The New Jersey Devils selected Simon Nemec 2nd overall in the 2022 NHL Draft. He’s a key cog in the Devils plan to mix older and younger defensemen in the NHL lineup. Right now, the Devils aren’t drafting until the second day of the draft. Some may say “The Devils don’t need these extra picks because they won’t all develop right away. They need more immediate help for the playoffs.” As an advocate of asset management and cap management, the biggest thing the Devils under Tom Fitzgerald as GM is doing right is valuing players for certain assets.
Tom Fitzgerald made the bold move last offseason trading for Vitek Vanecek and extending him. He flourished in New Jersey as the starter. Akira Schmid is also under contract and has the ability to become the New Jersey Devils European version of Connor Hellebuyck the way he’s developing.
It’s possible if the right offer came along for the right cap hit, Tom Fitzgerald could make the move to trade Jesper Bratt or Timo Meier just to keep his salary cap in order. It would be smart to target younger players to help keep those numbers low. As the New Jersey Devils have some RFA’s and UFA’s to keep, a lot of the prospects like a Nemec on entry-level deals will help budget for those cap hits for the next few seasons. Those players would be key in allowing Bratt and Meier to stick around.
Even though the Devils don’t have a first-round pick in this year’s draft, they have the ability to find some really good physical stay-home defenders and potentially more right-handed defensemen in the second round and beyond. The Devils will potentially lose Damon Severson, and bringing Nemec up, and possibly losing Reilly Walsh if they don’t qualify him as an RFA. Fitzgerald’s crew knows how to build their draft boards and looking for the best available player with the most upside after the NHL Combine takes place.
Tom Fitzgerald is very creative when it comes to evaluating the prospect pool. That’s why he was able to get Timo Meier for the prospect collection he did. He knows what he has, and he knows where he can spare to lose. Now, he has a superstar power forward who can score with the best of them.
With the success in the Memorial Cup playoffs, Devils prospect Chase Stillman shows why a playmaking forward and physical hitting player is vital in also being part of the Devils future. Although soured upon, it appears more Devils fans are warming up to Stillman’s physical brand of hockey, which is well beloved in Devils culture.
Back to the defensemen on this Devils roster. Having Luke Hughes, Kevin Bahl, and Simon Nemec around will keep cheap contracts on the blueline for a fair while. Those guys will see nice pay increases in the next three years, but in the meantime, the Devils should take advantage. Luke Hughes can provide an offensive jump and poise while improving his defensive game. Kevin Bahl is already proving he can play in the regular season and playoffs, winning a lot of hearts over with his burly Sasquatch play.
When Simon Nemec eventually debuts with the New Jersey Devils, he’s essentially this era’s version of Brian Rafalski. In that sense, the way he distributes the puck and the way he’s shooting it with a lot of pop and authority will translate to the NHL. Defensively, Nemec is adjusting rather well learning the North American style of play with the Utica Comets. We wouldn’t be shocked to see him make the team out of camp. However, it’s more likely he starts in Utica and makes the Devils somewhere between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day. Once he gets hot, it’ll be very hard to keep him in Utica.
It’ll be clearer to see how this newer and fresher-looking Devils roster shapes up for the next 82-game journey. The draft and free agent frenzy won’t be what it was in years past, but that’s because Fitzgerald is focusing on youth in a different way. It’ll be a big step forward if the Devils can add a few more pieces during the season to get them past the second round of the NHL playoffs.