Taking Simon Nemec Over Shane Wright Looks Great One Year Later

Simon Nemec shakes hands with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports
Simon Nemec shakes hands with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports /

The New Jersey Devils had a hard decision to make at the 2022 NHL Draft. While many thought they were going to take the big winger Juraj Slafkovsky, it quickly became obvious they wouldn’t have that choice. The Montreal Canadiens, who had the first pick, took the Slovak winger instead of Shane Wright, the once consensus number-one pick who played center (a position of somewhat need in Montreal). The Devils were on the clock, and their presumed pick (who knows if that’s actually how it worked) was off the board.

We were pretty clear that we thought Shane Wright should be the pick. Yes, the Devils have Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier playing center. That did complicate the pick, but we are very much proponents of drafting the best player available no matter where the picks are.

One year later, it looks like the Devils choosing defenseman Simon Nemec over Wright was the right decision. Nemec came over to the United States right away, spending the entire season with the Utica Comets. There were definitely some growing pains, but overall it was a positive experience. During the run-up to the playoffs, Nemec looked like one of the best players on the team. He definitely looked like the most skilled player.

Meanwhile, Wright was bounced all over hockey’s creation last season. He played in the NHL, AHL, and CHL. This season, the Seattle Kraken are getting an exception to make sure he can play for their AHL affiliate, the Coachella Valley Firebirds. It seems strange that they are making this kind of an effort, but Wright might not be ready for the NHL yet.

If the Devils took Wright second overall, they would have expected him to make an immediate impact. The Devils are not in a place where they can wait on a prospect, no matter the pedigree. We are seeing it with Alex Holtz, the 2020 seventh-overall pick. The Devils couldn’t let him progress on the NHL ice. He has to figure it out, or he’s going to be playing in Utica. The same is happening with Wright in Seattle.

Nemec is a defenseman, so his trajectory is measured differently. He doesn’t need to make the Devils roster this season, but he very well could. While the Devils traded for Colin Miller to help replace Damon Severson, Nemec will get every chance to prove he’s the best possible option for the third-line defenseman.

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This could easily change by this time next season, but as of right now, the Devils made the right decision. If they were taking Wright, someone who plays the same premium position as the team’s two best players, he needed to be a sure thing. That’s far from his truth right now, and the Devils are fine with Nemec.