Second-ranked New Jersey Devils NHL draft options
When the New Jersey Devils won one of two NHL Draft Lottery options, it gave them the right to move up to the second overall pick. There are some very attractive options here, but it really comes down to four players we expect to be on the table after the Montreal Canadiens take on Shane Wright.
The man with what looked like a rocket strapped to his back in terms of draft position will be the first player we watch. Juraj Slafkovsky has taken a big leap, probably going from the top 10 to one of the best players available, with some even saying he could and should go first, like The Athletic’s Corey Pronman. This is unlikely to happen.
Slafkovsky is a big body for his age at a whopping 6’4 with a solid 218-pound frame, which, for lack of better words, is a big deal. Teams have been looking for this striker from the late 90s or early 2000s for a decade. It’s just not a role and a style that many players perform anymore. It always intrigues teams and GMs because you can see how valuable it would be if someone came along. If they produced at a point-per-game pace, they could terrorize the league and, more importantly, play that tough playoff hockey with incredible skill.
In my opinion, though, it’s the riskiest pick atop the draft. While his ceiling looks like the 60-70 point guy, his floor is way lower than some of the other top players. The Devils could try to draft Mikko Rantanen and end with Pavel Zasha.
Against his own age group he has good numbers and his performance in the Hlinka-Gretzky was impressive where he collected 3 goals and 6 assists in five games. In the Finnish junior league, he played 11 games scoring 6 goals while adding 12 assists which is also a solid performance and boosts his value.
The other thing people always talk about with him is that he played against men. It’s a hard thing to do and no one can or should take anything away from a kid playing against more mature players and holding on, but it’s something that people sometimes overemphasize. Still, let’s take a quick look at Slafkovsky compared to other top players in the Finnish men’s league for their draft year.
Slafkovsky GP: 31 G: 5 A5 PTS: 10 PPG: 0.32
Puljujarvi GP: 50 G: 13 A: 15 PTS: 28 (4th 2016) PPG: 0.56
Kotkaniemi GP: 57 G: 10 A: 19 PTS: 29 (3rd in 2018) PPG: 0.64
Kaako GP: 45 G: 22 A: 16 PTS: 38 (2nd in 2019) PPG: 0.84
Lundell GP: 44 G: 10 A: 18 PTS: 28 (12th in 2020) PPG: 0.64
As Devils fans, we all remember the Hughes versus Kaako debate and the first thing that was always brought up was that he was already playing against men. Could that mean he was more ready for the NHL? Maybe. Does this mean that he would have a better career? Probably not. Already Hughes has proven he’s a much better player and the numbers show it despite the first season he wasn’t ready for the NHL.
Hughes GP: 166 G: 44 A: 64 PTS: 108
Kakko GP:157 G:26 A:32 Points:58
While the debate is more Wright or Slafkovsky online and with pundits, for the Devils it’s more Slaf or Logan Cooley. The figures above are relevant, however, as it is a similar situation.
At the Olympics, Slafkovsky shone. He scored seven times in seven games, was the youngest player to score since 1984, won the tournament MVP award and won the first medal his country had ever won. Of course, that must have some context since the tournament didn’t involve any NHL players and that obviously would have had an impact on his performance. He was also stopped by Canada, Germany and Finland while points were scored over France, Italy, Kazakhstan, Switzerland and Denmark.
More recently, he played against men again, this time at the IIHF World Hockey Championships. He tied for 11th in total scoring with three goals and nine points in eight games. It’s impressive but it was again done against weak teams. He was still a 17-year-old who exceeded expectations at a major tournament.
So the question is which player the team will get and whether the tournaments have been a bit of a flash in the pan. Is he a man who shines when the light is brightest?