For the third time in six years, the lottery balls were on the New Jersey Devils side back in 2022. The Devils struck gold in 2017 and 2019 when they won the lottery, allowing them to select Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes. While the leap up to the number two spot in the 2022 NHL Draft didn't generate the same type of buzz, its impact reverberates through the team today.
The Devils entered that draft with nine total picks, which included three fourth-rounders. Two years later, it is fair to begin the evaluations of those picks and players. And while we can't be certain every pick will turn into an NHL-caliber player, the early results are promising.
Everyone knows by now that with the second pick in the draft, the Devils selected defenseman Simon Nemec. At the time, the selection was questioned. Juraj Slafkovsky was the surprise first-overall pick, thus beginning the Shane Wright slide. Safe to say that Nemec was the right pick. After a solid D+1 year, Nemec is playing massive minutes in place of Dougie Hamilton. He's third on the team in average TOI at 20:46. Still at just 19 years old, Nemec has shown immense poise on the backend and has rightfully earned himself top-pair minutes to go along with power play and penalty kill time. With him and fellow rookie Luke Hughes together on defense, the Devils look to have secured not one but two franchise defensemen of the present and future.
The Devils started Day Two of the draft making a trade. They moved pick 37 and a third-rounder (pick 70) in exchange for goalie Vitek Vanecek and pick 46. Sticking with the pick, the Devils selected American defenseman Seamus Casey. Size and concerns over his defensive game caused Casey to slide to the middle of the second round. Today, this pick looks like an absolute home run. Casey has been lighting it up at the University of Michigan, scoring 13 goals and 50 assists in 63 games across two seasons. His defensive game has rounded out, showing that his lack of size is irrelevant. Casey is a dynamic, puck-moving defenseman who effortlessly glides around the ice and has excellent hockey sense. He projects as a solid number-four or high-end number-five defenseman in the same ilk as Samuel Girard of the Colorado Avalanche.
Also part of that Day Two trade was the aforementioned Vitek Vanecek. Despite an awful 2023-24 season so far, let's not forget how solid he was in 2022-23. Coming off of another disastrous season for Devils goalies, Vitek provided stability in net during the regular season. His 33 wins were the most by a Devils goalie not named Martin Brodeur, and he put up a very solid 2.45 GAA and 0.911 SV%. Giving up a third-round pick and sliding back nine spots in the second round in exchange for your number-one goalie and a potential foundational defenseman is a massive win.