So it is finally decided. With the first overall pick, the New Jersey Devils selected Nico Hischier over Nolan Patrick. Hischier is pegged as the more dynamic, creative forward and that is exactly what the Devils need. Scouts and mock drafts were split 50/50 on who should go first, but Ray Shero and his staff felt confident with Hischier as their pick. It is easy to see why as The Hockey Writers’ Andrew Forbes discussed the type of star he can become in the NHL.
Shero then went on to surprise many, including me, by using all of the Devils’ draft picks on day two. I thought Shero would trade a few of those for prospects considering the Devils had nine total picks between rounds two and seven. Aside from an exchange with the San Jose Sharks involving a sixth and two seventh-rounders, the Devils stood pat and selected a total of 10 players on Saturday. Let’s break down the first few picks of the draft and see how well the Devils did.
1st Round: Nico Hischier (1st Overall)
Nico Hischier became the first Swiss-born player to ever be picked first overall after Ray Shero called his name Friday night. The immensely talented rookie is a natural-born center and should be able to join the Devils next season.
Hischier’s incredible rise from the 16th-ranked prospect to the first can be attributed to his stellar campaigns with the Halifax Mooseheads and with team Switzerland at the World Junior Championship. After such fantastic performances, a large contingency of Devils’ fans lobbied for Hischier to be the top pick.
Not only did they get their wish, a lot of former Devils did as well. The fans and former Devils saw the potential in Hischier for obvious reasons — the Swiss centerman’s game consists of speed, skill, vision and a high hockey IQ. These attributes are what the NHL is all about these days and the Devils needed more of it. Hischier was able to narrowly edge out Patrick in most of those categories and that is why he was selected first. I love this pick for the Devils and expect to see Hischier in Newark next season.
2nd Round: Jesper Boqvist (36th Overall)
With their second pick in the draft, the Devils selected talented Swedish winger Jesper Boqvist. Boqvist is labeled as a good skater with good hands but suffers from some inconsistency. Here are some of his highlights from last year in the Swedish Hockey League to give some context to those labels.
The Devils biggest pressing need at this point in the draft was on defense but I still like this pick. Shero went with the best player available and has added another fast, skilled forward to a team that desperately needs them. Boqvist will probably need a year or two before competing for a spot in the NHL but his game should translate well and he could become a good middle-six forward.
3rd Round: Fabian Zetterlund (63rd Overall)
The Devils used their third pick in the draft to grab another Swede, Fabian Zetterlund. He is a center/right wing and played in the Swedish Hockey League as well. TSN’s Craig Button had the young man at 79th in his final draft rankings. Picking him above that ranking might have been a little bit of a reach, I am not against picking another skilled forward with an impressive shot.
3rd Round: Reilly Walsh (81st Overall)
The first defenseman taken for the Devils was Reilly Walsh. In 2016-17, Walsh played in both the USHL, with the Chicago Steel, and at Proctor Academy, a high school in New Hampshire. Bob Mckenzie ranked him 66th in his final draft rankings, so this pick may have been a small steal in the third round.
Walsh is an offensive defenseman that is committed to Harvard University next year. The Devils need puck-moving defensemen and he certainly fits the bill. His 69 points in 30 games for Proctor Academy were impressive and his skills could be a major asset for the Devils moving forward if he continues to develop.
4th Round: Nikita Popugaev (98th Overall)
Nikita Popugaev, or the “Big Poppy”, was an interesting pick. The Russian winger has good hands and a very good shot. The biggest drawback in his game is his lack of foot speed. Speed and acceleration are essential to be able to play in the NHL so it may be tough for Popugaev to break into the league immediately.
If he can improve his skating ability, though, he will become a mainstay on the Devils’ roster. Standing at 6’6”, 205 lbs, Popugaev has the size to shield the puck, ward off defenders, and create space for himself. This is a low-risk, high-reward selection that could turn into a big steal for the Devils.