Since Tom Fitzgerald took over as GM of the New Jersey Devils, they take a goalie every year in the NHL Draft. In fact, the Devils took a goalie every year since 2015 (Mackenzie Blackwood in the second round). Under Fitzgerald’s guidance, the Devils will likely continue to draft goalies. Martin Brodeur and Scott Clemmensen are key personnel in Fitzgerald’s group of goalie experts and have seen Akira Schmid and Nico Daws grow their way onto the scene. Cole Brady has plenty of time to develop, and Tyler Brennan has a similar story.
One of the more interesting names in the first 30-60 picks of the 2023 NHL Draft is Michael Hrabal, a Czechia netminder who plays in the USHL for the Omaha Lancers. Elite Prospects lists him at 6’6 and 209 lbs. The Devils currently have a pick in the 2nd round. Do they use that pick (their only pick in the first 100 picks) on Hrabal, or do they take their chances on a wild card in the late rounds like they usually do?
It all depends on what Fitzgerald’s staff believes heading into the draft. Do they go with a guy with high upside, as he stated in a recent exit interview? The New Jersey Devils taking a netminder in each draft has allowed them to attempt to hit on a few goalies like Mackenzie Blackwood. Akira Schmid and Nico Daws have been drafted more recently, but they have shown NHL chops over the last two years. Tyler Brennan and Cole Brady are steeped into their development curve as long as they can grow.
Michael Hrabal is the second-best goaltender in the North American rankings and is set to go play at UMass-Amherst after he finishes up in the USHL, which is a tier getting players ready for the NCAA and the NHL. This would allow him to marinade over time at the college ranks. He is projected to go between 28-75th overall in this year’s NHL Draft and could be an interesting choice with his style of play as one of the top goalie prospects. His performances in the Hlinka-Gretzky Tournament got him a 2.73 GAA and .917 Save% while playing for his home team of Czechia with a 4-2 record. He even added a shutout.
Speaking of big frames, we will go over to Sweden to look at Damian Clara. He is the sixth-ranked European goalie. The Devils have been known to scout the Nordic leagues, but they recently have been going the Czechia and Swiss routes in the draft. However, going for a goalie from a Swedish league below the SHL is a wise move if you don’t want to deal with Russian-developed netminders.
Clara is a 6’6″ 207lb netminder who is a unique case coming over from the Czechia U20 to Farjestad in Sweden. He is now on loan to Brynas IF. His save percentages spiked playing in a more structured system in the J20 and Hockey Allsvenskan from .903-.936. His poise, calmness, and lateral movement going post to post is something of NHL caliber at a young age. The more challenged he gets, the better he becomes. He is a bit of a dark horse if he falls further back on day 2 of the draft, where the Devils can snag a very solid goalie.
If Clara makes it up to the SHL and dominates, he can definitely come over to North America soon and see how he performs in front of the Devils’ goaltending brass. If he develops into that very technically sound, athletic European goalie he would certainly become a dominant netminder in the NHL.