The unofficial start to the offseason has arrived. I suppose the actual start began moments after Tampa captured their second-straight Cup in a five-game Stanley Cup Final. There were some moves that came just prior to what was, comparably speaking anyway, a quiet expansion draft–no side deals and at the time of this being written just one swap made by the Kraken–Tyler Pitlick sent to Calgary.
There was Duncan Keith and Viktor Arvidsson; Ryan Graves and Nick Leddy sent from the expansion-troubled Colorado and NY Islanders; Ryan Ellis shipped from Nashville to Philadelphia as the Preds open cap space and room for a new voice among its leadership core. More recently, the Rangers traded for and signed Barclay Goodrow while the Red Wings traded for the Hurricanes’ Alex Nedeljkovic–who just might be an answer in net for the rebuilding Wings. There was Shayne Gostisbehere and Andrew Ladd–now Coyotes after their previous homes looked to clear space with incentives included.
That’s some action. But historically speaking, the draft is among the more active periods of time. Of course, there’s something about putting GM’s, coaches, pro scouts and other execs in the same radius–the same floor–that got things moving. But, for the second-straight year, the Entry Draft will be held virtually. It could stall some of the moves as team decision-makers hone in on their selections in the toughest year for player evaluations in their careers.
That in mind, let’s review a few items concerning the Devils, who are scheduled to pick fourth overall and 29th, the first round pick they acquired from the Islanders as part of compensation for trading forwards, Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac.
At four there will be an impressive collection of players available. For obvious reasons, one has stood out from the rest, but let’s review some of the options, including Luke Hughes to go in the top-four. We’ll assume neither Owen Power, the consensus number 1 overall pick and Matty Beniers, a consensus second overall, don’t slip to the fourth overall pick.
Luke Hughes, LHD, U.S. National Tm. Development Program (USHL) / Committed to University of Michigan (BIG 10-NCAA Division I): Hughes, brother of current New Jersey Devil and former first overall pick, Jack Hughes, kicks off the potential options in a defense-heavy draft with some strong talents early. He has familiarity with the organization by virtue of his brother who offered up a scouting report that likens Luke to the eldest brother, Quinn as a “smooth-skating, puck carrying, offensively-gifted defenseman.” It’s not a slam-dunk that the Devils try to keep it in the family, but they could very well be in a great spot if that’s the way they want to go. Ranked No. 2 by ISS; No. 3 by Draft Prospect Hockey; No. 4 by McKeen’s Hockey; No. 5 by TSN’s Craig Button; No. 8 by Bob McKenzie.
Simon Edvinsson, LHD, Frolunda (SHL) / Vasteras IK (Allsvenskan): Also on defense–here’s a big, mobile blueliner. He’s been praised for his defensive reliability and appeared in 10 SHL contests, the top pro league in Sweden. The narrative around him heading into this draft is somewhat reminiscent of the last time the Devils picked 4th–taking Adam Larsson in 2011. Since Niklas Evertsson, the Devils head of European scouting–who is based in Sweden, joined the staff in 2016-17, the Devils have gone to Sweden for Alexander Holtz, Jesper Boqvist and Fabian Zetterlund in the top-half of the entry draft and took a seventh round flier on Nikola Pasic in 2019. Ranked: No. 3 by TSN’s Bob McKenzie, Sportsnet, ISS; No. 4 by Neutral Zone; No. 8 by Craig Button, EliteProspects and DobberProspects.
Brandt Clarke, RHD, HC Nove Zamky, Slovakia, (played overseas due to OHL shutdown in 2020-21): Clarke, who also has familiarity with the Devils–his brother Graeme played this season for the club’s AHL affiliate after playing with Brandt in Slovakia briefly. Like Hughes, he has organizational familiarity and is a confident puck handler from the backend. His rankings are somewhat varied, but he’s hardly a reach at four. Ranked: No. 2 Craig Button (prior to final rankings, Draft Prospects Hockey; No. 4 EliteProspects; No. 5 ISS; No. 6 McKeen’s Hockey; No. 7 Bob McKenzie
Dylan Guenther, W, Edmonton, Western Hockey League: Guenther got 12 games of WHL action last season while also having a brief appearance with Sherwood Park of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. Great shot and some power to his release, too. Size isn’t bad either. Ranked: No. 3 Neutral Zone; No. 4 ISS, Sportsnet; No. 6 by Bob McKenzie; No. 7 by EliteProspects; No. 9 by Craig Button.
Mason McTavish, C, EHC Olten, Swiss League, (played overseas due to OHL shutdown in 2020-21): Rankings are all over on the 6-foot-2 center with some reputable rankings having him outside the top-5. He’s been a steady riser by others though. TSN’s Craig Button moved him from outside the top-10 to fourth in his Jul. 20 final rankings. Can handle himself in high-traffic areas and has the puck skills to be involved there. At four, it’s probably too much of a reach for a team with Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, but he is one of the best centers available after Matty Beniers, who will almost certainly be gone by the time New Jersey is slated to pick. Ranked: No. 4 Bob McKenzie; No. 5 EliteProspects; No. 7 ISS; No. 8 Sportsnet.
The option to trade also exists for the Devils, but at four? That hardly seems likely. At the time of this being written, we’ve seen a rash of deals including Rasmus Ristolainen traded to the Flyers for a top-15 pick; Pavel Buchnevich to St. Louis; and the biggest (in many ways) Conor Garland and Oliver Ekman-Larsson exchanged to Vancouver for a package that is headlined by Friday’s ninth overall pick but is also anchored by a trio of non-cap friendly deals.
The Devils were rumored to be fielding calls for the fourth overall pick if the return was a young, mobile defenseman. But, who is honestly doing that in the current climate of the NHL? It would be tough. A pick at 29th would be the more likely route–though given the returns as of late, that might not yield a rostered player.