Another year, another draft lottery for the New Jersey Devils. The story was much of the same in 2020-21. They finished well below NHL .500 (19-30-7), though there were different circumstances this time around. Had it not been for a nearly team-wide COVID outbreak and Corey Crawford retiring before the season began, their final place in the standings would likely have looked different than it did.
Nonetheless, they’ll once again have a chance to draft a high-upside prospect with a top pick at the 2021 Draft. With the draft lottery taking place tonight, let’s look at the Devils’ lottery odds, what’s at stake for them and why this is not the class to worry about draft slot.
Devils’ Stakes Include Luke Hughes
The Devils’ 19-30-7 record and 45 points placed them 29th in the league, meaning they’re tied with the Seattle Kraken for third-best odds in tonight’s lottery. Because this is the first draft the Kraken will take part in as a franchise, they automatically get the third-best odds as the Vegas Golden Knights did when they came into the league in 2017.
This year’s draft lottery is a bit different in that it will only determine the top two picks and not the top three as it has in years past. Like the Kraken, the Devils have a 10.3 percent chance of landing the first pick and a 10.2 percent chance of earning the second pick. A 20.5 percent probability of landing in the top two is pretty decent, all things considered.
The Devils have an 11.5 percent chance of sticking at fourth overall and 43.9 percent odds of falling back to the fifth pick. The lowest Devils can select is sixth overall, which has a 24.2 percent possibility of happening. So, in reality, it’s more likely they fall back than move up. But it’s the lottery, and anything can happen.
If the Devils land a top-two selection, it’s probably a good bet they go after a defenseman. Owen Power seems to be the consensus no. 1 overall pick, per Bob McKenzie. The 6-foot-5, 215-pound blueliner had a strong freshman season as an 18-year-old for the University of Michigan and would become the team’s top defensive prospect.
There’s also Luke Hughes, the younger brother of Jack Hughes, who the Devils drafted with the first overall pick at the 2019 Draft. There’s probably a pretty decent argument the Devils even take Luke with the first overall pick. And not just because he’s Jack’s brother; he has a legitimate no. 1 overall case based on talent, upside and age. If the Devils receive the second selection, it’s as good a guarantee he’ll be their choice if Power goes first.
If the Devils remain at fourth or fall a slot or two below, they could still be in contention for Luke. If he’s off the board by then, they could have a shot at drafting defenseman Brandt Clarke, who’s the younger brother of Devils prospect Graeme Clarke. There’s also defenseman Simon Edvinsson, who’s likely to be a top-five pick as well. So the Devils should have a good crack at getting one of the draft’s top defensemen.
Don’t Fret Over Draft Slot
In most years, there’s a can’t miss prospect or two atop the draft. In 2019, it was Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko. Last year, it was Alexis Lafreniere and Quinton Byfield. But with the pandemic cutting junior seasons short or even canceling them altogether, there’s much more uncertainty with this draft class. Most scouting services have Power as the no. 1 prospect, but who’s second-best is anyone’s guess.
Some prospect sites have Edvinsson no. 2 overall. Some have forward Dylan Guenther in that slot, while others have Luke Hughes or Clarke as their no. 2 overall prospects. Heck, some services even have Luke as their no. 1 prospect. There’s just that kind of uncertainty with this class.
But even with this draft’s question marks, there’s a pretty strong consensus of who belongs in the top 10. As long as a team selects in that range, they should get a quality prospect, even if they’re not drafting first or second overall. That’s the case for the Devils, as they can’t select lower than sixth.
If that outcome occurs and they end up falling two slots, there’s no need to hit the panic button. For starters, there’s still a decent chance they can get a defenseman. Power will be gone by then, and most likely Edvinsson too. But at least one of Clarke or Luke Hughes may be available, which the Devils would gladly take.
If there’s a run of defensemen in the top five and the Devils are left having to choose a forward, they’ll be fine too. That could mean Guenther falls to them. Imagine the idea of building their forward core around Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, Alexander Holtz, Dawson Mercer, Guenther and Nico Hischier. The Devils would be set up front for many years to come.
No Guenther at sixth overall? Then the Devils should have William Eklund, Holtz’s good friend and teammate at Djurgården, available to them. There’s also the possibility of taking Fabian Lysell, who’s perhaps the most dynamic forward in this class despite what his production in the SHL might say. Don’t forget about Matt Beniers, Chaz Lucius or Mason McTavish as well.
All in all, no matter where the Devils end up tonight, they’re going to finish in a prime position to strengthen their prospect pool. They’ll either end up in a spot where they draft a blueliner who instantly becomes their top defensive prospect. Or they’ll end up adding another high-upside forward who’ll be a complementary piece to Hughes and Hischier. Being a part of the draft lottery is not where an organization wants to be regularly, such as the Devils have been lately. But they’re fortunate enough where they should find themselves in an ideal scenario one way or another. And that’s the best a team can hope for in a class that has a fair amount of uncertainty in it.