The NHL Draft is less than 48 hours away, and the New Jersey Devils have another high pick at their disposal, at seventh overall. The 2020 class is one of the deepest in recent memory, specifically in the top 10 to 15. And that means general manager Tom Fitzgerald will have plenty of great options with the seventh pick. Let’s dive into whom he may choose.
6. Jake Sanderson
Sanderson is the second-best defense prospect in the 2020 Draft, and perhaps the first depending on who you ask. He’s an excellent skater who’s incredibly sound defensively, though his offensive upside isn’t that high. But even though he’ll never be an offensive dynamo, he does excel in transition, something the Devils’ blue line has struggled with for multiple years.
Sanderson has good size, at 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, and he has plenty of room to add to his frame. He’s also one of the youngest players in the draft, as he turned 18 years old in July. He’s committed to play for the University of North Dakota (NCAA), so it’s likely he’s at least two years away from turning pro.
Why the Devils Should Consider Sanderson
Every team needs a top-pair defenseman to build around. Sanderson may not become the next Erik Karlsson, at least offensively. That said, he has the potential to be someone who can play 20-plus minutes a night and against hard competition. If the Devils do draft him, they’ll have an impressive defense core to build around with him, Ty Smith, and Kevin Bahl.
5. Alexander Holtz
Holtz has the best shot in this class, and there’s no doubt about it. His slapshot is hard and accurate, and the same is true of his wrist shot. He can pick his spots from almost anywhere on the ice, and his shot becomes even more dangerous when he’s on the move. While playmaking isn’t his forte, he’s a bit underrated in this regard.
But for what Holtz offers offensively, there are some red flags. Though his shot is his go-to weapon, he needs to improve his shot selection. He also needs to work on his game away from the puck. But if he makes strides in those areas, he could be a top-line winger who can consistently reach 40 goals a season.
Why the Devils Should Consider Holtz
The Devils want to build around Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, two former first overall picks. To do so, they’ll need to put highly skilled wingers around them, and Holtz is just that. His game off the puck may need work, but for someone who shoots like him, he might be the right fit.
4. Jamie Drysdale
Drysdale is generally the consensus no. 1 defenseman in the 2020 Draft. He finished with 47 points in 49 games in 2019-20 on one of the weakest teams in the OHL, the Erie Otters. What makes Drysdale the top defenseman in the draft is his dynamic skating ability, which allows him to do multiple things.
Because he skates so well, it allows him to excel in transition. And when he mistakes a defensive mistake, his skating affords him the chance to make up for it. His hockey IQ is also among the best in the class. Combine that with his skating, and it’s what puts him just ahead of Sanderson.
Why the Devils Should Consider Drysdale
The Devils have one of the best defensive prospects in the league in Ty Smith. Drysdale is arguably a better prospect than him, so if he’s available in this spot, he has to be on the table. There wouldn’t be many teams with a better defense core to build around than Drysdale and Smith. Plus, Drysdale is a right-handed shot, so a top pair of him and Smith could be the Devils’ future on defense.
3. Cole Perfetti
Perfetti had an outstanding 2019-20, finishing with 37 goals and 111 points in 61 games for the Saginaw Spirit in the OHL, and there’s a lot to love about his game. He’s one of the smartest offensive players in the draft and always makes the right decision with the puck on his stick. That plays a role in him being a high-end playmaker, but he also has an underrated shot.
If there’s a knock on Perfetti, it’s his skating needs improvement. But it appears it’s something he’s worked on during the time off since COVID-19 suspended play back in March. And if it has gotten better, that would make him worthy of being a top-five pick.
Why the Devils Should Consider Perfetti
Perfetti has played both center and left-wing in the OHL, so it’s nice to have that versatility in your arsenal heading into the draft. But even if his skating has improved, I’m not sure it’ll ever be good enough to play down the middle. He likely projects as a left-winger in the NHL, and that makes him a great fit to play alongside Hughes and Hischier. He has the offensive tools and IQ to be a top-line winger alongside either player.
2. Marco Rossi
Rossi was the leading scorer in all of the CHL, finishing with 120 points in 56 games while playing for the Ottawa 67’s (OHL). He does just about everything at a high level; he’s a smart shooter, a smart passer, and is a strong two-way player. His stickhandling is also incredible, and he seemingly finds space when it doesn’t look like there’s any available.
Although Rossi is only 5-foot-9, he already checks in at 183 pounds, so size isn’t a significant concern with him. If there’s a knock on him, it’s his skating isn’t the best. But for a player who’s as smart and talented as he is, it doesn’t seem like his lack of elite skating will be something that hinders him in the NHL.
Why the Devils Should Consider Rossi
The Devils have drafted plenty of Rossi’s teammates on the 67’s, so if there’s a player they should know inside and out, it’s him. If they’re high enough on him, it’s hard to imagine they pass up on the chance to draft him. He’s not a need because he plays center, but he’s the best player available in most scenarios. Plus, a trio of Hischier, Hughes, and Rossi down the middle sets the Devils up to be successful for many years to come.
1. Lucas Raymond
Raymond had an impressive 2019-20 in the SHL (Sweden) as a 17-year-old, finishing with 10 points in 33 games on one of the better teams in the league, Frolünda HC. Though his production doesn’t pop off the scoresheet, he’s a dynamic winger who’s an absolute terror on the forecheck. His playmaking is among the best in the draft, and his two-way play is solid.
If there was some concern about Raymond, it was his size. But he’s added about 15 pounds since the start of last season and is now 5-foot-10, 183 pounds. That also seems to have improved his shot, which looks a bit stronger now than it did last season.
Why the Devils Should Consider Raymond
Raymond should be the Devils’ top choice with the seventh pick because he fills a need and would be the best player available if he’s on the board. He could be a 65-70 point winger who drives play and is a high-end scorer at even strength and on the power play. Between the wingers listed here, he’d be the perfect player to put alongside Hughes or Hischier, even more than Perfetti or Holtz.
Askarov Not a Fit at 7th Overall
In his latest edition of 31 Thoughts, Elliotte Friedman mentioned the Devils are one of a few teams in the top 15 considering drafting goaltender Yaroslav Askarov. This might sound crazy given his talent, but I don’t think it makes a lot of sense for them to use the seventh pick on him.
And there are a couple of reasons for that. For starters, the Devils already have Mackenzie Blackwood, who has a .916 save percentage (SV%) in 70 NHL games, and he’s still only 23 years old. He should only get better from here on out, and the Devils seem to think highly of him too.
Plus, it’s no guarantee Askarov ends up being THAT much better than Blackwood. If Blackwood continues on his upward trajectory, he could be a goalie who puts up a .918-.920 SV% regularly. And given his size and athleticism, he has the makeup to get to that level.
Given the strength of the 2020 Draft, the Devils should be looking to grab a forward with the seventh pick. Raymond makes the most sense for them, but Perfetti or Rossi would be great second and third options too. If none of those three are on the board, at least one of Sanderson, Holtz, or Drysdale should be there for the taking. And that means the Devils should get the top prospect they need to keep building around Hughes and Hischier.
Alex Chauvancy is a New Jersey Devils writer for The Hockey Writers who has a penchant for advanced stats, prospects, signings and trades. He previously wrote for Devils Army Blog, a New Jersey Devils fan blog, from 2015-2017