Whatever the New Jersey Devils do with the second-overall pick – use it to select a player or trade it for an asset that can help the franchise immediately – in the first round of tonight’s 2022 NHL Draft in Montreal, one thing is for certain. They will have explored every possible scenario since they won the Draft Lottery and were awarded that second overall pick. When GM Tom Fitzgerald addressed the media yesterday he was as he always is – confident in his plan of attack, and the path he has followed since taking over the role.
His goal isn’t just to be good for a season, make the playoffs, and then fall off the cliff back into NHL obscurity. His goal and the team’s goal – is to become a perennial playoff participant and a contender for the Stanley Cup. He’s built up quite the nucleus already, imagine if he could add another top-end player?
Fitzgerald believes in the path that he is on. It doesn’t matter what some sect of Devils’ Twitter thinks, or what some outsider wants him to do with RFA Jesper Bratt. What matters is he has his belief on how he wants to build a successful team, and he has stuck to that belief. But he does need to add more.
Perhaps that addition doesn’t come on day one or two of the NHL Draft. Maybe it comes a week later when Free Agency opens and Fitzgerald and the Devils open their checkbook for Johnny Gaudreau like they did last summer for Dougie Hamilton? By the way, Hamilton and Johnny Hockey were teammates in Calgary – maybe Douglas can help recruit? Okay, back on track, we’ll address that after the dust settles during the two-day draft extravaganza.
The way I see things, and the impression I got from listening to Fitzgerald during his presser, was that if the Devils use the pick to select a player, it will be based on who the Montreal Canadiens select at first overall. They take Shane Wright, New Jersey will take Logan Cooley or Juraj Slafovsky. The Habs take Slafovsky, the Devils will take Wright or Cooley.
When he spoke last night, he hadn’t been made any substantial offers for the no. 2 pick, instead calling the conversations ‘tire-kicking’ or ‘meaningless’. But that all could change today as the minutes tick away towards the beginning of the draft.
Who are some names that could pry away that no. 2 pick from New Jersey? The return better be a scoring winger that can ride shotgun with Jack Hughes. Think Vlad Tarasenko, David Pastrnak, Timo Meier, Kyle Connor, or Alex DeBrincat. Sorry Brooksie, Kappo Kakko ain’t cutting it.
At I write this, about eight hours prior to the start of the festivities in Montreal, I don’t foresee the Devils trading their first pick. When Fitzgerald suggested that he’d be open to trading the pick at the beginning of May in his end-of-season media availability that was before the pick changed from sixth overall to second overall. Though it is only a difference of four picks, it is a significant difference in who you could add to your franchise. None of the three names I suggested that were in play at the top of the draft will be available at six when Columbus is scheduled to pick.
Would it be exciting if the Devils nab a top-flight scorer either with the second overall pick or through a trade? Of course! No doubt. Will that happen? Remains to be seen.
But as of now, the man with the plan is staying on the course he’s been on. Fitzgerald also suggested at the end of the season that he had a lot of the ‘same’ kind of players in the New Jersey system, and they need to add some more variety.
If some of those ’same’ players are traded, expect that to happen on day two of the draft when the Devils can possibly foist some of those players onto other teams for picks or players who can play in the NHL next season. An NHL-caliber goalie is still a big need in New Jersey. Could a player like Michael McLeod or Pavel Zacha be used in a deal to acquire a goaltender? Absolutely. Should next season’s first-round pick be in play if Fitzgerald can acquire a no. 1 netminder? Abso-fricken-lutely.
As of now, the Devils are scheduled to make nine picks (2, 37, 70, 102, 110, 126, 141, 166, 198) while in Montreal. My best guess is they return to New Jersey with at least seven new draftees and at least one current NHLer, maybe two. My prediction for the no. 2 pick? Logan Cooley, ‘cause what not?