Once again, the People Who Matter will be paying attention to the NHL Draft Lottery. The New Jersey Devils will be involved as the 2022 NHL Draft Lottery will be held in the evening of May 10, 2022. Later in the month, we will begin profiling prospects for the 2022 NHL Draft, which will be held on July 7 and 8. We will look at these prospects of the future, come up with opinions based on what we read and see of them, and hope to identify a group of players we want the New Jersey Devils to pick or not pick. The majority of the prospects who will be picked in July are 17 or 18 year old men. We will then judge how the team has done either positively, negatively, or somewhere in the middle.
For the most part, due to their age and the reality of prospect development, it is not really fair to cast full judgment about a prospect or a draft class as a whole until some time has passed. The rule of thumb I have used is five years. That allows for enough time for a prospect to finish playing at their level (juniors, college, international pro), possibly get into North American pro hockey, and perhaps break into the NHL. Even if they have not broken through, we have a better idea of what kind of player they may be in the near future. We can demonstrate that by looking back at the players the Devils selected in the 2017 NHL Draft. A class best known for the Devils having their first ever first overall selection in New Jersey’s history. That class that is now five years old. Let us look at how they are doing.
The Devils’ 2017 Draft Class - A Summary
The Picks: The Devils selected eleven players, the most since 2002. As per HockeyDB, they were:
- First round, 1st overall - Nico Hischier, C, Halifax (QMJHL)
- Second round, 36nd overall - Jesper Boqvist, C, Brynäs IF (SHL)
- Third round, 63rd overall - Fabian Zetterlund, LW, Färjestad BK (SHL)
- Third round, 81st overall - Reilly Walsh, D, Chicago (USHL)
- Fourth round, 98th overall - Nikita Popugaev, Prince George (WHL)
- Fifth round, 129th overall - Gilles Senn, G, HC Davos (NL)
- Fifth round, 143rd overall - Marian Studenic, RW, Hamilton (OHL)
- Sixth round, 160th overall - Aarne Talvitie, C, Blues U-20 (U20 SM-Liiga)
- Seventh round, 191st overall - Jocktan Chainey, D, Halifax (QMJHL)
- Seventh round, 205th overall - Yegor Zaitsev, D, Dynamo Moscow (KHL)
- Seventh round, 214th overall - Matthew Hellickson, D, Sioux City (USHL)
Out of 217 players selected, 91 have played at least one NHL game as of April 29, 2022. Six of the eleven picked by New Jersey have made at least one NHL appearance.
The Initial Reaction Back in 2017: I liked the draft class back in 2017 after it was selected, except for the Senn selection. I noted how it was a very European draft class with eight out of eleven picks being born across the Atlantic Ocean. I also noted how it was a group of prospects then praised for their speed and hands - very much in line with the “fast, attacking, and supportive” phrase under Ray Shero’s reign. I did note that the defensemen selected were mostly for quantity in the system than quality, too.
You, the People Who Matter, also liked the 2017 draft class. The individual polls reacting to each pick were positive, with the collective votes loving the Hischier, Popugaev, Chainey, and Zaitsev selections. The only non-positive results were for Senn and Hellickson, and both finished with “ I’m in the middle on the selection/I don’t know” leading the way.
Selection by Selection Review
Nico Hischier - 1st Overall, 1st Round
Our Post About the Selection: I loved it.
Since 2017...: You know the story. After the Devils won the 2017 NHL Draft Lottery ahead of Philadelphia, there were weeks of debate between Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick. The Devils chose Nico. Since then, he has been in New Jersey. Hischier made the New Jersey roster immediately. He primarily rode with Taylor Hall in Hall’s MVP season, locking Hischier as the team’s top center. Since then, he has been the team’s top center until 2021. The 2021 season saw Hischier miss most of the season due to injuries. In this past season, it could be argued Hischier was the team’s second center when Jack Hughes was in the lineup. But since Hughes also missed a significant part of 2021-22, Hischier was again the main center. Hischier arguably had his best season yet as a Devil as the 23-year old set career highs in points while being one of the few silver linings in a dark, dismal season.
Even with that situation yet to resolve itself, Hischier’s importance on the team can not be understated. He plays a lot in 5-on-5, he contributes in all three zones, he plays without fear, he draws calls while not taking many himself, he can and does play in all situations, and he has been the team’s captain since 2021. Hischier is a key player in New Jersey. The Devils signed him to a huge seven-season extension worth $50.75 million back in October 2019. (That is a cap hit of $7.25 million through 2027.) Hischier is one of the core players of this franchise for this decade. He is also entering the peak years of his career if he is not already there. So if you enjoyed his 2021-22 - and you probably did - then you’re going to enjoy the next several seasons from the Captain.
The Conclusion: Nico Hischier became a first-line center right after the draft and has been an important player for the team before he even turned 21. When you select someone high in the first round, being a critical part of the team’s roster is what one would expect the player to become one day. Hischier was a very good choice for first overall. And way, way, way better than Nolan Patrick, whose injury-riddled junior career led to an injury-riddled pro career.
With the Benefit of Hindsight: I loved this pick then in 2017. And it was absolutely the right pick for the Devils to make. This is where things get a little controversial, so bear with me for a moment.
It is easy to say now, in 2022, that Hischier is not the best player in the 2017 draft class. I can actually agree with that. Fifth overall pick Elias Pettersson, who has 221 total points, has more than Hischier’s 207. Fourth overall pick Cale Makar is defining what it means to be an offensive defenseman in today’s game whilst managing a point-per-game average in his career. Jason Robertson has shown he should have gone a lot sooner than 36nd overall, which is where Dallas took him in the second round. Dallas’ first round pick in 2017, Miro Heiskanen, has been their best defenseman almost right away. If you did a re-draft of 2017, then I can agree that Hischier would not likely go first overall again.
However, I need to make it very clear that does not mean the Devils made a bad choice. Back in 2017, nobody was really stumping for Makar, Pettersson, and definitely not Robertson for first overall. The storyline for 2017 was Nico Vs. Nolan. We did a roundtable discussion about it. Our own mock draft pick was for Hischier, but even that was not an easy decision. I do a round up of mock drafts that I see around in the Internet from enthusiast to publication alike. I found 27 and 26 of them either had Patrick or Hischier with only one going off the board with Heiskanen. As much as Makar, Pettersson, Heiskanen (and Lias Andersson and Cody Class too) were touted, the 2017 draft expectation for first overall was a two-player race. It was either to be the riser from the draft class, Nico Hischier, or the favorite from the beginning of the 2016-17 season, Nolan Patrick. That was what expected from fan, expert, and media alike. That was the decision to be made. And so it was.
This is a long way of saying that Hischier was the right choice, even if he is not the definitively best player in the 2017 NHL Draft class. Which is common in NHL Draft history. The Devils still got a #1 center at #1. They did more than just fine at first overall.
Jesper Boqvist - 36nd Overall, 2nd Round
Our Post About the Selection: In our post about the pick, Boqvist was described as a speedy offensive player with a bit of risk about whether he would make it.
Since 2017...: Jesper Boqvist spent the 2017-18 season splitting time with Brynäs’ U-20 team and their main team in the SHL. In 2018-19, he stuck in the SHL and dropped 13 goals and 35 points in 51 games. He also received an entry level contract in June 2019 and made the move to the AHL. Boqvist ended up spending more time in the NHL than the AHL with 35 games with New Jersey and 19 games with Binghamton. Boqvist was loaned to Timrå of the Hockey Allsvenskan during the pandemic before returning to the Devils, playing in 28 games in 2021 and just eight with Binghamton. In this past season, Boqvist only spent a small bit of time with Utica as he got into 56 games with the Devils.
It is a bit hard to grasp that Boqvist actually finished his third season of primarily playing in the NHL. This is mostly because Boqvist was not good in his first two stints with New Jersey. He put up just four goals in 35 games in 2019-20. In 2021, he put up four goals and three assists in 28 games. Boqvist almost exclusively played 5-on-5 hockey and put up rather bad on-ice rates per Natural Stat Trick. His AHL time was short but always productive. Boqvist looked more like a tweener or a “Quad-A” player. Someone who was too good for the AHL but not good enough to make an impact in the NHL.
This past season was a revelation for the Swedish forward. The 23-year old had a much better campaign. In terms of production, he put up . More than points, he more shots (71), shot attempts (126), and scoring chances (70, 34 at high danger) than his previous two seasons. It is true that his rates in those categories did not change much, but he was able to hit those highs by playing well enough to average about 12 minutes per game and in 56 games as opposed to 9-10 minutes from his first two stays in New Jersey. The on-ice rate stats from Natural Stat Trick show that as well. His CF% finished just below 49%, a big jump from the 45% range from his first two seasons. His SF% shot up from a 43-45% range to 48%. His xGF% soared from a really bad 38.6% in his rookie season and a still very bad 41.6% in his sophomore season to a far more acceptable 48.2% in this past season. The larger point is that there is substance to Boqvist’s perceived improvement in 2021-22. He has been using his speed more often to get by players and having his hands keep up with his skates. I would like to think we are now seeing what scouts and enthusiasts saw in him back in 2017. It may be enough to secure him as a New Jersey Devil being in the lineup on merit as opposed to needing to fill in a roster spot.
The Conclusion: Boqvist is 23, so he is pretty close to being a “What you see is what you get player.” I do not think it is likely that Boqvist grows more and more as a player. We could see more production as he could secure a tertiary scoring line. For a high second round pick, this could be seen as a disappointment of sorts. And it is possible that his 2021-22 season was more fortunate than a breakthrough. But I want to believe it was a breakthrough season after two straight seasons of not doing a whole lot. At a minimum, his 2021-22 season may have salvaged the selection. By way of Boqvist being a legitimate NHL player the pick was not a miss.
With the Benefit of Hindsight: When I wrote up the Boqvist pick, I included this near the end:
Boqvist’s speed and his offensive skillset certainly falls in line with a philosophy of “fast, attacking, and supportive.” I would have been just as fine with Jared Anderson-Dolan or Jason Robertson, too. But I think this pick was a good one for New Jersey.
Jaret Anderson-Dolan went 41st overall to Los Angeles. He has yet to fully establish himself in the NHL. Even after 34 games in the 2021 season, he just had 7 in the NHL in 2021-22 and played 54 for their AHL affiliate in Ontario, California. I think it is fair to say that Boqvist is doing better than Anderson-Dolan. Not so much for the other guy. Jason Robertson went 39th overall to Dallas. He has 125 points in 128 season games with Dallas, put up a 41-goal, 74-point season in his second NHL season, and he is their cornerstone forward for the future. In a word: Woah. Again, if you did a re-draft of 2017, then Robertson is a top ten pick. That was a miss. Not too many out of the second round of 2017 have really broke through. Maybe Maxime Comtois. Maybe Alex Formenton, if you believe he broke through in 2021-22. Maybe if you’re a fan of Eeru Luostarinen (drafted by Carolina, now with Florida), Mario Ferraro (with San Jose) or Alexandre Texier? I think the Devils did OK with Boqvist. They can join all the teams who did not pick Robertson earlier to lament that one.
Fabian Zetterlund - 63rd Overall, 3rd Round
Our Post About the Selection: In our post about the pick, Zetterlund was highlighted for being a shooter and primarily a goal scorer. I liked the pick but I was concerned with a lack of defensemen picked at the time.
Since 2017...: Fabian Zetterlund’s post-draft career has not been a smooth journey. After his fantastic U-20 season with Färjestad, he spent most of 2017-18 with their SHL team. His brief time with their U-20 team (5 games, 5 goals, 6 points) and a loan to Timra was more productive than his 7 points in 35 games. His 2018-19 season was marred by a knee injury. He was limited to 16 SHL games, wherein he scored just two goals and put up four points. He pushed his way to play at the WJCs for Sweden, but had surgery in January. The Devils signed him to an ELC in May 2019. Between recovery and acclimating to the AHL, Zetterlund put up eight goals and 19 points in 46 games. In 2020-21, he was loaned to AIK to play during the pandemic, returning to Binghamton for 34 games wherein he produced about the same. In 2021-22, Zetterlund began to shine. He played a crucial role in Utica’s offense, scoring 24 goals and 52 points in 58 games. Zetterlund earned a call up for three games in the first half of the season, which did not go well. He got a second call up in the lame duck month of April. Zetterlund was not only productive with three goals (including the last one of the 2021-22 season) and five assists in 11 games (even off the puck), but he earned more ice time up in the lineup and was legitimately impressive. Enough to be the AAtJ Devil of the Month of April 2022. Now he is back with the Comets as part of their Calder Cup campaign. Zetterlund will need a new contract this Summer, but I would pencil the Swole Swede in for New Jersey in 2022-23.
The Conclusion: For third round picks and beyond, the hope becomes more or less whether the drafted player becomes any kind of NHL player. For Zetterlund, it was looking like the talent he demonstrated in his draft year was going to be undercut in someway. Whether it was due to injury, not figuring it out at the next level, or something else. To that end, I am very happy with how he did in 2021-22 both with Utica and in April with New Jersey. I am hopeful that Zetterlund can fly down the wing in games that may mean something as opposed to a meaningless month. He certainly did not play in April like it did not matter. Should he stick around, that makes another NHL player from this draft class. And that is quite fine for a third round pick.
With the Benefit of Hindsight: While I was beginning to worry about the Devils avoiding the blueline with their picks, history has shown that has yet to bear out. Not too many players have even played 10 or more games from the third round in 2017. Morgan Geekie is the games played leader with 111 (and points leader with 35), which is largely thanks to playing 73 with Seattle last season. Mackenzie Entwistle just finished his first season of primarily playing in the NHL with Chicago. I am not sure what Jonas Rondbjerg will be with Las Vegas yet. Those are all forwards. The only defender with more than 10 games played in this round was Cale Fleury. Who played 41 with Montreal in 2019-20, stayed in the AHL since then, and appeared in just 9 games with Seattle in 2021-22. Not cracking Seattle’s lineup with any regularly is not exactly encouraging. The best player in this round may end up being goaltender Stuart Skinner, who was Edmonton’s best goalie at one point in this season and is currently killing it for Bakersfield in the AHL. And that is just among the third rounders. The fourth round selections of Drake Batherson (namely him), Jeremy Swayman, Emil Bemstrom, and Michael Anderson would have been huge hits if made here, but not even their respective teams picked them in the third round. This is a lot to say, the Devils getting anything out of Zetterlund and their other third round would put them well ahead of the rest of the league. So far, it looks like this was an OK pick. There was not anyone in particular I wanted other than an unnamed defenseman at the time.
Reilly Walsh - 81st Overall, 3rd Round
Our Post About the Selection: Brian wrote up this one and he was pleased with the pick. Not only because Walsh is a defenseman, but because Walsh’s skating was seen as an asset and he could get the development he would need in college.
Since 2017...: Reilly Walsh went from winning a Clark Cup with Chicago of the USHL to going to the Harvard Crimson. Given how some players from that school eschewed the team that drafted them and went to free agency, there was some concern about whether the Devils could keep Walsh. Especially after he made the ECAC All-Rookie team in 2017-18 and the conference’s Third All-Star Team in 2018-19 as a sophomore. The Devils ensured he would be a Devil by signing him to an entry level contract on August 2020. Likely helped by the Ivy League schools cancelling all Fall sports for 2020. When the AHL had their 2021 season, Walsh played in 33 games for Binghamton and put up 15 points. Walsh spent almost all of 2021-22 with Utica. His production took a big leap with 43 points in 70 games - sixth among all defensmen in the AHL in 2021-22. Walsh did well enough to get a call-up late in the season. He only played in one game, picked up an assist, and has since been returned to Utica for their playoff run. Walsh has one more season left on his entry level contract.
The Conclusion: Again, the hope for a pick from this round onward is whether they become a player or not. Even after five years, the jury is still out on that. On the one hand, it is a little concerning that the Devils opted to call up and play Colton White, Kevin Bahl, and Nikita Okhotiuk more than Walsh in this past season instead of giving him a longer look. On the other hand, the AHL seasoning has done him quite well in refining his game at the pro level. As the Devils’ blueline has not had many gaps in it, the opportunities for Walsh just were not there. Walsh is not getting any younger, but I do think there is a shot that he can be a NHL-caliber player. He just needs a shot. Maybe he gets it from training camp this Fall. Maybe he gets it during 2022-23. Maybe he gets it somewhere else. So far, it is not a bad third round pick at all - and miles better than the worst one I can remember in recent memory.
With the Benefit of Hindsight: See the Zetterlund section. Goalie Stuart Skinner may end up being the class of the third round. Others are still just breaking through - Geekie, Entwhistle - and a few more are showing signs of it, like Zetterlund. Walsh and his one game played puts him ahead of most of the third rounders. The fourth rounders like Drake Batherson (namely him), Jeremy Swayman, Emil Bemstrom, and Michael Anderson would have been huge hits if made here, but not even their respective teams picked them in the third round. If he gets more, then the pick looks better relative to the rest of the group in 2017.
Nikita Popugaev - 98th Overall, 4th Round
Our Post About the Selection: There were concerns about a player like Nikita Popugaev. While he showed some real flashes of talent, his performances in Prince Albert showed questions about effort, skating, and defense. I liked the pick given where it was made anyway. If you’re going to take a project, then why not in the middle rounds of the draft? Others liked it based on those earlier flashes with Moose Jaw too.
Since 2017...: Popugaev’s time with Moose Jaw - the time when scouts really liked him - was the peak of his career. Since the trade to Prince George, he has fallen off. Since being drafted, he has played for a lot of different organizations. In 2017-18: Prince George, CSKA Moscow of the KHL, Zvezda Chekov of the VHL, and Krasnaya Armiya Moskva of the MHL. In 2018-19: Krasnaya, Amur Khabarovsk of the KHL, Amurskie Tigry Khabarovsky of the MHL, and the Binghamton Devils of the AHL (3 goals, 5 points, 17 games). In 2019-20, he played for just the Adirondack Thunder in the ECHL; he put up nine goals and 25 points in 47 games. In 2020-21, he suited up for Dynamo Moscow of the KHL, Dynamo Krasnogorsk of the VHL, and Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk of the KHL. For those who lost count, that is 12 different teams - albeit a good chunk of them were affiliates (the VHL and MHL teams; Adirondack is Binghamton’s ECHL . The 2020-21 season would be Popugaev’s last in hockey. He decided to become an influencer and made that announcement by a video of lighting his hockey equipment on fire.
If you want more of the Popugaev story, this October 2021 article at The Athletic ($) goes into it. All the same, Popugaev is done with hockey.
The Conclusion: Clearly, the pick did not work out. The Devils took a chance on a project and, well, it went up in flames. It is disappointing, but it is what it is. Better to see a fourth round pick not work out than, say, a second round pick. Hopefully, Popugaev is happier now than he was when he was a pro hockey player.
With the Benefit of Hindsight: The fourth round of the 2017 draft has been more successful than I would have guessed. The pick right after Popugaev was defenseman Jacob Bryson, who has 111 games with Buffalo. Defenseman Michael Anderson went 103rd overall and completed his second NHL season with the Kings as well as playing in the playoffs. Emil Bemstrom has become a regular for Columbus in his 117 games. Scott Reedy has split time between the AHL and NHL in his second season after four with the University of Minnesota. Goaltender Jeremy Swayman made 41 appearances and made it a 1A/1B situation in Boston. The best in the round is clearly Ottawa’s Drake Batherson. He first made it in Ottawa in 2018-19 with 20 games, played in 145 games since then, has 97 career points, and put up 44 points in 46 games last season. At this point in the draft, everyone is a long shot to a degree. Alas, the Devils missed where others hit. I would not be too bothered by it; it is not like I had any preferred names to pick over Popugaev.
Gilles Senn - 129th Overall, 5th Round
Our Post About the Selection: This was one of the few picks I did not like at the time. For one, he was a goaltender. For another, the Devils really did not need another one in the system at the time as they had Schneider, Blackwood, Wedgewood, Kinkaid, Appleby, and Cormier. So they picked an overage (he was 21, so triple overage??) Swiss pro goalie because...the future? I did not quite get it.
Since 2017...: I have some egg on my face. Unlike Popugaev, Senn eventually did make it to a NHL game. Senn finished off his contract with HC Davos in 2017-18 and 2018-19 with spot appearances for the national team. Senn signed an entry level contract in April 2019. By then, the depth in the system cleared up for Senn to step right in. Kinkaid was traded for a pick that will be used this year. Appleby and Wedgewood were gone. Chad Johnson’s and Eddie Lack’s contract were ending. Akira Schmid was returning to the USHL then. Evan Cormier was still quite inexperienced at the pro level. Binghamton needed a goalie and Senn was a goalie with several seasons of pro experience. He jumped right into it with 27 games played with an overall save percentage of 90.1% in 2019-20. Due to injuries at the NHL level, Senn got the opportunity to play in two games for New Jersey. Senn’s second season was in 2021 with the shortened AHL season. He played in just 17 games and posted an overall save percentage of 89.5%. Senn’s time in North American pro hockey was done. He signed a three-season contract with HC Davos of the National League and has been there since.
The Conclusion: The Devils got more out of Senn than I think most expected. The overage pick was at least depth for the minor league team. The two NHL appearances are two more than most fifth rounders get any position. That said, the HC Davos starter was best suited in HC Davos and that was proven by his time with Binghamton. Not a big miss of a pick, but not a hit either.
With the Benefit of Hindsight: This may shock you, but there were not a lot of successful picks out of the fifth round of 2017. The Devils’ other fifth round selection was much more successful than the Senn pick. Three others come to mind. The first is Sebastian Aho. No, not the stud forward for Carolina; the depth defenseman for the Islanders. He has appeared in 61 games and contributed a total of 18 points since 2017-18. The second is Noah Cates, who got a shot to play for a really bad Philly team with nothing to play for this season and put up five goals and nine points in 16 games. The third is Jacob Peterson, who was picked by Dallas (what a draft class for Dallas!). Peterson made the jump to North American hockey this season from Sweden and has primarily played for Dallas with 12 goals and 17 points in 65 games. At least Senn has been in the NHL; which is a lot more than I can say for the most of the other fifth rounders - such as the two other goalies picked in it (Olle Eriksson Ek, Tomas Vomacka).
Marian Studenic - 143rd Overall, 5th Round
Our Post About the Selection: Brian wrote up this pick and he was pleased with this one too. The offensive skills Studenic showed in the OHL led him to believe that with some more mass and experience, he could be a contributor - even if he is a bit of a project.
Since 2017...: After his selection by New Jersey, Studenic returned to Hamilton of the OHL for another season. With 48 points in 62 season games, his point per game rate jumped from 0.51 in his draft season to 0.77 in 2017-18. Not a massive jump, but a sign of growth. The 15 playoff points in 21 playoff games did not hurt. The Devils were pleased so they signed him to an entry level contract in April 2018. Studenic joined the Binghamton Devils for 2018-19 and put up a modest 13-goal, 28-point rookie season in 64 games. Studenic also represented Slovakia at the international level, including putting up 5 points in 7 games at the 2019 World Championships. Studenic stuck with Binghamton for 2019-20 with 17 points in 37 games. During the pandemic, Studenic was loaned out to HC Slovan Bratislava, where he put up six goals and 15 points in 25 games. Did this get him going in terms of production upon returning? No, as he had just three goals and seven poitns in 22 games with Binghamton. But he did get his first taste of the NHL with eight games, a goal, and an assist in 2021. In this past season Studenic split time between Utica and New Jersey. With Utica, he seemingly figured out the production part with 10 points in 13 games. In New Jersey, Studenic was often in a depth role and so he contributed just one goal in 17 games. In February, the Devils needed to make room for a returning Dougie Hamilton. The team opted to put Studenic on waivers. He was claimed by Dallas. Since joining the Stars organization, Studenic has played in 16 games with Dallas where he has put up a goal and two assists.
The Conclusion: Studenic showed some good pace, but the offensive skills were left wanting at the next level. The AHL production in 2021-22 suggests he was figuring it out at that level. His games played in New Jersey showed a player who was picked on in the run of play and not really helping in pushing it in an offensive direction. In other words, someone struggling at the NHL level. His on-ice rates were better in Dallas, but he has also had some games with better players too. Maybe the change in scenery will work out in Studenic’s favor. I think Studenic was growing into possibly being a tweener - someone who could excel at the AHL level but only be trusted for spot duty at the NHL level. While that would be a disappointment for a 36th overall pick, it would be a success for someone picked 143rd overall. The pick worked out better than what most fifth rounders usually become.
With the Benefit of Hindsight: There are three players doing better than Studenic out of this fifth round. However, they were all picked before Studenic was in the fifth round. And no one in the sixth or seventh round really stands out unless you think very highly of Morgan Barron or Sasha Chmelevski. The pick was fine then and looks fine now.
Aarne Talvitie - 160th Overall, 6th Round
Our Post About the Selection: My post on the pick cited that he was a hard working forward who was great for Espoo Blues’ youth team and was bound for Penn State to play hockey. I questioned why he went so late, but I liked it. I also noted that the Devils have not had a successful pick out of Finland in franchise history; hoping that maybe Talvitie could reverse that curse.
Since 2017...: Talvitie quickly became a favorite among the People Who Matter as a prospect. He captained the U-20 team for Espoo and put up a staggering 34 goals and 58 points in 41 games in the U-20 SM-Liiga. When he made the jump to college hockey, he caught fire quickly with the Nittany Lions. He was productive (5 goals, 16 points in 17 games), he was making plays, and the performances were so good that Finland not only brought him to the 2019 WJCs but made him their captain. Talvitie put up four goals, three assists, and was named as one of the Top 3 players on the Gold Medal winning Finnish team. And that came at a cost. Talvitie left the Gold Medal final game with a significant knee injury; he would miss the remainder of the 2018-19 season. Since then, Talvitie’s impact with Penn State would not be the same. He put up 19 points in 30 games as a sophomore. As a junior, wearing an ‘A,’ he won the Big Ten Sportsmanship award as he put up seven goals and 13 points in 21 games. The Devils did sign him in March and given the shortened nature of the AHL season, Talvitie was able to play in 18 games for Binghamton. He put up just one goal and two assists. In 2021-22, Talvitie had his first full pro season. He did get into 68 games and put up 12 goals and 24 points. A modest amount as he finished tied for 57th in the AHL among all rookies last season. Talvitie has one more season left on his entry level contract.
The Conclusion: I cannot help but wonder how much the knee injury really derailed some of Talvitie’s prime development years. Sure, maybe he was just hot as a freshman and he was going to drop off a bit in his other two years in college. Then again, he was the captain for a major nation in the biggest U-20 annual tourney in the world, not only won Gold but was considered to be one of their top players. It is common in other sports where someone promising blows a knee or suffers a major injury and never meets it. Given that he is 23, I am not sure how much more Talvitie can really develop. Then again, as Boqvist, Zetterlund, and Studenic knows, one can grow into the AHL, get an opportunity for the NHL, and try to make the most of it. Compared with most sixth rounders, that I want to think still he has an outside shot at being more than an AHL player means I regard him more than most.
With the Benefit of Hindsight: The pickings are slim from the sixth round on in 2017. Like most drafts really. Sasha Chmelevski, picked at 185th overall, has 10 assists in 24 games with San Jose. Morgan Barron has played in 32 games for Winnipeg and Our Hated Rivals with a grand total of three goals and six points. Seventh rounder Wyatt Kalynuk played in 26 games for Chicago in 2021, put up four goals and five assists, and has largely spent this season with Rockford except for five pointless games with Chicago. Seventh rounder goalie Cayden Primeau played in 18 NHL games mostly not worth remembering. If Talvitie even plays a minute in the NHL, then the pick is immediately successful for its range. This is all to say that I do not think the Devils made a bad pick or that there was someone much more desirable at 160th overall. Because, with hindsight, there really was not.
Jocktan Chainey - 191st Overall, 7th Round
Our Post About the Selection: My post on the pick included the facts that he was Hischier’s teammate in Halifax, he was the defenseman on their power play, and he was one of the youngest prospects available in the 2017 NHL Draft.
Since 2017...: Chainey returned to Halifax for the 2017-18 season and seemingly went from strength to strength. 66 games played, 7 goals, and 40 points for the Mooseheads. Second (or third, Connor Moynihan is listed as a winger/defenseman) among blueliners on that team. 8 points in 9 playoff games for Halifax too. But Chainey’s 2018-19 season was set back by a significant injury that caused him to just play 32 games and put up just one goal and nine points. In the postseason, Halifax went all the way to the finals, only to lose to Rouyn-Noranda. Chainey played in 22 of 23 playoff games with just three goals and eight points. Halifax did make it to the Memorial Cup and Chainey played in four games with an assist. The massive drop in production seemingly came with a loss of his spot in Halifax’s lineup compared to his previous two seasons. The Devils opted to not sign him after the 2018-19 season. Chainey did not sign anywhere after then. He appears to be done with hockey. His profile at Elite Prospects lists him as “Retired.”
The Conclusion: The Chainey pick made some sense. The Devils needed to draft some defensemen and they did. Picking Hischier’s teammate was a nice move. His 2017-18 season suggests there could be more to come. But that 2018-19 season was really rough and it would end up being his last in hockey.
With the Benefit of Hindsight: Here is the list of all the 7th round drafted players in 2017 who were picked after Chainey that have even played just one game in the NHL: goaltender Dylan Ferguson (1 game for Las Vegas for 2017-18, has since been in the minors since.); Wyatt Kalynuk (21 games in 2021 for Chicago and 8 for Rockford, 5 for Chicago and 52 for Rockford in 2021-22); goaltender Cayden Primeau (18 games total, 12 in 2021-22 for Montreal, 33 for Laval); and Ivan Chekhovich (4 games in 2021 for San Jose; returned to Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo of the KHL for 2021-22). Hardly a list of great talent that the Devils just missed on. Not really much to complain about a seventh rounder not yielding anything for the organization.
Yegor Zaitsev - 205th Overall, 7th Round
Our Post About the Selection: Brian wrote up this pick. He noted that he was an overage selection out of Russia. While not massive, he apparently played massive and he already cracked through to the KHL with Dynamo Moscow. Not a bad player to take a late flyer on.
Since 2017...: The general rule of thumb is that young players often do not get significant minutes in Russian hockey. Zaitsev was no different. While he played primarily with Dynamo Moscow in 2017-18 (28 KHL games, 7 in the MHL), he averaged just 9:32 per game. Zaitsev did captain the Russian WJC team in 2018 and played an additional 11 games with the U-20 national team. As Zaitsev got older, he started getting more and more ice time with Dynamo. In this past season, he averaged 16:36 per game in the regular season and just shy of 18 minutes per game in the playoffs. The production never really bloomed as he has only scored more than 10 points just once (2019-20, 14 points in 58 games) and averages just over a shot per game. Zaitsev just turned 24; he may not have much runway left as a developing player. He signed a two-season extension with Dynamo Moscow back in April 2021, so he will not be out of contract until next season. Then he will be a month away from turning 25. Would the Devils opt to bring him over? Would he be interested? If so, could he really be anything more than a young veteran to help supplant Utica and do spot duty in the NHL similar to Vojtech Mozik and Yaroslav Dablenko of past seasons?
The Conclusion: Taking a flyer on an overage prospect overseas late in the seventh round is never a bad idea. I do not think it is a bad idea now. At least Zaitsev is playing a significant role on his KHL team. I have no idea whether there is any interest on either side about moving away from that though.
With the Benefit of Hindsight: You know that list of four players who were picked after Chainey that have played in at least one NHL game? Only one was picked after Zaitsev. And Chekhovich is back in the KHL now. The Devils really did not ignore anyone possibly better in making this pick.
Matt Hellickson - 214th Overall, 7th Round
Our Post About the Selection: This may shock you, but there was not a lot of readily available information about the last pick of the Devils’ 2017 draft class when I wrote up the pick. I noted that Hellickson was an overage defenseman with Sioux City of the USHL when he was picked and he was bound to go to Norte Dame. I also noted he did have some past experience with the United States National Team Developmental Program - he was part of the team that won bronze at the 2016 WJCs.
Since 2017...: Hellickson did indeed become a member of the Fighting Irish and had a successful four seasons in college. Hellickson was very much a defensive-minded defenseman playing for a program that was about the defense. He also has a number of accomplishments in his young career so far. He was a part of two Big Ten championships, named to the Honorable Mention All-Star Team for the Big Ten in 2019-20, and was named to the Senior Class All-Americans second team. Most surprisingly and impressively, he was also invited to play for the United States at the 2021 IIHF World Championships after his senior season ended. He played in 9 of 10 games for America and earned a Bronze Medal. Hellickson did sign an ATO to play with Binghamton for five games in 2021. However, he opted to sign a minor league deal with Toronto. He suited up for 26 games with the Marlies in the AHL and 13 games with Newfoundland, their ECHL affiliate, in 2021-22. His minor league contract will end after next season.
The Conclusion: Hellickson has done well for himself and continues to play minor pro hockey in North America. It may not be for the Devils organization, but this is more than what most selected do in the late rounds of the draft. Much less someone picked fourth from last.
With the Benefit of Hindsight: Unless you believe in Will Reilly, who has a NHL contract with Pittsburgh but never played beyond AHL hockey himself, none of the three players picked after Hellickson turned out to be a better decision. And, no, I am not going into the undrafted free agents beyond the 2017 draft to confirm this section. If you are mad that 214th overall did turn into a New Jersey Devils player, then you are too mad.
Five Years Later, Final Thoughts
This draft was going to be defined whoever was selected first overall by the New Jersey Devils. How could it not? It was the first first overall pick the Devils have had. The selection alone made team history. And Hischier became a top center for the team right away. If you want to argue that Cale Makar or Elias Pettersson have been better, then sure, I can even agree with that. But the choice in 2017 was between Hischier and Nolan Patrick. The Devils absolutely made the right choice between the two. In doing so, they secured a crucial position - a first/second line center - right away after the draft and for the next decade. The Hischier pick was a good one. A very good one. A crucial one.
The concern was that this draft class was on its way to look a lot like 2003 (Zach Parise) or 2004 (Travis Zajac) where the first pick turned out great and the rest of the class did not. Had I done this a year earlier, I would have been disappointed. This past season, disappointing as it was for the team, did provide a turnaround for the 2017 group. Boqvist seemingly figuring out the NHL game and being able to contribute more than just being a guy on the ice really helped salvage that second round selection. Zetterlund being healthy enough to shine for Utica and put in a great month of work in April made that pick look better. Walsh got a taste of the NHL. Marian Studenic did not contribute much in New Jersey but the fifth-rounder at least got to play in New Jersey and then played some more for Dallas. This is a whole lot better than Hischier being a core player whilst Boqvist struggled, Studenic was just a fill-in, and Gilles Senn got two games out of necessity a few years back. I would like to think that Boqvist and Zetterlund can be penciled in for spots on the New Jersey roster next season, and Walsh has an outside shot of being more than just the fourth called up defenseman. Getting three or four NHL players with the first four picks in a draft class is quite good in general. That is still possible. The 2017 draft class could age at least a little better in time.
Likewise, the late round misses from 2017 do not bother me much. Sure, it is not ideal to know that the fourth round project pick literally set his hockey life on fire to call it a career. Sure, it is easy to see Ottawa unearth Drake Batherson and make you wonder how come the Devils did not pick up on that. But that is in hindsight. There was nobody like Brayden Point falling in the 2017 draft for no good reason. The brief Senn cameo and Studenic getting into NHL games, even if it was not for much, is better than what most teams get out of their late round picks. If you want to be technical, Aarne Talvitie and Yegor Zaitsev could add to that one day, but expecting either to make it now is expecting quite a bit.
If there is a larger concern it is that only Hischier is the one pick that has turned out to be a player of significance. As much as I enjoyed watching Zetterlund last month, I struggle to think he will be a top two-line winger. His skillset is better suited for the middle of a lineup. Boqvist may have put the pieces together in his own game for this level, but again, I do not see him beyond a bottom two-line position unless he glows up late like Blake Coleman. Walsh may be a NHL defenseman one day but is he going to be one to play significant minutes? Studenic is seemingly that tweener - now for Dallas. I can appreciate that the Devils 2017 draft class yielded some potential NHL players but if the goal was to find players to build around, then the Devils only got one of those: Nico Hischier. Compared to say, Dallas, who picked up a top defenseman (Heiskanen), goaltender (Jake Oettinger), and forward (Robertson), it is not that impressive of a result.
Still, I liked the class then for what it could be. It did not turn out to be as valuable as the 2016 class ended up being for the Devils. I wish it could be a bit more than what it is, but it is not wholly bad on its own.
Now that you read through my look back at the Devils’ 2017 draft class, I want to know your take. How do you feel about how the Devils did in the 2017 NHL Draft? How have your thoughts changed about them compared to what they were five years ago? Do you expect Boqvist, Zetterlund, and Walsh to get bigger roles in the near future? How happy are you now that the Devils picked Nico over Nolan? What do you hope to read next year when I do the 2018 look back? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the Devils’ 2017 draft class in the comments. Thanks to HockeyDB and Elite Prospects for making this post possible. Thank you for reading.