a Tyler-Boucher-at-10th-overall reach. And they did not bring shame to themselves like selecting a player who asked not to be drafted due to his crimes like Montreal did. But being a better pick than those two does not make this one good. In my view, this pick certainly was not for the best player available.
Clearly, Fitzgerald, Castron, and the scouts saw something they fell in love with here. I think it may be the apparent toughness, which continues to be something highly overrated in this league (see: Boucher at 10th overall, what Our Hated Rivals have done this week prior to the draft and taking Brennan Othmann at 16, etc.). Again, I hope for their sake and Stillman’s sake and the team’s sake that he actually becomes a NHL player. And that they do not regret passing on Stankoven, Chibrikov (who, again, can be a pest with offensive skills), Robertsson, Pinelli, and so forth. It is possible. Ultimately, I’m underwhelmed by this selection. I am not a fan of it at this moment.
Still, I welcome Chase Stillman to the organization and I wish him the best despite my apparent doubts. Please prove me wrong and prove Fitzgerald, Castron, and the scouting staff correct.
Now I want to know what you think. What do you think of the Devils selecting Chase Stillman? Are you still trying to learn who he is? I do not have an option in our initial reaction poll for “I wish they traded the pick,” but you can leave that opinion in the comments. Please also vote in the poll with its actual options for Sunday’s summary of what you all thought of this selection and the draft as a whole. Thank you for reading.
The Devils drafted Chase Stillman at 29th Overall. What do you think of the pick?
This poll is closed
I love it!
I like the pick.
I don’t know / I’m in the middle.
I don’t like the pick.
I hate it!