The NHL Draft concluded yesterday evening, and it was a busy one for the New Jersey Devils. They had eight picks in total, including three in the first round, the latter of which we’ll cover here.
The Devils also extended qualifying offers to all but two of their restricted free agents. And with the deadline to extend qualifying offers passing yesterday at 5 pm, it led to some surprises around the league that could change the team’s free agency plans.
Let’s take a look at all of that in a mid-week roundup of Devils news and rumors.
Devils Draft Holtz at 7th Overall; Mercer at 18th
After months of anticipation, the Devils selected winger Alexander Holtz with the seventh overall pick. The Swedish winger finished with nine goals and 16 points in 35 games in 2019-20 while playing in the SHL (Sweden). That was one of the 10 best scoring rates for a U-18 player in SHL history.
The Devils are looking to build around Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier, two former first overall picks, and Holtz should be a perfect complement. He has an absolutely wicked shot and could be a 30 to 40-goal scorer when he hits his prime.
With their next selection, the Devils took forward Dawson Mercer of the Chicoutimi Saguenéens (QMJHL). He had 60 points in 42 games last season and has three points in two games to start this season. He’s an incredible stickhandler and has an underrated shot to go along with his stickhandling. Adding him and Holtz gives the Devils two top prospects to build on what’s an already deep farm system.
Devils Swing Big With Mukhamadullin
The Devils had a third first-round pick to spare after selecting Holtz and Mercer, and they certainly swung for the fences with it. Shakir Mukhamadullin, who’s a defenseman, was not expected to go in the first round. But the Devils seemed to think pretty highly of him and drafted him with the 20th overall pick.
Mukhamadullin seems like a player who may have benefited from the NHL moving the draft to October. He’s off to a strong start in the KHL, where he was six points in 14 games playing meaningful minutes as an 18-year-old for Tolpar Ufa. There’s no doubt it was a reach at 20th overall. But if he keeps playing the way he is in the KHL, the Devils could end up looking pretty smart come this time next year.
Devils Don’t Qualify Mueller, Hayden
Yesterday was the deadline to extend qualifying offers to pending RFAs. The Devils extended offers to Jesper Bratt, Mackenzie Blackwood, Nick Merkley, and Joey Anderson, among others. However, they did not do so for Mirco Mueller and John Hayden, making them unrestricted free agents when the market opens tomorrow at noon.
It wasn’t a surprise to see the Devils not extend offers to Hayden and Mueller. Both players struggled in the NHL last season, while Mueller hasn’t been able to find his footing over the last couple of seasons. Hayden wasn’t likely to crack the NHL lineup next season, either, so both openings should allow a younger player or two to make the Devils’ 2020-21 roster.
Sabres Don’t Qualify Kahun
Because of the cap crunch due to the salary cap remaining flat at $81.5 million, teams have had to find ways to shed salary. One way is not offering qualifying offers, and there have been some surprises as a result, like forward Dominik Kahun.
The Sabres acquired Kahun at the 2020 Trade Deadline from the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for Conor Sheary. Kahun finished this season with 12 goals and 31 points in 69 games — a 36-point pace over 82 games.
The Sabres’ decision to not qualify Kahun was an interesting one. His overall play has been worth a goals above replacement (GAR) of 13.5 over the last two seasons. He’s been a solid bottom-six forward in his two NHL seasons and is consistently capable of chipping in 15 goals and 30-plus points.
If I were the Devils, I’d be rushing to the phone to offer him a cheap deal when free agency begins tomorrow. They need to add depth scoring, and he’d provide that as a bottom-six forward. He can play center or wing, so he has the versatility you like to see from a depth player too. For what he’ll cost, he’d be a sneaky value signing for the Devils.
Duclair Heads to Free Agency Too
Kahun becoming a UFA was a surprise, but not as much as Anthony Duclair, who the Ottawa Senators did not give a qualifying offer. He’s coming off one of the best seasons of his career, as he had 23 goals and 40 points in 66 games played.
As for the Devils, they should definitely check in on Duclair. He’s a one-dimensional player who does not defend in the least bit, but he can score. The Devils need to improve their offense, and he’s only 25 years old, which fits into the organization’s plan of wanting to add players under 26 years old to complement Hughes and Hischier. If his price isn’t sky-high, he could be an ideal fit for the Devils.
The draft may be over, but free agency is only a day away. Make sure to stay up to date with all of our coverage on our social media pages. And don’t forget to check back to The Hockey Writers’ Devils page for more post-draft content.