With the Vancouver Canucks’ elimination from the playoffs, the New Jersey Devils will officially select 20th overall at the 2020 Draft. They acquired the pick at the trade deadline when they sent Blake Coleman to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who originally owned the Canucks’ pick. It’s the third first-round pick they have this year, and it offers them the opportunity to build a formidable prospect arsenal. Here are six players who should be on their draft board in this spot.
Holloway is one of the more intriguing prospects in this class. The Canadian forward spent the 2018-19 season with the Okotoks Oilers in the AJHL and had 88 points in 53 games. He made the transition to the NCAA for this past season and played for the Wisconsin Badgers, where he had 17 points in 35 games. Notably, it’s the same path Cale Makar took in his development (AJHL to the NCAA).
Holloway is a tough prospect to figure out. On the surface, he has the size (6-foot, 192 pounds), skating, and two-way play that screams NHLer. On the other hand, his production is not what you want to see from a top prospect. Even as a freshman, you would’ve hoped to see him put up more points, so it’s fair to wonder what his offensive upside is. It’s also worth noting the Badgers had a ton of talent but grossly underachieved this season, and that may have affected him too.
When it comes to his draft spot, Holloway is rated 17th overall based on Elite Prospects’ consolidated ranking. The Devils wouldn’t be reaching taking him in this spot, though it is fair to wonder if he’d be the best pick given some of his question marks. If he doesn’t improve his offensive game, it’s hard to see him being more than a third-liner. Every team needs forwards like that, but there should be others available who offer more offensively.
Peterka is the third of the top German prospects projected to go in the first round of the 2020 Draft, with the other two being Tim Stützle and Lukas Reichel. The left-winger finished with 11 points in 42 games playing for EHC München in the DEL — the top league in Germany. He also played in 17 games for the German national team at the U-20 level and finished with 16 points across all competitions.
Peterka’s strength lies in his high hockey IQ and ability to get into open space. He’s a very good skater, though his mobility could use some work. The lack of production in the DEL may put off some people. But he does a lot of things that demonstrate he’ll be able to provide offense in the NHL.
When it comes to his rankings, Peterka is a consensus first-round pick. He’s rated as high as 17th by McKeen’s Hockey and as low as 29th by Future Considerations. He’s ranked 26th in Elite Prospects’ consolidated rankings, so it’s not a foregone conclusion he goes in the top 20.
But Peterka does have the talent to justify the Devils using the 20th pick on him. They need complementary pieces to put around Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, two former first overall picks. While Peterka may not end up being a top-line winger, he looks like a good bet to be a middle-six forward who can chip in 40-50 points and play on the power play. And that’s why he’d be a fit with Hughes or Hischier.
Perreault was one of the highest-scoring wingers in the OHL this season, with 39 goals in 57 games. The only OHLer to finish with more goals than him was Jack Quinn, who had 52 in 62 games. And Perreault played on a significantly worse team, the Sarnia Sting, than Quinn did on the Ottawa 67’s.
Offense is the name of the game when it comes to Perreault. He has one of the best shots in this draft class, but he’s a decent playmaker as well. He’s also an excellent skater, especially for someone who’s 5-foot-11, 200 pounds. If there’s a knock on him, it’s he’s a pretty a weak defender and needs to improve away from the puck.
But any team drafting Perreault would be taking him for his offensive abilities, including the Devils. His rankings are generally in the 20-25 range, with Bob McKenzie having him at 21, so he’d be right on value with the 20th pick. Given his shot and scoring ability, something the Devils don’t have a lot of in their prospect pool, he’d be a sensible pick for them.
It’s pretty clear who the two best defensemen are in this class: Jamie Drysdale and Jake Sanderson. After that, there’s some debate as to who’s third-best. Kaiden Guhle and Braden Schneider are in the conversation, but so is Wallinder. Yes, that’s right, Wallinder is in the mix too.
Wallinder played his junior hockey in Sweden for MODO Hockey J20 in the SuperElit, where he had 24 points in 37 games. He also played in 18 games for MODO Hockey in the Allsvenskan — the Swedish AHL — and had two points. He’s 6-foot-4, 192 pounds, but is an unbelievably smooth skater for someone his size. When on his game, he has high-end offensive ability and is a very effective passer. He needs to improve defensively, but the potential is there.
Wallinder’s rankings are generally in the mid to late first-round or early second round. TSN’s Craig Button has him ranked 18th overall, while Elite Prospects has him ranked 37th. The outlier would be McKeen’s Hockey, who has him at 57th overall.
Some may see Wallinder as a reach with the 20th pick, but he’d be a perfectly reasonable choice for the Devils. He’s a boom or bust prospect, but the boom could be a highly-skilled, offensive defenseman. He’ll need time to develop, but always bet on upside in the first round. And that’s why the Devils should have Wallinder on their board at 20 if they’re seeking a defenseman.
Schneider is the second-best defenseman to come out of the WHL after Guhle. He finished the season with 42 points in 60 games for the Brandon Wheat Kings and was a standout defensive defenseman.
Unlike Guhle, Schneider is close to a finished product. He’s 6-foot-2, 207 pounds, and might be the most physical defenseman in this draft class. He’s not afraid to lay down a hard hit in one-on-one battles, and he’s great defending in front of the net. The downside is his offensive upside is quite limited, whereas Guhle seems to have more offensive potential.
Schneider is generally a consensus top 20 pick. It’s easy to see why, too, given his physical makeup. That said, I’m not sure how much more room he has to develop. He can probably make an impact for an NHL team sooner than later, but it’s hard to see him being more than a third-pair defenseman who can kill penalties, even when he reaches his prime. So that should give the Devils something to think about if they’re seeking a defenseman with this pick.
Bourque is one of a few top offensive prospects to come out of the QMJHL this season. He finished 2019-20 with 29 goals and 71 points in 49 games playing for the Shawinigan Cataractes. That average of 1.45 points per game ranked ninth in the QMJHL, as well as fourth among 2020 Draft eligibles playing in the Q.
It’s pretty clear what Bourque’s strengths are. He’s a high-end offensive talent who has a powerful and accurate shot. He averaged 0.45 assists per game in his draft-minus-one season (2018-19) but improved that to 0.85 in 2019-20, so his play-making has gone up a level. He’s not a great defender, but like other forwards in this range, any team would be drafting him for his offensive skill.
Bourque’s rankings are mostly in the 20-25 range, with Elite Prospects being the lone outlier, having him ranked 12th overall. He’ll probably be there for the Devils with the 20th pick, and they should consider him. He is listed as a center but has played plenty at right-wing. That’s where he’ll probably play in the NHL, and that should make him a nice complementary piece for Hughes and Hischier.
The Devils’ Path at 20th Overall
What the Devils do with the 20th pick may depend on what they do with their first two picks. If they take two forwards — for example, they select Marco Rossi at seventh overall and Noel Gunler at 18th overall — they may go with a defenseman at 20. If that’s the case, Wallinder is their best bet. He’s a project, but if developed right, he could be an offensive, second-pair defenseman.
If they split their first two picks between a forward and defenseman, then they should good after a second forward at 20. There’s not a significant difference between Peterka, Bourque, and Perreault. They all have legit offensive upside and would be the kind of prospects the team needs to build for the future. If they end up with one of them, plus Rossi and Guhle, that’d be a quality first round that’d give them one of the best farm systems in the NHL.