Back in December, the New Jersey Devils traded Taylor Hall to the Arizona Coyotes after a tumultuous start to the season. Part of the return for Hall was the Coyotes’ first-round pick. And after the Coyotes’ elimination from the playoffs yesterday, the Devils know they’ll be selecting 18th overall.
The Devils will have plenty of options with the 18th pick, specifically at forward. Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes are their building blocks of the future, but they need complementary pieces around them. And using this pick to add one to fill that role would be a wise decision. Here’s who should be atop their draft board.
Quinn was the top goal-scorer in the CHL, finishing with 52 goals in 62 games for the Ottawa 67’s of the OHL. It was a breakout effort for the right-winger, who had 12 goals in his draft-minus-one season in 2018-19. That’s catapulted him up draft rankings, with him rated as high as sixth overall by TSN’s Craig Button and 20th by Future Considerations. So he’s a consensus top 20 pick.
What makes Quinn an electrifying prospect is his shot. That shouldn’t be too much of a surprise given he finished with 52 goals. But he’s also improved his skating, and he’s a solid two-way winger. He didn’t play on a line with Marco Rossi, so his scoring totals weren’t inflated by playing with the CHL’s leading scorer.
It’d be a surprise if Quinn were available at 18th overall, though it’s not impossible. If that’s the case, the Devils would be getting great value in selecting him. His ceiling looks to be that of a high-end, top-six forward who can play in all situations, the type of player they’ll want around Hischier and Hughes.
Amirov is the top-ranked Russian forward in the 2020 Draft. The left-winger finished this season with two points in 21 games for Salavet Yulaev Ufa in the KHL. When he wasn’t playing in the KHL, he played for Tolpar Ufa in the MHL — Russia’s junior league — and finished with 22 points in 17 games.
As Dobber Prospects’ Cam Robinson states, ” [Amirov] is an impressive two-way winger. Competes for every puck and tends to win thanks to his balance and strong core. Makes the subtle plays that add up. Still searching for that separation speed.”
Amirov may not be the fastest skater, but he moves well and is incredibly elusive in the offensive zone. He also has the skill to match his elusiveness. It’s hard not to see a little bit of Devils’ winger Jesper Bratt in him. And because of that, he’d be a perfect fit as a complementary piece to Hughes and Hischier.
Amirov’s ranked 16th overall in Elite Prospects’ consolidated rankings. If he’s available with the 18th pick, he seems like a good bet to be the Devils’ choice, considering his skill set. And given the organization’s affinity for drafting Russians over the last few drafts, it might not be a bad bet to make.
Mercer is one of the top draft-eligible players to come out of the QMJHL. He started the season with the Drummondville Voltigeurs and had 42 points in 26 games before being traded to the Chicoutimi Sagueneens. Though, his production did slow down after the trade, as he had 18 points in 16 games.
Mercer has a similar makeup to Quinn. They’re both wingers with great shots, great stickhandling, and high-end offensive ability. They’re also solid skaters, but if there’s one area where Quinn has an advantage over Mercer, it’s in his two-way play.
When it comes to his rankings, Mercer is generally a consensus top 15 pick. He’s ranked 13th in Bob McKenzie’s rankings, 12th in Elite Prospects’ rankings, and is no lower than 17th (Button’s rankings). That may mean some team selects him before the Devils draft at 18th overall.
But if he is available, he’d be a solid choice. He has top-six potential, and his shot would be a great asset on a Devils’ scoring line. Pair him with a forward like Marco Rossi or Lucas Raymond at seventh overall, where the Devils’ own pick stands, and they’ll have two great pieces to add to their young core.
Guhle is arguably the best defensive prospect to come out of the WHL for the 2020 Draft. He plays for the Prince Albert Raiders, one of the best teams in the WHL, and finished with 40 points (11 goals, 29 assists) in 64 games.
For someone who isn’t likely to be a top 10 pick, Guhle doesn’t have a ton of flaws. He’s 6-foot-3, 187 pounds, but is a very good skater for someone his size. He plays a physical game and is an incredibly sound defender who rarely makes poor decisions. He doesn’t have a ton of offensive upside, but he has a good shot that allows him to create scoring chances.
Guhle’s rankings, like Mercer’s, are pretty consistent. He’s ranked as high as 14th by McKenzie and as low as 25th by Future Considerations. That means there’s a pretty good chance he’s available at the 18th pick.
The Devils need to come away with a defenseman at some point. And if they don’t take Jamie Drysdale or Jake Sanderson with the seventh pick, Guhle would be a more than reasonable choice in the middle of the first round. He’s a high floor, low ceiling prospect who’s a pretty safe bet to be an NHLer. Having him, along with Ty Smith, Reilly Walsh, and Kevin Bahl would give the Devils a pretty good group of young defensemen to build around.
Gunler is one of the top prospects to come out of Sweden this year. He finished the season with four goals and nine assists in 45 games for Lulea HF in the SHL (Sweden). He also played a bit for Lulea HF 20 in the SuperElit — Sweden’s junior league — and had six points in four games.
Gunler is a high-end offensive talent. He has one of the best shots in this class, and it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say he has 30-goal potential in the NHL. His passing isn’t at the same level, but it is an underrated part of his game. The knock on him is his inconsistencies, and it’s why some rankings don’t even have a first-round grade on him.
That said, Gunler’s talent suggests he should be a guaranteed first-round pick. You have to bet on upside in the first round, and his upside is sky-high. And for all the inconsistencies he has, he is a solid two-way winger when he’s on his game. It’s just a matter of getting it out of him night in and night out.
If the Devils take a defenseman with the seventh pick, Gunler should be high on their high list at 18th overall. And even if they take a forward with the seventh pick, he should still be atop their draft board in this spot. He may have the most upside of Amirov, Mercer, and even Quinn. There’s a good chance he’ll be available with this pick, too, and he might have the best value of any of the forwards still available at this point in the first round.
Tim Stützle is the top German prospect in this class, but do not sleep on Reichel. He finished this season with 24 points in 42 games for Eisbären Berlin in the DEL — the top league in Germany. He also excelled for the German national team at the U-20 level, with 12 points in 18 games across all competitions.
Reichel is a dynamic offensive winger who has a knack for putting up points. His shot isn’t at the level of Alexander Holtz’s, or even Gunler’s, but he gets in high-danger shooting areas. He has high offensive hockey IQ and is a good skater, which is something you like to see for an undersized winger. He’ll need to add weight to his 6-foot, 170-pound frame to handle the rigors of the NHL, but that’s the only real concern with him moving forward.
Reichel’s rankings are pretty interesting. He’s rated as high as 20th in McKenzie’s rankings and as low as 50th by Elite Prospects. Otherwise, most major scouting services have him ranked somewhere in the 30s, so he’s not a sure first-round pick.
That said, he was arguably Germany’s best player at an exhibition tournament against Switzerland a few weeks ago, even more so than Stützle and John-Jason Peterka (From ‘Pronman: Which prospects improved their NHL Draft stock at summer U20 camps?’, The Athletic – 8/13/2020). His stock was rising before then, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him end up as a first-round pick. And he should be on the Devils’ board with the 18th pick, given his offensive upside and potential as a point-producing, top-six winger.
Who Should the Devils Draft?
The Devils will have plenty of options with the 18th pick. Because Quinn is likely to already be off the board, my choice would be Gunler. The Devils would have to fine-tune the inconsistencies in his game. But the offensive upside is sky-high, and he’d be a great fit alongside Hughes or Hischier.
If the pick isn’t Gunler, then Amirov or Reichel would be ideal selections. While Reichel may seem like a reach to some, the Devils would be justified in drafting him because of his offensive upside. Meanwhile, Amirov is a complete two-way player who’ll play in all situations. Come away with either of them, and the Devils should end up with a first-round haul.
Alex Chauvancy is a New Jersey Devils writer for The Hockey Writers who has a penchant for advanced stats, prospects, signings and trades. He previously wrote for Devils Army Blog, a New Jersey Devils fan blog, from 2015-2017