It’s that time of the year again. The NHL Draft Lottery is upon us, and the New Jersey Devils are in a position to win it once again. If they do, it’ll be the third time in four years they’ll have the first overall selection. Though they’ll need some luck to get it again, it wouldn’t be the first time they’ve had good lottery fortunes.
But if they don’t land the first overall pick, they could still be lucky enough to move up to the second or third positions. Here’s a breakdown of the scenarios the Devils face and which prospects could be fits for them depending on where they land.
Devils Would Strike Gold Landing in Top 3
We’ll start with the first overall pick, which would be the most straightforward selection the Devils would have to make. They’d have to take left-winger Alexis Lafreniere and not even think twice about it. He had back-to-back 100-point seasons in the QMJHL and was the first player to win the CHL Forward of the Year in consecutive years since Sidney Crosby. He’s the consensus no. 1 prospect by every scouting service, so there’s simply no debating who to take.
The second overall pick is where things could get a bit interesting. Quinton Byfield, who’s a center, has been the near-consensus second pick for a long time, though that could be changing. In Bob McKenzie’s Top 93 2020 Draft prospects, which he conducts by surveying scouts, German forward Tim Stützle came in second.
The Devils are in a pretty good spot at center with Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier. But Stützle projects as a left-winger in the NHL, which is more of a need for the organization. And they may think of him as the second-best player in the draft, so don’t be surprised if he’s the pick over Byfield.
If you thought the second pick would present the Devils a conundrum, the third pick could cause them even more headaches. Assuming Lafreniere and Byfield are the top two choices, they’ll have to decide between one of Stützle, Lucas Raymond, and perhaps Marco Rossi. Not the worst scenario imaginable, and my guess is they’d probably choose Stützle.
But what if the team drafting second overall chooses Stützle just ahead of the Devils if they have the third pick? That means Byfield would be available, and it’d be pretty hard to pass on him. They’d have to take the best player available approach, and it’d be hard to argue there’s someone better than Byfield with the third pick.
Lastly, there’ll be a few people clamoring for the Devils to take Jamie Drysdale — the top defenseman in the 2020 Draft — with the third pick. You could argue three of the team’s top five prospects are Ty Smith, Reilly Walsh, and Kevin Bahl, all defensemen. That’s not to say they wouldn’t want to add another (Drysdale would be the best of the bunch). But my guess is they’d lean towards taking one of the forwards with the third pick since the best player available would likely be a forward.
Staying Put Wouldn’t Be Bad, Either
If the Devils don’t win the lottery and no one jumps ahead of them, they’ll hold the sixth overall pick. That may put them out of the running for Lafreniere, Byfield, and Stützle. But they’ll still be in a good spot and will be able to choose from a wide range of prospects.
It’s unlikely Drysdale will be available outside the top five, but the Devils would get good value grabbing him with the sixth pick if he is. That said, the forwards who should still be on their draft board will be too hard to pass up.
Alexander Holtz has arguably the best shot in this class and could be a 30-40 goal scorer in the NHL once he hits his prime. He’d look pretty good as a winger alongside one of Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier, as well. Cole Perfetti, who finished with 111 points in 61 games in the OHL, can play left-wing or center and is one of the smartest players in this class. He also has great offensive instincts and is the type of forward the Devils’ system needs.
There’s also a chance Rossi is still available. The Devils have four prospects on the Ottawa 67’s — Rossi’s OHL team — so they’re likely well-versed in his strengths and weaknesses. Much like Byfield with the second pick, Rossi, who’s a center, isn’t a need for the Devils. But it’d be hard to argue there’s a better player available in this spot, unless Raymond slides out of the top five, too.
Given the unpredictable nature of the draft lottery, there’s a chance the Devils’ pick slides into the 7-9 range. But for this section of the article, let’s say it falls only one spot to seventh. There’s not a significant difference in drafting from sixth to seventh overall. And since the top 10 of this class has plenty of blue-chip talent, someone they have on their draft board should still be available.
The Devils’ Nightmare Scenario
The 2020 Draft Lottery may be the most unconventional in league history. Because it’s being held before the 24-team, return-to-play format begins, there’ll be placeholders for picks 8-15. Two of the teams in the 24-team format are the Arizona Coyotes and Vancouver Canucks, whose first-round picks belong to the Devils.
There are also conditions on each pick. If the Canucks don’t make it to the round of 16, the pick slides to 2021. The Coyotes’ pick the Devils received from the Taylor Hall trade is lottery-protected, meaning if the Coyotes land a top-three pick, it goes to the Devils in 2021 too.
Now there’s a lot that has to happen for the Devils to lose each pick. If the Canucks make the round of 16, the Devils get the selection, no questions asked. The same is true if the Coyotes make the round of 16, as well. It may result in the Devils having lower selections, but at least they’ll maintain having three firsts.
But there’s also a chance two or even three placeholders earn lottery picks, meaning the Devils’ selection would slide to ninth overall. The Coyotes and Canucks could also end up as two of those teams once the second drawing takes place after the final 16 teams become official. And that means the Devils would not only end up selecting ninth overall, but they’d go from having three firsts to only one.
Of course, that wouldn’t be ideal. But if at least one of the picks slides to 2021, the Devils could benefit from it. The first round should have plenty of quality defensemen to choose from, and that’d give them two firsts in each of the next two drafts. Plus, there’s the possibility the pick ends up being a lottery selection, much like what happened with the San Jose Sharks and Ottawa Senators for the 2020 Draft.
There are some potential trade-offs worth considering for the Devils. For example, would it be worth winning the first overall pick but losing the two other first-rounders? Given what Lafreniere could do for the franchise, it’d be hard to argue it wouldn’t be worth it. Or what if the Coyotes land the first or third pick, but the Devils land the second pick and keep the Canucks’ selection? Landing one of Byfield or Stützle and another winger in the mid to late first-round would make for a pretty decent haul too.
The bottom line is the Devils will need some luck again. They got it in 2017 when they selected Hischier with the first overall pick. And the same is true when they drafted Hughes with the first overall pick just over a year ago. Maybe I’m wrong, and they’ll win the lottery for the third time in four years. Though, the law of averages says it’ll be someone else’s turn in 2020. But as long as they come away with at least two first-round choices, their prospect pool should get a significant boost.
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