Simon Nemec is a highly-touted, supremely-skilled right-shot defenseman who projects to be a top-pair blueliner. Thursday at the Bell Centre, a D-needy franchise selected him with the second overall pick, passing on Shane Wright, the longstanding top North American prospect and Logan Cooley of the USNTDP. So, that’s the situation, now let’s review what’s fact versus fiction.
First, we’re led to believe that those on the draft floor started to sense stronger and stronger that the Canadiens, led by first-time GM, Kent Hughes, decided on Juraj Slafkovsky with the No. 1 pick over Wright. Kudos to that brain-trust for keeping that decision under such lock and key up to the moment.
New Jersey always knew it was a reality that Montreal would take the big winger they coveted–that’s the beauty of holding first claim in the Entry Draft. So, the pivot to the blueline was rather automatic for them. Arizona, many have suggested, entered the evening coveting Logan Cooley with their top-three pick and were confident he’d be there for them all along. We believe Seattle targeted Nemec, but had some centers on their list. Don’t think they saw Wright falling so they obliged and scooped him up at fourth. So, this was every team getting a player they believe will be a foundational part to their futures.
And the Devils certainly believe Nemec, who should be signed later this week and will play in North America next season, presumably with Utica, can be a foundational part of the future. Luke Hughes, selected fourth overall at last year’s draft, is likely entering his final season at the University of Michigan. That’s a lot of puck mobility on their back-end.
And no, this wasn’t some attempt to rectify not taking Cale Makar back in ’17. There’s no denying Makar has blossomed into the best player from that draft class–coming off a Norris Trophy and Conn Smythe (and a Stanley Cup) before his 24th birthday. He is, an ultra-talented defenseman who is going to score 30 goals one season and may be the best defenseman in the league today. Yes, it’s true the Devils, who had top claim in 2017, greatly explored Makar as their pick, but let’s also remember how bare that New Jersey prospect cupboard was–Nico Hischier was also attractive and shot up his draft momentum in the two months prior to the pick.
By the way, the comparison of the recent second overall pick to becoming a gem of a defenseman who just scored 86 points in his first 82-game season, won the Norris and Conn Smythe while winnig a Cup seems rather extreme, no?
I don’t pretend to be a prospect expert, but Seamus Casey, selected after the Devils traded down to get a playable NHL goaltender seems like good business to me. He’ll go to the University of Michigan, which is slowly becoming New Jersey’s U-21 farm team.
New Jersey was among the teams that weren’t scared off by global concerns and the issues with Russia. They nabbed Daniil Orlov in the fourth round and Artem Barabosha in the seventh. They remain a team that leans on its scouts in Russia. They can also afford to play the long game with middle-late round picks.
Ryan Breen, a New England-based amateur scout with the Devils since 2016, is moving over to the pro scouting side, becoming the Manager of Pro Scouting. Jim Mill, previously director of scouting is still with the club–he’s Minnesota-based. Claude Noel, who oversaw pro scouting operations in the West, was not renewed. Expect the Devils to add another set of eyes to that part of the NHL.
Hard to imagine the NHL truly wanting to go back to a virtual draft. In-person has just oodles of pros a league wants. The family moments, the players, the outfits and swag (see Isaac Howard) and the potential for trades and magnitude chaos as 32 GMs, scouts and executives convene on the same floor. I’m told it was a fairly active scene. We know the Hall for Larsson, Subban for Weber seeds were planted at the ’16 floor. Let’s see what goes on between now and Wednesday.
Lastly, Tom Fitzgerald said he’ll qualify all of his RFAs and we believe that will be the case by Monday’s deadline. But, we wonder if Pavel Zacha will be moved before his QO is issued. Boston has been a team to watch in this but I also wonder about two others: San Jose and the Islanders.