Tom Fitzgerald reveals surprising NHL Draft target before Devils chose Anton Silayev

The New Jersey Devils saw massive Russian defeneman Anton Silayev fall to them in the first round of the NHL Draft, but during his offseason press conference, GM Tom Fitzgerald revealed the one player who almost forced him to choose a forward.
2024 Upper Deck NHL Draft - First Round
2024 Upper Deck NHL Draft - First Round / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

New Jersey Devils General Manager Tom Fitzgerald gave quite a few updates during his offseason press conference. There was a lot to discuss, with massive trades sending Alexander Holtz, John Marino, and Akira Schmid to other teams on Day 2 of the NHL Draft, big signings of Brett Pesce, Tomas Tatar, Brendan Dillon, and Stefan Noesen, and more insights on the hiring of Sheldon Keefe. There were a bunch of takeaways from the press conference, but it was one note he made about the Devils first-round draft pick that stood out.

Despite talking about possibly trading the 10th-overall pick for a player, the Devils kept it and used it on Russian defenseman Anton Silayev. Surprisingly, he fell to the end of the top 10 after multiple analysts thought he'd go as high as third to the Anaheim Ducks (who ended up choosing the player we originally mocked to the Devils, Bennett Sennecke).

New Jersey Devils almost took a very different prospect in the first round of the NHL Draft.

When asked about Silayev and whether him falling allowed the Devils to decide on keeping the pick, Fitzgerald was incredibly candid.

"I turned to Dan MacKinnon next to me because we really liked the Finnish center as well. I said, the defenseman or the center? And he said, "the defenseman is 6'7, he can skate and he's mean." And I'm like, okay we'll take the D. "

Tom Fitzgerald, Devils General Manager

While he didn't mention him by name, the assumption is he was discussing Konsta Helenius. Helenius was a favorite among the analytics crowd. He played well in Liiga, which is the Finnish professional league.

It makes sense that Fitzgerald was big on him since the Devils center depth has gone by the wayside in recent years. Since Fitzgerald took over, he's had seven first-round picks. The only center he's selected was Dawson Mercer, and it turns out he's probably a wing in the NHL. However, it seems like this was a situation where the available player felt too good to be true.

Yet, it's still a risk to put that out there. Helenius ended up going to the Buffalo Sabres, where he will likely eventually be coached by former Devils head coach Lindy Ruff. If he turns into a stud, then that puts pressure on the situation for the Devils. They will always be compared based on Fitzgerald's comments.

It's an interesting comment, and we appreciate the transparency, but it will lead to constant revisionist history. And honestly, good for Fitz for having so much faith in your team that you're willing to show your cards.