We are just under four days away from the 2019 NHL Entry Draft in Vancouver and the New Jersey Devils will kick things off with the first overall pick on Friday night. In addition to the golden ticket, the Devils have 10 total picks, including three second-round and two third-round picks.
Some of their draft picks can easily be traded with the amount of cap space general manager Ray Shero is armed with, and some picks can be used to find some diamonds in the rough.
Here is a preview of what we can expect from the Devils come draft time.
Continue to Make Key Draft Selections
Outside of Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko, the 2019 draft projects to be one of the deepest in recent history. Inevitably, some first-round caliber players will slip into the second round based on organizational needs, and with three second-round picks, the Devils have a great opportunity to add some key players to their pipeline. Over his first few seasons as GM, Shero and his assistant Tom Fitzgerald have preached that they plan to build a contender from within, the blueprint for success in the salary cap era.
Over the past two drafts, the Devils have revamped their prospect pool, adding current NHL caliber players like Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt as well as adding key prospects who will have an impact on the big league club as early as next season, such as Ty Smith and Jesper Boqvist.
If the Devils want to continue loading up on prospects, this is the year to do it.
Flip a Pick to Address Current Roster
While keeping all 10 picks can benefit New Jersey long-term, it does little to fix their immediate roster. If they don’t add talent, Taylor Hall will have no incentive to stick around once he becomes a free agent. It’s a pretty simple equation.
That said, the most likely scenario for the Devils to acquire NHL talent is to flip some of their picks, most notably one of their three second-round picks or one of their two third-round picks. This is plenty of draft capital to work with, and with the excess in cap space, the Devils have a great opportunity to make a bold move, especially after missing out on Jacob Trouba, who was traded to their cross-river rivals, the New York Rangers late Monday night.
The Devils will likely need to include one of their drafts picks in a package with a prospect or two if they want to acquire anyone substantial. While it’s highly unlikely that they part ways with someone like Smith or Boqvist, certain names that might be attractive are Pavel Zacha, John Quenneville and Michael McLeod.
All three are former first-round picks and play center. Zacha showed a certain level of consistency last season after his strong finish to the year and both Quenneville and McLeod are extremely talented and could benefit from a change of scenery.
If the Devils stick with Hughes at first overall, they’ll be selecting a natural center, and may no longer need to wait on the development of Zacha, Quenneville or McLeod, making at least one of them expendable.
Who Should the Devils Target?
Should the Devils make a trade, they’ll likely be targeting a top-four defenseman and a top-six goal scorer – two of their biggest needs.
With Trouba off the board, the next best defenseman in the rumor mill is Shayne Gostisbehere. While trades between the Philadelphia Flyers and Devils seem unlikely, it’s important to note that Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher worked alongside Shero in New Jersey before he took the job in Philadelphia last season. Also, Shero completed a trade within the Metropolitan Division in 2018 when the Devils acquired Michael Grabner from the Rangers in exchange for a second-round pick and a prospect at the trade deadline, so a deal is not entirely out of the realm of possibility.
Gostisbehere has a small frame, but he is a mobile puck-moving defenseman with a ton of offensive skill who fits the Devils system perfectly. Similar defensemen who the Devils might look to acquire are Nikita Zaitsev of the Toronto Maple Leafs or Justin Faulk of the Carolina Hurricanes.
At forward, there are plenty of names circulating around the rumor mill. Most notably, Nikolaj Ehlers, who figures to be the next player shipped out of Winnipeg following the Trouba trade. Other potential top-six goal scorers who should be available are Andre Burakovsky, J.T. Miller and Timo Meier, whose teams are all facing a salary cap crunch and will likely have to shed some contracts to stay under the ceiling.
All in all, the 2019 NHL Entry Draft will be a big weekend for New Jersey. It can make or break the present and future of the Devils.