August 32-in-32 : New Jersey Devils

Hadi Kalakeche

2022-08-18

The 32-in-32 Series is an annual event here at DobberProspects! Every day in August we will be bringing you a complete breakdown of a team’s Draft, and insights into their off-season movements thus far. Following this up in September, we will dive into every team’s prospect depth charts with fantasy insights and implications for the upcoming seasons. Check back often, because we plan on filling your hockey withdrawal needs all off-season long!

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Well, we’re here again. Despite adding the likes of Dougie Hamilton, Yegor Sharangovich, Tomas Tatar, Dawson Mercer, and Andreas Johnsson to their roster over the past two seasons — either through rookie graduation or via free agency and trades — the New Jersey Devils still ended the year with a 27-46-9 record, finishing 28th in the final league standings.

With yet another season in the trenches comes a fun little perk, though — the Devils managed to win the lottery and secure the second-overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. After the Canadiens shook up the top of the board by taking Juraj Slafkovsky first-overall, the prospect the Devils were likely coveting was the first to come off the board, leaving them with the choice of either taking a center that they don’t have the space for in their top six, or filling a need by selecting one of the promising young blue-liners scheduled to go in the top-five. And so, right-handed anchor Simon Nemec ended up being the choice of the Devils’ brass, leaving Logan Cooley and Shane Wright to the Arizona Coyotes and the Seattle Kraken respectively.

There were some moves to make after that, however, in order to begin the upwards trajectory that usually comes after spending the past five years accumulating high-end picks such as Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, Alexander Holtz, and Luke Hughes. The Devils started day two of the draft by trading their 37th and 70th picks to the Washington Capitals in exchange for Vitek Vanecek and the 46th-overall selection. Trading back nine spots and giving away an early third-rounder for a young netminder who will offer quality starts to back up Mackenzie Blackwood is a win in my opinion, especially given the way the three selections involved went down — we’ll get back to that in a second.

Then, following the draft, the team also acquired Erik Haula from the Bruins, giving away a plateauing RFA Pavel Zacha in return. Soon after, John Marino was traded to New Jersey from the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for Ty Smith and a 2023 third-rounder, setting the table for their top-four D core from the bat.

There are more off-season moves to talk about, but first let’s review the Devils’ selections in the 2022 NHL Draft.

The Draft

As mentioned before, Simon Nemec was the prospect the Devils felt was worth the second-overall pick, and they were comfortable trading down nine spots in the second round and giving away their early third-rounder to secure Vanecek from the Capitals. This left the team with a respectable eight picks in the draft, three of which were in the fourth round. We’ll review all of them down below.

Round One, 2nd Overall — Simon Nemec, RD

If you would have told me before the draft that Nemec would be going two slots before Shane Wright, I would have laughed. Wright’s certainty as a top-six NHL center made him a no-brainer at the top end of the draft in my mind, and seeing him slip to fourth was a shocker. However, with the Devils’ center core being locked down for the next 10-15 years with Hughes and Hischier, it’s a lot more understandable.

I had Nemec going fifth, and for good reason — he is arguably the most intelligent defenseman in his class, and his fluid skating makes him outstanding in transition. He earned 17 points in 19 games in the Slovak pro league’s playoffs against men for HK Nitra, and he can dictate the pace of play outstandingly well with delays, regroups, shoulder drops, and high-difficulty passes through screens and checks. He needs to activate offensively a bit more on cycles and work on polishing his in-zone defending habits, but his high-end brain and feet make him a near-certain puck-moving NHL defenseman with upside on both special team units.

Was he the best player available? Not really. Was he the best right-handed defenseman available? David Jiricek wants a word, but it’s splitting hairs between those two. Jiricek is more toolsy and physical, but Nemec is smarter and a better skater. Based on the Devils’ needs, I would have taken Nemec here, too. I give this pick a B+.

Round Two, 46th Overall — Seamus Casey, RD

Remember the Vitek Vanecek trade? Well, Casey is the prospect the Devils traded down for. Meanwhile, the Caps traded up for his NTDP teammate Ryan Chesley, who is also a right-handed blue-liner but with a very different playing style. The Caps also added Alexander Suzdalev with their 70th-overall selection.

Even without Vanecek involved, I’m not sure I would’ve traded Casey for Chesley and Suzdalev. Casey’s ceiling is way too high compared to those other two. While Chesley is a safe, defensive-minded blue-liner, Casey is just the opposite. He is outstanding with the puck, can go from receiving a puck to making a play almost effortlessly, and has a wide range of offensive tools at his disposal. The reasons he slipped are his size (5-10, 172 pounds), and also a very inconsistent defensive game.

Casey struggles with his back to the play at times, and can get beat wide with a quick fake due to a tendency to put his weight on one leg rather than keep it centered when defending the rush. He needs work, but the payoff could be really massive. Top-pairing D kind of massive. He was among the highest-upside available in that range, and that’s exactly what the Devils need right now. Taking home-run swings as a bottom-of-the-standings team is always encouraged.

Round Three, 102nd Overall — Tyler Brennan, G

One of the only bright spots between the pipes in the 2022 NHL Draft, Brennan is a long-term project with some already sound tools that help him stop pucks. He’s extremely calm and composed, displays his great edgework in his lateral movements, and can track the puck through crowds with ease.

He isn’t without his weaknesses — he struggles with rebounds, especially off his chest, and can bite hard on fakes — but in this range, if you’re a team wishing to take a swing on a netminder, Brennan was easily the right choice. He might form a great 1A/1B tandem with Nico Daws in five years’ time.

Round Four, 110th Overall — Daniil Orlov, LD

The Devils kept a recurring theme among the first three blue-liners they selected, opting for smooth skaters with above-average processing. Orlov fits that mold to a T, and was among the highest-value defensemen in that style to still be available in the fourth round. He earned 30 points in 54 MHL games, good for the fourth-best point-per-game total among draft-eligible defensemen in that league.

Like every prospect past the first round, he has his deficiencies; his puck skills aren’t the most flashy or developed, but he had a great season production-wise and could be something for the Devils down the road — likely a fourth to sixth defenseman.

Round Four, 126th Overall — Charlie Leddy, RD

Noticing a theme yet? The fourth of five defensemen selected by the Devils, four of which were right-handed, Leddy offers a bit of a change-up from the mold of mobile, heady stopbacks the team favored to that point in the draft. Call him Steady Leddy — dependable, physical, and simple but effective. He is a great puck-protector with a decent head for the game, but his tools are severely limited at the moment. Other than a strong shot from the point, which isn’t that accurate, Leddy doesn’t show the hands or advanced playmaking from the point to be a solid offensive contributor.

What he certainly could be, though, is a dependable shutdown defender who can throw his body around and block shots. Not much value here outside of deep multi-cat leagues, but Leddy has “bottom-pair penalty killer” written all over him — not a bad pick-up in the late fourth.

Round Five, 141st Overall — Petr Hauser, RW

Hauser is a big winger who doesn’t play big, preferring to use his hands and brain to make space for himself rather than his 6-4, 200-pound frame. He brings a lot of energy and smarts to the table, but his skating is an issue and it really shows when he gets involved in puck battles. Leveraging his weight seems to be a deficiency of his at the moment. Otherwise though, the Devils selected a solid east-west playmaker who can change directions fairly well, clean up rebounds around the net with ease and make his presence known on the forecheck with a burst of energy.

Don’t expect much top-notch offense from Hauser, but he has enough tools that he could become an NHLer in one role or another — especially if he can work on leveraging his frame.

Round Six, 166th Overall — Josh Filmon, LW

Filmon and Hauser are in the same mold — big players who don’t play big at the moment. Filmon is also an intelligent forward with decent hands around the net and solid east-west playmaking, who can run transition plays fairly well but struggles to use his weight in puck battles efficiently. He’ll need to improve his execution speed to start clicking at an NHL-caliber pace of play.

If Filmon is given enough development time in the AHL, he could develop that high-pace instinct that is almost a requirement for NHL forwards, especially forechecking wingers. He still has solid hands, a scoring touch, and smart off-puck habits, which are great foundations upon which to build his game.

Round Seven, 198th Overall — Artyom Barabosha, RD

Another right-handed blue-liner for the cupboards, Barabosha’s upside is fairly limited by a glaring lack of inventiveness, deception and skill in his game, but what he does, he does very well. He is a simple, big-bodied defenseman who focuses heavily on getting back as soon as possible, or hitting carriers as they receive the puck at the offensive blue line. It’s mainly because his backwards skating needs a lot of work, and he knows he’ll get burned if he doesn’t commit early.

This stops him from being as daring on board pucks, preventing him from getting quality offensive zone time for his team and, most importantly, time on the puck, which is essential in order to improve any player’s puck skills, reads, and creativity. He’ll likely be all defense for his whole career barring any drastic changes, so don’t expect him to be any more than a third-pair penalty-killer (and that’s at best).

The Off-Season

Every team has its objectives heading out of the draft and into the off-season. For teams rife with young stars and on the brink of success, usually that entails adding some surrounding talent, a couple of veterans who will act as stabilizing presences on and off the ice, and setting up said young stars for success in the immediate future to avoid losing them to free agency and trade requests.

Heading into the offseason, the Devils’ expected plan was quite straightforward: surround Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier with wingers who can keep up with their mind for the game, and solidify the D corps for the next few years to come.

Well, they did just that with the aforementioned additions of Vitek Vanecek, Erik Haula and John Marino, but most notably, with the free agent addition of Ondrej Palat and the re-signing of Jesper Bratt to a one-year deal. The winger depth and D corps just got a lot more interesting in Jersey.

Add on top of that the entry-level deals allocated to Simon Nemec and 2021 fifth-round pick Topias Vilén, and the Devils’ AHL D corps is building up through the team’s young projects as well.

Incoming

Main roster: Ondrej Palat, Vitek Vanecek, Erik Haula, John Marino, Brendan Smith

System: Brian Pinho, Tyler Wotherspoon, Jack Dugan, Simon Nemec, Topias Vilén

This isn’t the most massive or most impressive haul, especially given that the Devils were in the race for Johnny Gaudreau up until the last minute, but none of their deals were overpays, and each one represents a decent improvement upon their current assets.

Vanecek’s addition does limit Nico Daws’ opportunities at the NHL level, but given his .893 save percentage through 25 games with New Jersey, some additional time in the minors could be highly beneficial to his long-term development. Same thing for the Devils’ young wingers, such as Fabian Zetterlund, Alexander Holtz, and more, who will have to impress greatly to get into the top six and stick there.

Outgoing

Janne Kuokkanen, Pavel Zacha, Ty Smith, Frederik Gauthier, P.K. Subban, Jimmy Vesey, Christian Jaros, Colton White, Andrew Hammond, Jon Gillies, A.J. Greer, Chase De Leo, Corey Crawford, Brian Flynn

The Devils offloaded a lot of cap weight by not re-signing players who didn’t fit within their roster buildup and needs, such as Subban, Crawford, and Hammond. After his production dipped and he didn’t show many signs of improvement, the team waived Janne Kuokkanen for the purposes of a buyout and the forward signed in Switzerland.

Trading away Ty Smith to add John Marino was a way for the team to focus on the immediate future, rather than wait and hope that Smith builds up his defensive game to an NHL average level. He often struggled with keeping the puck out of his zone, while Marino is an analytical darling on the defensive side with proficiency both in-zone and off the rush. He slots into their middle pair perfectly, and will likely slide down to the third pair when Nemec makes his NHL debut.

Re-signed

Jesper Bratt, Jesper Boqvist, Mason Geertsen, Jonas Siegenthaler, Tyce Thompson, Miles Wood

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Thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter @HadiK_Scouting to keep up with my scouting work and Devils news, and I’ll see you next month as we look at the team’s prospect depth chart, with fantasy angles and insights into this upcoming season.

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