As we await word on when the NHL will hold its draft, it seems like a good time to begin looking at which players the New Jersey Devils should target. As it stands, they hold three first-round picks — all of which will be in the top 20 — in what’s a stacked first round.
When we here at THW released our mock draft earlier this week, I used the sixth overall pick to select Swedish winger Lucas Raymond. It was a surprise to see him available outside the top five, and if that happens at the actual draft, the Devils would be making a mistake in letting him slide any further below their pick.
Devils Need a Blue-Chip Prospect Like Raymond
Sure, the Devils drafted Jack Hughes with the first overall pick at the 2019 Draft, giving them an elite prospect they haven’t had since Zach Parise in 2003. But even with his addition, they lack game-breaking forwards throughout the rest of their system. Jesper Boqvist could play a top-six role one day, but he doesn’t have game-breaking potential. The same is true of Nolan Foote, who they acquired when they traded Blake Coleman to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
With that said, Raymond would change things if he somehow falls to the Devils with the sixth overall pick. His 2019-20 numbers don’t seem all that impressive (10 points in 33 games), but he played in a fourth-line role for Frolünda HC, one of the better teams in the SHL (Sweden). Though when playing in the SuperElit — the Swedish junior league — he had 14 points in nine games.
However, Raymond did not look out of place when playing in the SHL. He’s a strong forechecker and a pretty capable defender for someone who was 17 years old most of the season. He also has incredible vision and could be an elite playmaker once he matures. While he doesn’t have as dangerous a shot as Alexander Holtz, it should improve as he gets stronger.
Because he does so many things well, adding Raymond to the Devils’ lineup would help in every facet of the game. They haven’t been a great possession team since Peter DeBoer was let go as head coach back in 2014. There are plenty of reasons why their possession numbers have been towards the bottom of the league, with a lack of talent being one of them. They haven’t had players like Raymond who are aggressive on the forecheck, so he should help them improve their puck possession.
And it’s not just winning puck battles where he will help. Once he has puck possession, his playmaking ability and vision are top-notch. I could see him on a line with a shooting threat like Foote, Kyle Palmieri, or Jesper Bratt in future Devils’ lineups. Pair him with one of those wingers and a center like Nico Hischier or Hughes, and the Devils should be a lot of fun to watch when on the attack.
Devils Shouldn’t Pass on Raymond
There are a lot of scenarios that could play out at the draft. It’s a good bet that Alexis Lafreniere and Quinton Byfield will be the first two overall picks. It’s the third pick where things will get interesting. If the Ottawa Senators pick second and third overall, will they go with two forwards? Or will they take Jamie Drysdale, the top-ranked defenseman in this class, with one of their selections?
There’s also the possibility of someone getting selected higher than anticipated in between picks two and five, like Barrett Hayton at the 2018 Draft. That could mean a player like Raymond slides outside of the top five and bit below where their projections are.
If that happens and he’s available to the Devils with the sixth overall pick, it’d be hard to pass on him. From their prospects, he only comes close to Hughes in all-around talent. He’ll be a valuable offensive threat at five-on-five. He’ll also be someone who gets plenty of time on special teams, even on the penalty kill because of his defensive instincts. And most of all, Raymond could be a winger with the potential to carry a line in the NHL.
That isn’t always the case with wingers either. Taylor Hall is one example of a winger who drives play and can carry a line. But the Devils traded him to the Arizona Coyotes in December, and they don’t have a player close to what he brought to the table. That’s not to say Raymond can replace Hall right away, but he could be a similar, game-changing winger down the road.
To sum things up, the Devils would be getting a steal if they select Raymond with the sixth overall pick. He’s arguably the third-best player in this draft, and at worst, a top-five talent. The only other prospect who could realistically fall to the Devils and fit that criterion is Tim Stützle. The team also needs wingers they can put around Hischier and Hughes if they’re to become contenders sooner than later. I normally don’t advocate for drafting on need, but choosing Raymond takes care of that while also selecting the best player available. And if that becomes a reality, I can’t think of too many teams that’d have a better young core to build around than Raymond, Hischier, and Hughes.