After much speculation and bizarre wishes from Vancouver that use social media, the New Jersey Devils opted to keep the second overall pick. After Montreal selected Juraj Slafkovsky at first overall, the New Jersey Devils picked the second best Slovakian player in the draft - the first time ever two Slovaks have been picked first overall. The Devils selected defenseman Simon Nemec from HK Nitra.
Nemec is arguably the best defenseman available in this year’s draft class. The discusison was between Nemec and David Jiricek. However, with Jiricek missing most of this season with a knee injury, Nemec became the favorite for the first defenseman to go. Stephen profiled Nemec a month ago; I would recommend reading that for further background about the player. The short version is that Nemec is quite good at skating, quite good at attacking with his shot, and could stand to improve his transition game and get stronger (like just about every prospect picked tonight and tomorrow).
Nemec’s profile in general is very encouraging. In addition to being a right-shooting defenseman, Nemec has had loads of experience coming into this draft. He has been a professional player since he was 16 in Slovakia. Like Slafkovsky, Nemec played a ton of international hockey in 2021-22 between the U-18s (Hlinka-Gretzky, World U-18s Division 1A), U-20s (World Juniors before they were cancelled), and the men (Olympic qualifiers, Olympics, World Championships). Also like Slafkovsky, Nemec was quite productive abroad and even with his club team, HK Nitra. He put up a goal and 26 points in 39 season games and five goals and 17 points in 19 playoff games. This is player who has brought it at both ends of the rink. And his offensive skillset is what makes him such a standout. For an additional take, feel free to read this prospect profile by Dalerrific at The Cannon.
I can understand some disappointment with this selection. With Slafkovsky off the board first, I wanted the Devils to take Shane Wright. I think Wright is the best player in the draft and now has a sizeable chip on his shoulder. I think there is no such thing as too many super-talented forwards or centers any more than too many talented right-sided defenders. I do not think I am alone in thinking that. Still, picking Nemec instead is far from a massive reach. Again, he’s the best defenseman in this year’s draft class. If the decision was to go with a defenseman over a center, then this is the one guy to take. Further, the defensive depth outside of Utica is still filled with long shots. There is Luke Hughes and that is about it in terms of players with really bright futures with offensive skillsets. Nemec adds to that. Which will be crucial if the group in Utica (Kevin Bahl, Nikita Okhotiuk, Reilly Walsh, Michael Vukojevic) does not take a step forward in the next few years.
It will be interesting to see what is next for Nemec. Per his profile at Elite Prospects, his contract with HK Nitra ended with 2021-22. Maybe he makes the jump to North American pro hockey in 2022-23? I do not think it is necessary that he makes the New Jersey Devils in his first season. Then again, I do not think it is necessary for anyone avilable at second overall to make the jump to the NHL save for Wright, who really has nothing much more to prove or grow in the OHL. Unless I am mistaken, I think Nemec could go to Utica - which would be a fine next step. We shall see.
I am sure that some of you are questioning: Why not move the pick? General Manager Tom Fitzgerald made it clear in his pre-draft press conference that he thinks it is a significant asset and, as such, he would only move it if he could get a significant asset in return with control. In other words, he would only move #2 if he could get someone back that is on a contract with more than a season remaining on it. If you are wondering why Fitzgerald did not move the pick, then that is why. There was apparently no such offer available to meet either the significance and/or the control aspect. (Also: Hey, Ottawa, DeBrincat’s qualifying offer next season will be $9 million. It’s 100% of base salary, not cap hit.) As far as moving back, it depends on whether someone was willing to do so and assuring that the Devils would still get their man. I suspect either one was not there so there was no trade back to still draft Nemec. That, I can respect. If Nemec is your man, then go get your man at #2. It is not like he took someone really off the board like, say, Cutter Gauthier or Denton Mateychuk.
Personally, I would have loved Wright and could have been talked into Logan Cooley. That is mostly because I think highly of both. But I do think this pick can work out and make the Devils’ blueline better in the future. Is that what the Devils really needed on this very day? Maybe not. But in the NHL Draft, the picks need to be made with the future in mind and so we may be looking back on this in a few years and being pretty pleased with the choice. Unless Cooley and Wright go off, of course.
That is my quick take on the Devils drafting Simon Nemec. Now I turn to you, the People Who Matter. It would not have been my choice, but I respect it. What do you think of the pick? Please leave your answers in the comments. Please also vote in our flash poll - no comment needed - that will close tomorrow night at midnight for our annual community reaction to the Devils’ draft picks. Thank you for reading.
The Devils drafted Simon Nemec at 2nd Overall. What do you think of the pick?
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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!