The lottery from last week revealed that the Devils would select fourth overall in the 2021 NHL Draft. Even though there was a slim chance that they could possibly get the first or second selection, they were mainly projected to fall into the fourth-fifth pick category. So, the Devils organization should be somewhat satisfied with their high overall selection for next July. This will be an interesting draft because, unlike most past draft classes, there doesn’t seem to be a player who is a lock to be selected first overall.
The subjective mock drafts have had either Owen Power, Matthew Beniers, or even Luke Hughes possibly being selected first overall at one point or another. Interestingly enough, another common trait that they all share is that they were all associated with the same university. The one main consensus that everyone seems to agree on is that this year’s draft class is stacked with players from the University of Michigan.
Aside from those three players, another Michigan player by the name of Kent Johnson is also projected to be drafted relatively high this year. Since the Devils will have the fourth overall selection, with the varying amount of opinions regarding the draft order being a factor, it’s possible that New Jersey could select a Michigan Wolverine with their first selection. However, it will obviously depend on their specific roster needs and where each player is respectfully selected.
The Devils could certainly use some assistance on their blue line. In terms of finding young and exciting players to help develop for the future, alongside Ty Smith and Kevin Bahl. It’s also worth mentioning that the Wolverines listed, except for Johnson and Beniers, are all great defensemen who can produce a lot of points for any team they play for. However, Johnson and Beniers are also great two-way forwards themselves.
Johnson seems to be the least likely Wolverine player to be selected by the Devils. Unlike his teammates, he is not projected to be selected within the first five picks of this year’s draft. However, given his ability as a winger and depending on who would still be available, there is still a fair chance that the Devils could select him. He had a good first year with the Wolverines this past collegiate season, in which he was named to Big Ten All-Rookie Team.
However, he put up bigger numbers while competing for the Trail Smoke Eaters in the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL). He generated an impressive 101 points (41 goals, 60 assists) in just 52 game appearances. He led the entire league in all three categories (points, goals, assists) and was awarded the BCHL MVP. Similar to Jack Hughes, his main issue is that he only weighs 165 pounds, so weight gain will be essential if he wants to have a long NHL career.
Owen Power & Matthew Beniers
Power and Beniers were obviously teammates this past collegiate season, and now they are both in a “friendly competition” with one another to see which one of them will potentially be selected first overall by the Buffalo Sabres. However, there is a slim chance that one of them can drop a couple of spots to the Devils’ selection, however it unlikely to occur. But, if it does happen then the Devils would injudicious to not select one of them if given the opportunity. For starters, Power definitely lives up to his last name.
Because he’s only 18-years-old and he already weighs 214 pounds while standing a staggering 6-foot-6. He will definitely continue to grow and gain more weight once his NHL career progresses. He can definitely fill up the stat sheet for a defenseman as well. Even though Michigan’s season got cut short due to COVID concerns, Power was still able to generate 16 points (three goals, 13 assists) in 26 game appearances.
As for Beniers, while his main position is center, he can still play excellent defense and forechecks efficiently. The combination of his great offensive skillset, defensive awareness, and his high hockey IQ is the reason why he’s in the running for the first overall selection as well. While he can play the left-wing position, it seems as though the center position is his best chance at success. He has the capability of becoming a solid top-line competitor for any NHL team.
If he were to fall to the Devils hypothetically, it would be the sixth time in eight years that the Devils selected a center with their first pick. In his first season with Michigan, Beniers appeared in 24 games and racked up 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists). Realistically, it is unlikely that Power and Beniers would slip out of the top two selections. However, if one of them were to drop a couple of positions, it could completely alter the next couple of draft selections.
It seems as though the frontrunner, and also fan favorite, for the Devils to select at fourth overall is Luke Hughes, the younger brother of Jack and Quinn. Barring that if he is still available, it seems as though all the signs point in the right direction for Hughes to become a New Jersey Devil, just like his brother. He committed to play at the University of Michigan, but given his draft ranking, it can be presumed, from a hypothetical standpoint, that he would be one of the best players on the roster once he officially plays for them.
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Hughes has the overall ability to be a great two-way defenseman. He can score, pass, and has the potential to be a decent defenseman, he needs to be less jumpy on that end. The one stand-alone trait from his older brothers is that he’s actually already taller than both of them, standing at 6-foot-2 while weighing 176 pounds. However, something similar to his brothers is that he has tremendous skating ability and explosiveness.
Another factor that could potentially help the Devils is that Hughes is great at leading the power-play unit with his passing skills and his ability to maneuver through traffic elusively. The best and most realistic case scenario for the Devils is to select Hughes with their first selection. The last time that the Devils selected a defenseman with their first pick was back in 2018 in which they selected Smith (LHD) at seventeenth overall. It may be time for the Devils to select another high-profiled defenseman, so that way they have more blueliners to help develop alongside Smith and Bahl. However, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to draft another forward to pair alongside Hughes or Hischier possibly. This year’s draft class, especially from the University of Michigan, can help provide that.
Trey Matthews is currently the play-by-play announcer for the hockey programs at Adrian College. Interestingly, he is also one of the only full-time black hockey play-by-play announcers in the entire country. He has been featured in USA Today, USCHO, & others for his line of work. In addition to that, he’s also the host of a podcast show called Locked On Devils. He first began writing for his high school’s paper at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School & Academy. Aside from hockey, he also covers the Los Angeles Lakers (NBA) for Belly Up Sports.