The 2022 NHL Draft is this Thursday and Friday on July 7 and 8. The New Jersey Devils won the second overall pick at the 2022 NHL Draft Lottery. Regardless of what one thinks of this year’s draft class, that is a premium pick for any team to have. It is a pick where the player has to be a success. However, the perception and reality of the Devils is that they need to take an actual, legitimate, tangible step forward in 2022-23. It has led to plenty of chatter as to whether the Devils would move their first round pick (among others) for someone already developed to help them win more games now. There has been much to discuss for the much of the last months about the draft.
As such, I turned to the other writers at All About the Jersey for a roundtable discussion about the draft to collect the thoughts of the staff. I asked them the questions best related to this week’s event in Montreal and they gave me their answers.
Before going into all of that, I do want to re-visit the SB Nation mock draft pick. At the time I made the pick, it was a 3-3 tie wherein Brian and I picked Logan Cooley and I stated that the tiebreaker would be decided by either one of us. After the pick was posted, most of the staff ended up agreeing with many who commented and the majority of the votes in the poll in that post: that the preference was Juraj Slafkovsky. I only raise this now to reflect what was written in the roundtable, which was finalized on July 3. With that clarified, the roundtable.
1. The Devils are picking second overall in the 2022 NHL Draft. Who do you think the Devils should draft with that pick, and why?
John Fischer (JF): I think the Devils will draft Juraj Slafkovsky - but my choice would be Logan Cooley. Slafkovsky would be a fine pick and one I would be happy with. However, I think Slafkovsky’s mobility and how the Devils develop him may hold him back from what I think some think he could become. Cooley is a far better skater, a far quicker player, and someone who is constantly looking to create and attack. Such talents are hard to find and no matter what Tom Fitzgerald says about types of players, no team can ever have too much exceptional offensive talent among their forwards.
Jared Moore (JM): It’s close but I would take Slafkovsky over Cooley. I’m a big proponent of BPA [Best Player Available], and to me, I think you can argue he’s the best player in this class aside from Shane Wright. I think he’s the perfect combination of size, skill, and compete at winger that we need to compliment what we already have up front.
Chris Fieldhouse (CF): I’m torn between Slafkovsky, Nemec, and Cooley. I am not convinced any of them will be heads and shoulders above the other two. I’m also not convinced Wright is really that ahead of them either. I agree with the BPA premise, but sometimes BPA just feels like a matter of personal bias in this situation. Cooley had excellent USDP [United States Development Program] play, Nemec had a monster Slovakian playoffs and a great draft year overall. Slafkosvky is the outlier there, with more production from international play than in Liiga. But shouldn’t we consider tournament production against European league stars and NHLers?
Dan Rozel (DR): I’m riding with Juraj [Slafkovsky]. The Devils need a winger more than a center and a winger with size just feels more likely to suit what Fitzgerald has south these last few offseasons. He was dominant in international play and showed a doggedness for loose pucks that the Devils have rarely seen recently outside of Blake Coleman.
Brian Franken (BF): This was a tough choice for me to make as I also saw it come down between Slafkovsky, Cooley, and Nemec. I think you can make a reasonable argument for any of those three for the #2 spot. I agree with John in that I think Slafkovsky will end up being the pick and would make a fine selection. Personally, I’m taking Cooley since he’s a dynamic player with perhaps the most offensive upside in the draft. His skating, puck skills, and hockey IQ are some of the best in this draft class. His ability to play with pace and create space for himself and his teammates is off the charts. He may not fill a need as much as Slafkovsky or Nemec would, but I believe in taking the player with the highest upside and filling the roster with as much talent as possible. In this case, I think that player is Cooley.
Mike Stromberg (MS): I really don’t think they can necessarily go wrong without going way off board here as there is a raft of good options at #2. That said, maybe I’m getting whipped up in the same hype as many others but I would love to see Slafkovsky be the pick. He’s a unique package with the skill and the size, he’s seemingly destined to be a possession machine, and he has improved leaps and bounds in his age 17 season. His numbers in Liiga this year are not overly impressive in the aggregate, but a closer look shows that once he was in the league to stay following the Olympics, he was a different player than the first half of the year when he was bouncing between juniors and the men’s squad. His first 24 games in Liiga, he had 4 points, but his final 25, including regular season and playoffs, he put up 13 points. Add that to the big performances in the Olympics and World Championships and he had 29 points in his final 43 games across the Olympics, Liiga, and the World Championship.
Gerard Lionetti (GL): I have to agree with what some others have said before me in that there isn’t a clear cut number two choice (or even number one depending on who you ask) in this year’s draft. I’m hedging my bets on Slafkovsky even though I feel no matter who the Devils go with at #2, they wind up with at least a solid NHLer. I think Slaf just helps the Devils to diversify their forward group with more size, possession skill and hopefully goal scoring.
Matthew Crovo (MC): This is a very difficult choice between Cooley and Slafkovsky, but I’d go with Slafkovksy based on what I’ve seen and heard. Cooley is a great skater and has skill, but honestly I think Slafkovsky might have a higher upside. He has great hands, a great shot, he can pass, he can play defensively, he’s aggressive without some of the clearly awful mistakes that often come with aggression. The Devils will get a great player whether they take Slafkovsky, Cooley, Nemec, or Jiricek, so I’ll probably be happy no matter what happens.
Stephen Schnoor (SS): First, let me say that given Bob McKenzie’s final draft ranking I don’t think it’s by any means a given that Shane Wright goes first. But, if Montreal takes the center I lean Slafkovsky by a hair. Frankly, for the first time in a long time, I don’t really have a single player that I am dying for the Devils to take. I would prefer a forward because I think they are slightly more projectable than defensemen. I lean Slafkovsky because of his strong performance at international tournaments on NHL-sized ice as the guy for his country. He wasn’t just getting secondary assists and garbage goals but actually created offensively. I will admit the size/skill combo is tantalizing as well. I am concerned about his Liiga production, but he had enough of a sample size in international play to assuage those concerns…somewhat. Usually someone with Logan Cooley’s skill profile would be the slam dunk option for me, however comparing Cooley to someone like Clayton Keller, who put up 107 points in 62 games in his draft year and I’m left a little wanting by Cooley’s season for the program.
2. What is the main trait about your choice for second overall that makes him a better prospect than the rest of the field at second overall?
JF: Cooley has been constantly putting pucks in dangerous locations with the USNTDP. Will Scouch tracked this in his video on the player and when he’s impressed with how many times he moved the puck into scoring chance areas either by himself or in passing, then that’s something to really appreciate. It is also something special that will make him be a contributor in pro hockey for many, many years.
JM: I can’t help but be impressed with what Slafkovsky did at major international tournaments this year. I get that NHL players weren’t at the Olympics, but 7 goals in 7 games is notable, and he did follow it up with a strong performance at the World Championships where he was going up against NHL-caliber talent.
CF: I think I’d call it killer instinct. Cooley has it too, but seeing Slafkovsky carve up professional competition at the World Championships was something else. The Devils need more of that.
DR: The ability to perform in any situation. Pick a tournament, he did well. It seems like his game is translatable and the size certainly doesn’t hurt.
BF: Cooley’s skating stands out to me the most when I look at his game. He does well with and without the puck to manipulate defenders and open space on the ice so he can create a shot for himself or scoring chance for his teammates. His skating allows him to make plays at a high pace and be an offensive threat.
GL: I’m also going to go with Slafkovsky’s play in tournaments, specifically at the World Championships. Performing well against that level of competition as an 18 year old bodes well for his ability to adapt to the NHL sooner rather than later.
MC: I’d say Slafkovsky’s best asset is his ability to protect the puck. Using his size and strength, he is great at getting into a shooting position on the ice without his opponent being able to knock the puck off his stick. He can also bide time for teammates or wait for an opening by protecting the puck along the boards. He can escape pressure on the boards or wait for seams using his size and skill, and it makes him a very fun player to watch, and also a very good prospect, which is why I would take him with pick #2.
SS: Slafkovsky’s standout skill to me is his ability to use his size effectively to protect the puck and create offense. He has a great shot, soft hands, and is an aggressive forechecker. By all reports he is very good defensively as well. The only things not to like are the Liiga production and the skating. And both appeared to be improving in the second half of the season.
3. Let’s say Shane Wright is not the first overall pick in 2022. Would you want the Devils to pick Wright over who you think they should pick? Why?
JF: Yes. Absolutely. I think very highly of Shane Wright. I understand the laments from scouts and prospect enthusiasts about his apparent less-than-impressive 2021-22 season. This is still a 1.5 point per game player whose best asset on the ice is not something easily identifiable. That asset is how he reads the game. It changes how he approaches situations and it comprises of a lot of the little things that are not apparent until it suddenly puts him on the scoresheet. It is the kind of thing that will have be a contributor in all three zones, which is the expectation for any big-minute player in today’s NHL. I think a player of Shane Wright’s caliber are hard to find as-is, the Devils should absolutely jump at the chance to get him if Montreal passes on him.
JM: If Montreal passes on Wright, the Devils should sprint to the podium and take him at #2 overall. I know critics will scoff at the Devils taking another center, but if you think this guy is the next Patrice Bergeron, how do you pass on him? Even if he’s only 85% of what Bergeron is, we’re talking about one of the great defensive forwards of our time and a first ballot Hall of Famer.
DR: Take him and don’t think twice about it. At the absolute worst, he’s a trade chip and at best, he frees up Mercer to play wing (where he was relatively successful alongside Hughes). Having three solid/good/great centers is the formula that won the Penguins their back-to-back cups in the late 2000s. Just need a goalie.
BF: I would draft Wright should he not be the first overall selection. It seems the fact that he’s been the expected top prospect from this draft for years now and has the potential to be an elite but not generational talent has led to some second-guessing of his status. The bottom line is that Wright is the best two-way forward in this year’s draft, can play in all situations, has the profile of a future All-Star, and at the very least has a high floor. I view him as the top prospect in this year’s class.
MS: I think it’s a pretty easy call to go ahead and take Wright if Montreal goes in a different direction, which is seeming more possible now after Bob MacKenzie released his final rankings with Slafkovsky unseating Wright for the top spot among the scouts polled there. This is another draft where there doesn’t really seem to be an obvious generational guy at the top, but Wright has been the expected #1 for a while for good reason. He probably has the fewest question marks of any of the group in this year’s top tier and while his scoring doesn’t scream 1OA [first overall] necessarily, he also blew all of his draft-eligible counterparts out of the water in OHL scoring rate and only got stronger as the year went on. .
MC: Yes. Wright was the #1 pick on every board up until recently for a reason. The models love him and the large majority of people who know what they’re talking about say he should go #1.
GL: I think if a player who is seen as the consensus top choice for almost the entirety of the time leading up to their draft slips from that spot because the team drafting first goes in another direction, there should be zero hesitation to go and grab that player. If Shane Wright is still there, go to the podium, choose him, and sort everything else out with the roster at a later date.
SS: Yes. I think Wright’s lack of dominance has people thinking he’s the next Nolan Patrick, but Patrick’s career has been hampered by injuries that were already a concern when he was drafted. This isn’t the case for Wright. I think it’d be a mistake to pass on Wright just because the Devils already have Hischier and Hughes.
4. Which player should the Devils avoid selecting at second overall and why?
JF: This is a bit of a long shot, but Cutter Gauthier’s name kept coming up in posts by the Devils during the combine along with Slafkovsky, Wright, Cooley, Nemec, and Jiricek. That makes me concerned that they think of Gauthier more highly than they should. It is not that Gauthier is a bad prospect or anything. He is large, has a good shot, and a projectable game to the NHL level. But he is not even the best prospect (or second or third best, in my opinion) on his own team, the USNTDP [United States National Team Development Program]. If the Devils are not able to get Slafkovsky and Fitzgerald is too enamored by Gauthier’s large frame, then the Devils need to trade down. I highly doubt this will happen, though.
JM: I don’t know if avoid is the right word, but I have Slafkovsky slightly over Cooley and then the two right-handed defensemen behind them. And it should be noted how much Tom Fitzgerald has said that quality RHD [right hand defensemen] don’t grow on trees. I would understand if he took Jiricek or Nemec since he essentially has his pick of the entire draft class once Montreal takes Wright. I just believe that he’ll have a hard time passing on Slafkovsky. As long as Fitz doesn’t do something silly like taking a third-round rated talent late in the first round (hi, Chase Stillman), I think its tough to mess this one up.
CF: I would not draft David Jiricek. I only say him because I think he’s one of the only other guys who Fitz might pick, but I would not touch that knee injury.
DR: Anyone not named Cooley, Slafkovsky, or Wright if available. Don’t overthink it. If that’s the plan, you may as well trade the pick for a controllable asset and get who you want farther down.
BF: I would have to say David Jiricek though that’s not so much as a knock against him as it is that I view Wright, Cooley, Slafkovsky, and Nemec as players with higher ceilings. He’s still a tremendous prospect but not one that I am overly excited to take at the #2 spot given the other players available.
MC: There are several great players available at the top of this draft. The only losing move is to not pick one of them. Just don’t go off the board and I’m happy.
GL: As long as Fitz doesn’t go outside of that first group of players that are projected to go after Wright (Slafkovsky, Cooley, Nemec and Jiricek) then I don’t think I’ll be disappointed in his choice.
SS: I wouldn’t be as thrilled with the Devils taking a defensemen, but it’s not a fireable offense in this year’s draft. John mentioned Gauthier’s name, and I agree that would be infuriating, but I also don’t think that’s a realistic scenario.
5. The possibility of the Devils trading the second overall pick is there this year. If you’re Tom Fitzgerald, then would you want him to move the pick?
JF: I would not want him to move it because I do not think he is going to get the value he should get for second overall. Had the Devils ended up at fifth or sixth overall, then that is a different story. Once the lottery card flipped for the Devils, then my opinion about moving the pick changed. He should at least listen to whatever calls he may get on his phone, which I hope is working now.
JM: I have a hard time envisioning a scenario where Tom Fitzgerald trades the #2 pick and comes out of it winning the trade. Trading down makes little sense, so unless he’s getting 5+ years of a young, elite controllable goaltender or top pairing defenseman, I don’t see what he’s moving the pick for that makes sense.
CF: I think our conception of trading the number two pick is a bit skewed by nonsense on social media. It should be a steep price to move that pick, and I would be open to trading the pick in the right circumstance. Whether the situation actually arises is a different story. Focus on the Draft, first and foremost. Anything else is noise right now.
DR: No. If they hadn’t won the lottery, then yes. But in this draft where there seems to be a significant dropoff at a certain point, the safer bet is to make this pick and trust your stellar team in Utica right now with this player’s development. It seems to be going OK for [Alexander] Holtz.
BF: I think you should always be open to entertaining offers for an asset like that but it would take a huge return to make it worth it. I can’t see a team paying (or overpaying) the price to make it worth it for Fitzgerald to move the pick. For what I think teams would realistically offer, I would rather Fitzgerald not trade the pick.
MC: I don’t think anyone offers something good enough to trade it. I’d keep the pick.
Nate Pilling (NP): I’d be fine with a trade if the Devils are getting back a stud player with some team control, but I’m not optimistic that Tom is going to find such a deal.
GL: As they get closer to being a competitive team again, the Devils will need some talented, young, cost-controlled players to supplement the roster around their established players. For a team that hasn’t won anything yet, moving a pick like this for a player who could cost you a lot of money without moving the needle of success would be a huge mistake. Keep the pick unless someone is offering a massive overpay of multiple cost-controllable assets.
SS: I don’t want Fitzgerald to move the pick, but he needs to do his homework and if he weren’t at least looking into the idea he wouldn’t be doing his job. That said, you have to balance the advantage of the incredible value a high-end player on an ELC [entry level contract] provides with the opportunity cost of having to wait for a few seasons to actually realize that value. If the right deal for the right player comes along, you have to consider it.
6. Let’s say Fitzgerald is going to look to move the pick. What, at a minimum, would make a deal work for you?
(JF Note: This question was asked and mostly answered before Kevin Fiala was traded to Los Angeles. Original answers are as follows.)
JF: It is a pipe dream, but someone like Quinn Hughes. A young player who can make an impact and has a contract already secured. Yes, Fiala or Meier may become available. There are teams with cap issues the Devils can (and should) exploit. But such players will need new contracts and they could probably had for a lot less than second overall. Unless Minnesota is willing to add Wallstedt to Fiala or San Jose adds, um, something plus Meier, then I would not entertain that. I would entertain requesting Quinn Hughes instead. He’s someone who has proven his worth - and his huge contract - in the NHL. His prime years are paid for. It makes the left side of the Devils defense significantly better (imagine a Q. Hughes-Hamilton pairing). This would also open up other moves to be made among the blueliners. It even has the bonus factor of making The Big Deal and Luke a little happier. Do I think Vancouver should or will do that? No. But Fitzgerald has the leverage in this situation. He should aim big in a deal or not at all if second overall is on the table.
JM: The list of players who could potentially be available where it’d make sense for the Devils is short. I’m talking “you can count them on one hand’” short. Maybe Matthew Tkachuk if he decides he wants out of Calgary for whatever reason and the Devils are willing to pay him long-term. Maybe Spencer Knight if Florida thinks they’re a Slafkovsky or Shane Wright away from winning a Cup the next two years? That’s about it. To me, Kevin Fiala, Timo Meier, Brock Boeser or Thatcher Demko aren’t enough to move the pick. You’re not getting Mo Seider, Cale Makar, Jason Robertson, Adam Fox, or Igor Shesterkin with that pick. I’d put the odds at 1% that Fitz actually trades the pick.
DR: Gimme Pastrnak for that one. Yes, I know it’ll take more than just the pick but it’s hard to argue that the Devils have anyone even close to his finishing ability on the roster let alone the pipeline.
CF: I agree with Dan. Pastrnak is probably the only guy I’d entertain - but it doesn’t even seem likely that Boston trades him given that they’re going to be talking extension in July. If he’s available, though: go for it.
BF: I would want a young star player that is under contract and team control for the foreseeable future. I don’t see a team offering a player like that for the #2 pick but I’m talking along the lines of Matthew Tkachuk, Quinn Hughes, Alex DeBrincat, etc. It would have to be a player that would immediately come in and produce while being a part of the long-term core.
MC: Pretty much just names already mentioned here: Tkachuk, DeBrincat, Hughes. Or better, but no one will offer a truly elite player with term for 2OA [second overall].
NP: The names of the established NHL guys listed above would all be on my list of trade targets. If we’re dreaming here, I’d also love to wave a magic wand and convince the Jets it was time to rebuild. Hello, Connor Hellebuyck. Let me dream, OK?
GL: I think my list of players who could realistically be available that I would move the pick for consists of David Pastrnak and Matt Tkachuk. Most likely those two aren’t going anywhere so just keep the pick Fitz.
SS: There are 2 players whose names have been out there as trade targets in the last little while that I would move the pick for. David Pastrnak and Alex Debrincat. But, acquiring either means giving up more than just the 2nd overall pick. So it really depends on what else the Devils are giving up. The ask for Debrincat seems to be absurdly high, for example. If the cost of acquisition is 2nd OA, Alex Holtz, a top-4 defenseman, and a lottery protected first next year are you still as interested?
Also, I’m still trying to will a Matt Tkachuk trade into existence but the same principle applies.
7. Do you think whoever will be picked at second overall will be expected to play in the NHL in 2022-23? Why or why not?
JF: I think many will expect it. While it is not first overall, picking that high in the draft lends some fans to expect that the player picked can help out immediately. After all, he’s the second player picked at the draft. If the pick is Slafkovsky, who I think New Jersey will likely take, then I think there will be even higher expectations for him to play in the NHL right away between his already-big-for-NHL frame and pro (and international tournament) experience. Slafkovsky has another year left on his contract at TPS, but I think there is a transfer agreement so the Devils can get him out of that as needed. Personally, I do not think it is necessary. If a prospect needs time to develop and a place to play to refine his skills, then he needs it and that is better done in Europe or college or major junior hockey than in the NHL. Even Slafkovsky spending another year at TPS is not the worst thing for him or the Devils. But I think the expectation is built into the pick that the prospect picked is an immediate NHL player.
JM: I think if Slafkovsky is the pick, there’s a chance he’s on the Opening Night roster, but I think its more likely we don’t see the #2 pick, whoever it is, until either late in the season or Opening Night 2023.
DR: Yeah, Slakfovsky feels more likely to be there sooner given the role that he would fit on the team. Plus, it’s not like the team was particularly successful so there should be many spots up for grabs anyway.
CF: Slafkovsky should be given the opportunity. I would also extend the opportunity to Nemec if he was drafted second overall, given his high level of success in the top Slovakian league, including 17 points in 19 playoff games. I think Cooley needs to take the step up from the USDP, though. It’d be too big of a jump to the NHL. But given I chose to select Slafkosvky, he can certainly learn more in Liiga, although I would rather the Devils be in more direct control of his development.
BF: I don’t think whoever is the #2 pick (unless it’s somehow Wright) should be expected to play in the NHL full-time in 2022-23. I think Slafkovsky and Nemec each have a shot of making it happen with a strong training camp but both could benefit from another season of pro hockey in Europe. Cooley is a prospect that I am high on but I think a year with the University of Minnesota is the right choice for his development. As much as we want whoever this pick is to jump in right away, I think we may need to have some patience and let this player develop outside of the NHL for another year.
MC: If we end up with Wright, I think he’ll be an NHL player in 2022-23. Otherwise, I doubt it. I think some people are probably hoping or thinking Slafkovsky will be an NHL player in 2022-23, but I’d rather wait and let him make the adjustment to NA ice and have another year of development first. Defensemen playing in the NHL in their D+1 usually doesn’t work out well, so that’s a no to Jiricek and Nemec. USNTDP is considered a big jump and not something anyone other than Jack Hughes or some future player on his level should do, so that rules out Cooley as well.
GL: I think the possibility will be entertained, but the only way I see their selection joining them this season is if the Devils find themselves ready to compete (read: they fix the goaltending) and their pick outperforms a lot of players in training camp. Even if the #2 choice inks their entry level contract, I say let the deal slide to next season when everyone has another year of seasoning and there’s hopefully some more certainty in net.
SS: They probably shouldn’t be, but yes, I think fans will expect/want that. I do think Wright and Slafkovsky both start on their respective opening night rosters, even if that’s not what’s best for their development. NHL management will justify it if the player looks even halfway decent in camp. In my mind they should really only be on the team if they can be put in a scoring role and actually contribute. If the plan is to have them on the 4th line then why bother? You can find a competent 4th liner on the scrap heap and I’d rather the prospect be getting more puck touches on their Euro, junior, or college team. That said, if the player looks ready, I don’t care what the original plan was, give them a shot.
I want to thank all of the staff members who took the time to answer each of the questions surrounding the Devils ahead of the 2022 NHL Draft.
Now I turn to you, the People Who Matter. What are your answers to these questions? Who’s your choice for second overall? What is the one thing about that player that stands out to you? Would you pick Shane Wright over your choice if Wright is not picked first? Who would you want the Devils to avoid at second overall? Does the second overall pick have to start in the NHL in October? Is the second overall pick going to be moved and, if so, who (or what) would you move it for? Please leave your answers in the comments. Thank you for reading.