On July 7, the New Jersey Devils hosted their draft party at the iconic Stone Pony in Asbury Park. Hundreds of fans eagerly gathered to watch their team make the second-overall selection at the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. The event included performances by Brian Kirk and the Jirks and the Devils own TJ the DJ. There were plenty of activities for fans to participate in, including street hockey, giant Jenga and cornhole.
There were several guests in attendance, including current defenseman Dougie Hamilton. The list of Devils alumni included Ken Daneyko, Bryce Salvador, Grant Marshall, Bruce Driver and Jim Dowd. Throughout the event, they each took time to pose for photos and chat with fans.
There was an array of hot topics being discussed around the venue, including the trade of a player some were hoping would be a linemate of Jack Hughes this fall.
How Did Devils Fans Feel About the DeBrincat Trade?
While enroute to the Stone Pony I thought about what the energy would be like among the fans since there were so many disappointed that Alex DeBrincat was moved to the Ottawa Senators. The former Chicago Blackhawks forward is coming off a 78-point campaign, scoring 41 goals for the second time in his young career. The trade involved Ottawa giving up three draft picks: the seventh-overall pick and a second-round pick (39th overall) in the 2022 NHL Draft, and a third-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft. I asked some fans at the Stone Pony how they felt about the trade.
“I definitely would not have given up the second-overall pick for DeBrincat,” said Devils season ticket holder James Marhold. “Chicago did not seem to get a lot for him, which surprised me. I was kind of hoping we would have got him, but right now I have my fingers crossed for Johnny Gaudreau.”
The price that the Senators paid made some Devils fans feel that general manager Tom Fitzgerald could have gotten the job done. Many felt the 5-foot-7 left winger made sense for New Jersey as a perfect complement to Hughes.
“DeBrincat absolute fit a need for the Devil,” said longtime fan Ryan Arthur. “He is a right-handed winger who excels at scoring on the rush and is a two-time 40-goal scorer. He could have immediately slotted into our top line. For the price Ottawa paid, I would have made a deal. He’s the right age for this team, and the fact he played with an ‘A’ on his sweater in Chicago is a bonus.”
I heard rumblings of disappointment as I made my way through the Stone Pony, but it did not affect the overall mood of the event. Outside, fans were chatting and enjoying their drinks while those gathered inside sang along with the band as the clock inched closer to 7:30 PM.
New Jersey Chooses Simon Nemec Second Overall
There was madness in Montreal as the host team stood on stage and announced they selected Juraj Slafkovský with the first-overall pick. Fans in New Jersey were stunned to see the Montreal Canadiens pass on Shane Wright, who was heavily projected to go first overall.
Fans around me became excited expecting the Devils to draft Wright with their second-overall pick, but surprise quickly spread throughout the crowd when Kate Madigan announced the name Simon Nemec. I heard multiple fans shout “wow” while others inside the venue booed the organization’s pick.
Thomas Fech from Tinton Falls has been a season ticket holder since 2019, and he noticed there was a difference in response between fans inside the Stone Pony and outside near the summer stage.
“I noticed a distinct difference between the reactions of the crowd inside compared to the crowd outside,” he said. “The inside crowd largely booed the pick. Outside, a lot of the crowd agreed it made sense [to pick Nemec] because New Jersey has a ton of forwards and a right-handed defenseman was a position of need.”
Nemec is listed at 6-foot-1 and weighs 192 pounds. He is a right-shot defenseman, which made him appealing to New Jersey. He was ranked as one of the top blueliners in the draft and is described as an excellent, two-way, puck-moving defenseman. The idea of a defensive pairing of Nemec and Luke Hughes should have fans very excited for the future of the Devils organization.
Daneyko and Salvador React to the Devils’ Second-Overall Selection
After the pick I asked former Devils captain and defenseman Salvador his thoughts on the Devils selecting 18-year-old Nemec.
“It was surprising to be honest,” he said. “Deep down we all would say the Devils needed to select one of those two right-handed defensemen. I like the pick and I like that the Devils had the courage to go for somebody who can actually play soon. I’m excited because it’s something that the Devils need.”
Daneyko echoed what Salvador said and showed a lot of excitement when talking about Nemec and wasn’t surprised the Devils selected the young defenseman.
“If you project Simon Nemec to be a first-pairing defenseman, I am taking him all day,” he said. “You can’t find [top defensemen] and you can’t trade for them. Now we have Luke Hughes and Nemec, and if these two guys are going to be what we expect, we are in good hands. For me, once Slafkovský went first I felt we were going this way.”
Additional Notes from the NHL Entry Draft
- In a recent article by Bruce Garrioch he stated before Round 1 began that it was speculated the Devils made a pitch to the Calgary Flames for Matthew Tkachuk that included the second-overall pick (from ‘INSIDER TRADING: The goalie carousel starts spinning with plenty of trade chatter,’ Ottawa Sun, 7/7/22). Obviously, nothing came from it.
- General manager Fitzgerald found his goaltender ahead of draft on Friday when he traded his 37th and 70th pick to the Washington Capitals in exchange for Vitek Vanecek. His record last season was 20-12-6 posting a save percentage of .908 and goals-against average of 2.67. The move reunites the 26-year-old goaltender with current Devils blueliner Jonas Siegenthaler.
- The Devils selected five defensemen between Thursday and Friday. Nemec was joined by Seamus Casey, Daniil Orlov, Charles Leddy and Artem Barabosha.
- With their 102nd-overall pick the organization announced goaltender Tyler Brennan. TSN’s Bob McKenzie had the Winnipeg native ranked 62nd while his colleague Craig Button had him 63rd.
- New Jersey selected two forwards, Petr Hauser and Josh Filmon in Round 5 and Round 6, respectively.
Catching Up with Dougie Hamilton
Fans were elated to learn that Hamilton would be attending the draft party. Individuals lined up for autographs and photos with the blueliner who was gracious with his time. He told me he is feeling good and is training both on and off the ice.
As fans know, Hamilton remained in New Jersey and even helped his team announce their 2022-23 schedule by starring in “Dougie’s Great Adventure.” While the Toronto native said he may not be ready for his own IMDB page anytime soon, he enjoyed the experience and had positive things to say about everyone involved. I asked what rollercoaster in Six Flags’ Great Adventure he would recommend to Devils fans and he was non-committal stating that each one had something different to offer.
Now that general managers can put the draft behind them, their focus will be on their free agents. On Wednesday, July 13 at 12:00 PM ET, the free agent frenzy will begin. This year’s free agents could include a few big names like Evgeni Malkin and Nazem Kadri. Fans will get a few days of rest before more offseason chaos ensues.