5 Prospects Devils Should Target With Second Overall Pick

Well, it happened again. The New Jersey Devils got lucky at the draft lottery and will have another top pick at the NHL Entry Draft. They won the draft lottery in 2017 and 2019 and selected first overall in each draft, taking Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes with the first picks. This time, they will choose second overall behind the Montreal Canadiens, who will have the first pick in front of the home crowd at the Bell Center in Montreal on July 7

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Barring something unforeseen, Shane Wright will be a Montreal Canadien come July 7. So, where does that leave the Devils? Here are five prospects general manager Tom Fitzgerald could target with the second overall selection. 

Šimon Nemec

  • Position: Defenseman
  • Team: HK Nitra (Slovakia)
  • Counting totals: 1 goal, 26 points in 39 games; 5 goals, 17 points in 19 playoff games
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Nemec is one of the top defensive prospects in this draft class. His offensive ability stands out, and he’s a smooth skater. While the Slovak league isn’t great, there’s no ignoring the point totals he put up as a 17-year-old in a pro league. As Byron Bader of Hockey Prospecting puts it, Nemec is a statistical unicorn:

Nemec has a high floor and should be no worse than a second-pair defender. But if he pops, he could be a high-end top-pair blueliner. His NHLe, despite the Slovak league being one of the weaker ones in Europe, does paint a portrait of a prospect with tremendous upside. 

Why Devils Should Consider Nemec

The Devils have Dougie Hamilton, Ryan Graves, Damon Severson and Jonas Siegenthaler leading the top-four in 2022-23. However, Graves and Severson are both entering the final years of their contracts. If they don’t retain one of them, the Devils suddenly have a long-term void to fill. 

Related: Simon Nemec — 2022 NHL Draft Prospect Profile

Along with Luke Hughes, Shakir Mukhamadullin, Kevin Bahl, Reilly Walsh and Ty Smith, Nemec could round out the Devils’ top-six defenders for the next decade. He might not be their first or even second choice with the second pick, but he is someone they should debate about during their draft prep.  

Logan Cooley

  • Position: Center
  • Team: USNTDP Juniors (USHL), US National U18 Team (USDP)
  • Counting totals: 27 goals, 75 points in 51 games (USHL); 13 goals, 36 points in 24 games (USDP)

Cooley is a complete package. He’s solid two ways, is a very good skater, and has high-end playmaking ability. Here’s what our very own Matthew Zator had to say about Cooley in his draft profile:

“Cooley has the potential to be a high-scoring two-way center who can play both the power play and penalty kill and be matched up against the top lines in the NHL. At 5-foot-10, he might not be as impactful physically as Aleksander Barkov or Jonathan Toews, who are 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-2 respectively, but his hockey sense and elusive nature will make him effective nonetheless.”

Logan Cooley USNTDP
Logan Cooley with the USNTDP (Photo by Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Though Cooley is a bit undersized at 5-foot-10, 174 pounds, he has plenty of room to add to his frame. I don’t have any questions about his upside. He should be a legit first-line center in his prime who can play hard minutes and in all situations because of his defensive prowess and two-way ability. 

Why the Devils Should Consider Cooley

Unless the Canadiens take Cooley, then he should be at or close to the top of the Devils’ draft board. Sure, they don’t need another center with Hughes and Hischier locked up long-term. But how many teams have drafted for need with a high pick and had that backfire? Probably too many to count. He’s very clearly the second- or third-best player in this class, so he has to be under consideration. 

Joakim Kemell

  • Position: Right wing
  • Team: JYP (Liiga, Finland)
  • Counting totals: 15 goals, 23 points in 39 games; 12 goals, 15 points in all U18 international competitions for Team Finland

Kemell is one of the best shooters in this class. He has a hard, wicked shot, especially when he gets time to wire a slap shot or one-timer. Here’s evidence of what he has to offer as a shooter, something the Devils could use in their NHL lineup: 

Though Kemell needs to add strength to his frame, it’s easy to see some similarities to current Devils prospect Alexander Holtz. They’re both high-end shooters, though Holtz is easily the better passer of the two. They’re also both right wings, so it wouldn’t be a stretch to call Kemell the Holtz of the 2022 draft. 

Why the Devils Should Consider Kemell

Kemell is ranked as high as second by Dobber Prospects and was ranked fifth overall on Bob McKenzie’s poll of NHL scouts ahead of last night’s draft lottery. If the goal is to get more shooting talent around Jack Hughes and Hischier, Kemell fits the bill. Along with Yegor Sharangovich, Holtz and Kemell would surely provide shooting threats for years to come. And Kemell would likely be a big boost for the Devils’ power play in a couple of years. 

David Jiricek

  • Position: Defenseman
  • Team: HC Plžen (Czechia)
  • Counting totals: 5 goals, 11 points in 29 games

Jiricek missed some time with a knee injury he suffered at the World Junior Championships in December, but it hasn’t hurt his draft stock. He’s a big, mean defenseman at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, but he also has some offensive upside to his game, something the Devils could use a bit of on the back end. Though he barely played at the WJC, he did show some of his physical presence in the limited time he had with Team Czechia. 

For a more in-depth look, here’s what our very own Alex Hobson had to say about Jiricek in his draft profile of the Czech defender: 

“[Jiricek’s] one of the most explosive skaters among defensemen, and while his acceleration needs some work, he’s a hard player to slow down when you factor in his size. His edgework is very good, and he also possesses what I believe might be one of the best shots among defensemen in the 2022 draft class. Whether it’s a booming one-timer or a deceptive wrist shot, Jiricek’s point shots typically end up in the back of the net before you can blink.”

Why the Devils Should Consider Jiricek

The reasons are pretty similar to Nemec. If Fitzgerald wants to round out a blue line built around Hamilton, Siegenthaler, Graves, Severson and Luke Hughes, then Jiricek should be on their draft board. He’s a different player than Nemec in that he’s bigger and plays a more physical game, but the offensive upside is there is like Nemec. A blue line consisting of Siegenthaler, Hamilton, Luke Hughes and Jiricek would be impressive. And it becomes even better if the Devils retain Graves and Severson. 

Juraj Slafkovsky

  • Position: Left wing
  • Team: TPS (Liiga, Finland)
  • Counting totals: 5 goals, 10 points in 31 games; 2 goals, 7 points in 18 playoff games

Slafkovsky is perhaps the most intriguing of the projected top five picks in the 2022 draft. At 6-foot-4, 218 pounds, he already has an NHL frame and probably has room to add more strength. He’s a good skater for someone his size and has a bit more skill than you’d expect from a player built like him. 

Juraj Slafkovsky Team Slovakia
Juraj Slafkovsky with Team Slovakia (Photo by KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images)

Though Slovakia only played two games at the WJC before it was postponed due to COVID concerns, I caught both their games and was impressed by Slafkovsky. A small sample size of two games isn’t enough to draw a conclusion about a player, but it’s easy to see why NHL teams are intrigued by him. It’s also worth noting he was the tournament MVP at the Beijing Olympics…as a 17-year-old. Clearly there’s potential in him, so it’s not hard to gather why he’s climbing up draft rankings. 

Why Devils Should Consider Slafkovsky

At his end-of-season press conference, Fitzgerald spoke about wanting something different up front. That’s not a knock on Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt or Hischier. Rather, he’s looking for players with different skillsets to complement them. Slafkovsky would certainly check off that box, as the Devils don’t have a prospect with his physical makeup and skillset in their system. 

Who Should the Devils Select?

When it comes time to make the pick on July 7, the Devils will likely be down to Cooley and Slafkovsky. Perhaps Jiricek as well, but my guess is it’s unlikely they draft him that high. The same is true for Kemell and Nemec. In the same poll from Bob McKenzie that had Kemell ranked fifth overall, Slafkovsky came in at second overall (two teams also had him first overall), with Cooley coming in third. 

You could argue either Cooley or Slafkovsky is the second-best player in the 2022 draft. With that said, it’s easy to connect the dots to Slafkovsky after Fitzgerald’s comments a week ago. He’s a unique player with his skill and physical makeup. I think it’s fair to question how high his ceiling is at the moment, but if he really hits his stride in his development, a Valeri Nichushkin-type might be a fair comparison. At the very least, he should be a second-line winger. Since he fills a need and may be the best player available, don’t be surprised if he’s a Devil come July 7. 

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