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What You Initially Thought of the New Jersey Devils’ Picks at the 2021 NHL Draft

The New Jersey Devils made seven selections at the 2021 NHL Draft. This post looks at the results of the quick polls of each pick to gauge the fans’ initial reactions to who the Devils picked. The Luke Hughes pick was at least loved.

2021 NHL Draft - Round One
You know what I think of each pick. What do the People Who Matter think? Let us find out.
Photo by Andrew MacLean/NHLI via Getty Images

The 2021 NHL Draft is now fully in the rear-view mirror. As free agency will take the spotlight from this week onward in the NHL, it is time to take one last look back at how you all, the People Who Matter, initially reacted to how the New Jersey Devils did at this year’s draft. This year’s draft class was more challenging due to restrictions on viewing players, getting feedback, assessing performances, and, for many prospects, actually playing games in 2020-21. Still, there were prospects to be chosen, information was available for plenty of them, and reactions are never in short supply. You know what I think of the 2021 Devils’ draft as a whole. Now it is time to reveal how you collectively reacted to each pick.

As we have done for years now, we included a poll at the end of each post for each of the Devils’ seven draft picks made in the past two days. This poll would run for a short amount of time to collect the initial reactions from the readers - the People Who Matter. One did not need to be a commenter or a member to vote; they just needed read the site. This morning, I collected all of the results for the community reaction. Here are the results, pick by pick:

First Round, 4th Overall, Defenseman, Luke Hughes

The Post About the Pick: Here.

The Results: With 780 voters:

  • I love it! - 75%, 583 voters
  • I like the pick. - 19%, 151 voters
  • I don’t know / I’m in the middle - 4%, 34 voters
  • I don’t like the pick. - 1%, 7 voters
  • I hate it! - 1%, 5 voters

It should be no surprise that the vast majority of the people who participated in the poll loved the Luke Hughes selection. Fans at the Devils’ draft party, online, and elsewhere in the world were elated. The Big Deal, Jack Hughes, was elated. It was an expected pick and a smart one. As such, this was a clear winner as an initial reaction.

A Comment from the Post about the Pick: “If Devils hockey is your problem, we’re your solution. We’re the firm of Hughes & Hughes.” - NJ Devils’ Advocate

First Round, 29th Overall, Right Winger, Chase Stillman

The Post About the Pick: Here.

The Results: With 736 voters:

  • I love it! - 3%, 19 voters
  • I like the pick. - 17%, 125 voters
  • I don’t know / I’m in the middle - 38%, 278 voters
  • I don’t like the pick. - 31%, 229 voters
  • I hate it! - 12%, 85 voters

In a stark contrast to the Hughes pick, there were a lot more negative reactions to the Chase Stillman selection at 29th overall. While the comments section to the post was filled with people challenging my criticism (which I stand behind) and any “pundits” that follow prospects for a living, the poll results are telling. The most popular choice was uncertainty or being in the middle, followed not too far behind just not liking it. The “I hate it!” choice ended up being the second highest in terms of percentage of the poll across the whole draft class and the highest in raw voter count. While there are fans and increasingly ardent defenders of the pick, this tells me that the fanbase was more sour on it than they suggest.

A Comment from the Post about the Pick: “I think what people miss is that the draft isn’t about building a team. It’s about collecting the most valuable assets. You are given 7 lottery tickets every year and they should be spent on trying to find superstars, not role players. Always, always go BPA. And that wasn’t Chase Stillman.” - PA Devil

Third Round, 68th Overall, Center Samu Salminen

The Post About the Pick: Here.

The Results: With 269 voters:

  • I love it! - 14%, 37 voters
  • I like the pick. - 47%, 126 voters
  • I don’t know / I’m in the middle - 28%, 75 voters
  • I don’t like the pick. - 9%, 24 voters
  • I hate it! - 3%, 7 voters

As with past years, the polls for the picks made on the second day should be taken with increasing amounts of salt grains. They are not as widely known, more fans pay more attention to the first round picks, and so not as many people vote on them. That stated, among those that did, they generally liked the Samu Salminen selection. He has an offensive skillset, he was productive where he played in 2020-21, and he even had the beneficial intangible of being in a captain role on his teams. Salminen’s big issue is his skating. But if that can be improved, then maybe the Devils have someone here. The voters liked this swing.

A Comment from the Post about the Pick: “Good potential to be a 3C that can score goals and play the net front on the PP. Captaincy for the national U-18 team and assistant captaincy for his U-20 club is a nice feather in his cap.

It also sounds like he’s had a more recent growth spurt that may be contributing to the awkwardness of his skating stride.

Hopefully he works on his skating, dominates the U-20 league, and comes over and tears up college hockey. He’s a longer term project, but if he’s able to improve the skating it could unlock a lot of upside, because what he’s been able to do despite being a poor skater is pretty impressive. This is an upside pick.” - dr(d)evil

Fourth Round, 100th Overall, Goaltender Jakub Málek

The Post About the Pick: Here.

The Results: With 218 voters:

  • I love it! - 2%, 5 voters
  • I like the pick. - 7%, 16 voters
  • I don’t know / I’m in the middle - 37%, 80 voters
  • I don’t like the pick. - 35%, 77 voters
  • I hate it! - 18%, 40 voters

The tradition of selecting a goaltender on the second day of the draft has continued for the New Jersey Devils. This year’s goalie is the 19-year old Jakub Málek from the Czech second league. The initial reaction to this one is not positive. While he did well in that league in 2020-21, it is the Czech second league, he is an overage pick, and he was unranked by most services for two straight drafts. As much as a draft pick in the fourth round is a shot in the dark and goaltender evaluation carries its own variations, this was seen as a reach. Especially with other interesting options available at 100th overall. As a result, this pick garnered the most negative reaction proportional to the number of poll voters. Even more than the Stillman pick. I think a good number of Devils fans are still wondering who he even is and if he has a future.

A Comment from the Post about the Pick: “I think this was a poor value pick. Should have went with Bar, Del Mastro or Duke. This guy wasn’t even ranked. I think they could have snagged this guy in sixth or seventh if they liked him.” - jtclockwork

Fifth Round, 129th Overall, Defenseman Topias Vilén

The Post About the Pick: Here.

The Results: With 149 voters:

  • I love it! - 6%, 9 voters
  • I like the pick. - 72%, 107 voters
  • I don’t know / I’m in the middle - 17%, 26 voters
  • I don’t like the pick. - 3%, 5 voters
  • I hate it! - 1%, 2 voters

At this point in the draft, there are going to be fewer complaints about passing up on a particular prospect based on who was available (I can think of just one player here.) and any kind of pedigree would be seen as a positive. Topias Vilén does have that as being a Liiga defenseman last season and in a leadership role with Finland’s U-18 team at the World U-18 Championships - the same team that Salminen captained. The defensive-minded defender was well received by those who voted in the poll. Does this mean that the fanbase thinks he will have a future? Not necessarily. Were the fans super-happy about it? Not really. But they liked the selection as it was not a massive off-the-board pick or a total disregard of need. I see this is as a “This pick is OK with me” reaction.

A Comment from the Post about the Pick: “Its fine. I’m not going to complain about adding more defensemen. Would’ve preferred Bar or another RHD, but I think it might not be a great RHD draft and Vilen seems to be a consensus Top-100 ish prospect, so its fine.” - TheJRod2006

Sixth Round, 164th Overall, Defenseman Viktor Hurtig

The Post About the Pick: Here.

The Results: With 136 voters:

  • I love it! - 18%, 25 voters
  • I like the pick. - 49%, 67 voters
  • I don’t know / I’m in the middle - 29%, 39 voters
  • I don’t like the pick. - 2%, 3 voters
  • I hate it! - 1%, 2 voters

As Malek and Vilen were picked, there were some of the People Who Matter who wanted a right-shooting defenseman. They got that with Viktor Hurtig in the sixth round. Combined with the fact that he is a very large young man, I think the fans still paying attention at this point liked the selection. The poll reflects that. Again, it is the sixth round. Provided the player is not completely unknown, there is not going to be a lot to criticize or dislike.

A Comment from the Post about the Pick: “Finally, a right shot defenseman. I think he’ll make it, though he’s two to three years away. Good prospect.” - nkogen70

Seventh Round, 203rd Overall, Center/Right Winger Zakhar Bardakov

The Post About the Pick: Here.

The Results: With 115 voters:

  • I love it! - 23%, 26 voters
  • I like the pick. - 54%, 62 voters
  • I don’t know / I’m in the middle - 22%, 25 voters
  • I don’t like the pick. - 1%, 1 voter
  • I hate it! - 1%, 1 voter

The Devils ended their 2021 NHL Draft with the selection of Russian double-overage prospect Zakhar Bardakov. He is large at 6’3” and 198 pounds. He has been described as a “menace” in The Draft Analysts’ profile from their free 2021 NHL Draft Guide (linked in the post). He was a penalty machine in the MHL in his draft eligible and draft+1 seasons. But he was on less-penalized behavior as he spent the majority of 2020-21 in the KHL, he represented Russia at the World Junior Championships, and even played in three games with the national team. He was also traded to SKA St. Petersburg. This pick checks both the boxes of “Late pick that actually has done something at a non-obscure level” and the vocal Devils fans that desire physicality, size, and beef. Even if you do not think Bardakov has a future in North America, there is little reason to dislike this seventh round pick. So say the voters in this poll.

A Comment from the Post about the Pick: “Im ok with the pick - But those penalties…dayum. That’s…a lot haha.” - Do0msday

As always, time will tell whether the Devils’ 2021 NHL Draft class turns out to be a success or not. These initial poll results are generally positive because I think most fans understand that it is not really fair to state whether a 17-20 year old player is a failure or not. That stated, a team’s performance at the draft should also be judged on the context of the picks. Whether they picked good perceived value with their picks and the prospects they picked were justifiably better or at least as good as who else was available are also important factors. Of course, how the players perform will ultimately decide how successful the draft will be for a team. But it is still fair to gauge initial reactions from the fans rather than waiting for a more objective analysis that cannot be done for four to seven years from a draft.

I will say that I was surprised that the poll results for each pick align with my general feeling about the draft. Sure, I posted my summary last night with a little over two hours before polls closed, but the vast majority of votes in the poll were cast by the time that post went up. The Hughes pick was a smash hit in my eyes; I did not like the Stillman pick; and the remainder, well, I liked most of the picks but I was left feeling like they could have done better for some of them. These results falling kind of in line with that was not something I expected.

With that, I want to thank everyone who voted in each of the polls for each draft pick. Again, I want to thank everyone who visited All About the Jersey on Friday and Saturday. The next major event is Free Agency Frenzy, which will kick off at noon on Wednesday, July 28. Look for a Free Agency preview tomorrow morning to get ready for that. Please leave your reactions to these reactions in the comments. Thank you for reading.