The coronavirus may have put a pause on the NHL, but things will return to normalcy at some point. And when that happens, that means there’ll be hockey to be played. There’s no fixed date or how the NHL plans to proceed once the spread of the virus has slowed enough where games can begin again.
But with the CDC announcing gatherings of 50-plus people be postponed or canceled for eight weeks, it’s increasingly likely the NHL doesn’t get going until the end of May if at all. And if they do decide to continue play, it could begin with an immediate start of the playoffs. It could also come with an expanded set of teams since the league would have to cut the regular season short. That’d affect the NHL Entry Draft, as well, which is what the New Jersey Devils would be interested in, given their place in the standings.
That, fortunately, works much to their benefit. Without any help from the draft lottery, the Devils would have the sixth overall selection. They’d also have the 10th overall pick, which they acquired from the Arizona Coyotes for Taylor Hall. And they’d have the 17th overall pick, which they obtained from the Tampa Bay Lightning but originally belonged to the Vancouver Canucks.
The Devils may use one of those picks as trade bait, but let’s say their plan is to use all three at the draft. That offers them the chance to load up an improving farm system in what’s a strong draft class, specifically in the first round. And that could give them the NHL’s best prospect pool heading into 2020-21.
Devils Will Get a Blue-Chip Prospect Sixth Overall
The Devils won’t land Alexis Lafreniere, Tim Stutzle, or Quinton Byfield with the sixth pick. But they should still land someone they can build their franchise around. What the organization lacks in its pipeline is a high end, skilled forward. And fortunately for them, they’ll have plenty to choose from at sixth overall.
We’ll start with the two top prospects from Sweden, Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz. Raymond is a 5-foot-10, 165-pound winger who has 10 points in 33 games for Frolunda HC in the SHL (Sweden). Most scouting services have him as one of the five best prospects in this class, so he might not be available when the Devils make their first selection. But if he falls into their laps at sixth overall, selecting him would be a no-brainer.
With that said, it’s more likely Holtz will be available for them. He’s a 6-foot, 183-pound winger who has 16 points in 35 games in the SHL, which is impressive for an 18-year-old playing limited minutes. What stands out with him is his goal-scoring ability, as he has one of the most lethal shots in this class. He’s a consensus top 10 pick in scouts’ eyes, and he’d be a perfect fit for the Devils considering his makeup to be a primary scoring threat.
Other players the Devils could target with the sixth pick are centers, Marco Rossi and Cole Perfetti. Both players have been wrecking balls in the OHL — Perfetti has 111 points in 61 games, while Rossi has 120 in 56 games. The Devils have four, former draft picks on the Ottawa 67’s, the team Rossi plays for, so they’re likely quite familiar with him. They may be in good shape at center with Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes. But drafting the best player available is always the right strategy, and both he and Perfetti could fit the criteria at sixth overall.
Who Do Devils Select 10th Overall?
The 10th pick is where things could get interesting for the Devils. Teams’ draft boards vary wildly after the first few picks, so you’ll never know who falls or rises. But even if things get crazy by this point, there’ll still be high-end prospects for the team to select.
The Devils have a solid group of defensive prospects, led by Ty Smith, Reilly Walsh, and Kevin Bahl. But it couldn’t hurt to add another one with the 10th pick. This is where Erie Otters’ defenseman Jamie Drysdale would come into play. He’s the best defensive prospect in the first round of this class by a country mile. The 5-foot-11, 170-pound blueliner has 47 points in 49 games and is considered a consensus top 10 pick by most scouts.
But with Drysdale being the best defenseman in this class, he’s likely gone by the time the Devils at this point. There’s an argument for the team to use the sixth pick on him, but given their need for high-end forwards, it makes more sense to select someone like Holtz or Rossi.
There aren’t any other defenseman worth selecting with the 10th pick, so that means choosing another forward would be the best option. If Anton Lundell is still available, the Devils should select him. The Finnish forward has 28 points in 44 games playing in the Liiga, the first division in Finland. He has a strong, two-way game and is versatile enough to play center or left-wing.
There’ll also be plenty of noise about the Devils using the 10th pick to draft Yaroslav Askarov, given their goaltending struggles. He’s one of the best goaltending prospects to come around in quite some time, but there isn’t much value in the Devils using a high pick on a goalie for a couple of reasons.
One is because Mackenzie Blackwood has emerged as a legitimate starter in the NHL. The second is the team needs more immediate help in net, and Askarov will not be playing NHL games for a couple of years, at least. So it makes more sense to use the pick on someone like Lundell, who’s not far off from being NHL-ready.
High-End Talent Still Available 17th Overall
Because the Canucks were in a playoff spot based on point percentage when play came to a halt, that means the Devils would own the 17th overall selection they obtained through trading Blake Coleman to the Lightning. This may be the pick they choose to use as trade bait to acquire immediate NHL talent. But if not, there’ll be a handful of prospects worth drafting too.
We’ll start with Ottawa 67’s forward Jack Quinn. He was having a breakout season, with 52 goals and 37 assists in 62 games, when the OHL suspended play. He’s 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, and is a natural right-winger with a sound two-way game. He’s also made noticeable improvements in his skating, which helped propel him to a breakout season. His rankings are all over the place, with him being ranked as high 10th by ISS Hockey and as low as 28th by Eliteprospects.com. But if he’s available, he’d be a wise pick at 17th overall for the Devils because of his scoring ability.
Quinn wouldn’t be the only forward worth the 17th pick, either. Swedish winger Noel Gunler had a strong season in the SHL, but he’s been left off the Swedish national team on multiple occasions. He’ll have to address that at some point, but there’s no questioning his offensive upside. He has an excellent shot and is dangerous in transition, even with average skating ability.
Sticking with the European theme, Russian forward Rodion Amirov should come into play for the Devils if he’s not already off the board. He’s split time between the KHL, where he had two points in 21 games, and the MHL — Russia’s junior league — where he had 22 points in 17 games. He’s a well-rounded winger who can play in all situations, which isn’t always the case for young Russian forwards. He projects a top-six winger in the NHL, and he may not be far off from making an NHL impact too.
As for selecting a defenseman, there are players worth considering with the 17th pick. Braden Schneider, Kaiden Guhle, and Jérémie Poirier should be available, but they’re all projects and need time to develop in their junior leagues. The first round is all about the forwards, and they’ll be the best players available in most scenarios. So if the Devils end up using all three picks, it’d be wise to go that route.
2020 Draft Could Give Devils Top Farm System
If the Devils come away from the 2020 Entry Draft using all three picks, they could have one of the best prospect pools in the NHL entering next season. Let’s say they select Holtz, Lundell, and Amirov with their three picks. Holtz would surely become their top prospect, while Lundell and Amirov would likely fall in their top five. All three could end up being top 50 prospects in the NHL, as well, which would give the Devils five top 50 prospects with Ty Smith and Nolan Foote. If that’s how things play out, the Devils’ future will be looking quite bright for the next 5-10 years.
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Prospect info, stats from Elite Prospects