Somewhat surprisingly, the Devils made few moves on day two of the draft – which came and went yesterday with only one trade for the Devils – and that was a trade down to move out of the sixth round and acquire two more seventh round picks. Instead of using their ten day two picks to move up or acquire NHL players, GM Ray Shero stood pat and had faith in head of scouting Paul Castron to unearth some gems in the later rounds. Though picking Nico Hischier to lead off the draft was always going to be a good start, Day 2 could in many ways be almost as pivotal for the future of the franchise going forward in a stacked Metro that has the two-time Stanley Cup champions, the President’s Trophy winners, and three teams drafting in the top ten including the Devils and Flyers at the very top.
Among the Devils’ ten picks on Day 2 were seven Europeans and three North Americans, starting with a pair of talented Swedish forwards, drafting 5’11 165 pound center Jesper Boqvist early in the second round at #36, and 5’10 195 pound winger Fabian Zetterlund with the first pick of the third round at #63. Both skaters should add even more speed and skill to a system that is slowly gaining in both after three drafts from Shero. With the Devils’ second third-rounder at pick #81 they picked their first defenseman – USA product Reilly Walsh, who’s off to Harvard and Walsh’s numbers suggest he has a lot of offensive skill from the blueline. Perhaps the only mild dissapointment from Day 2 of the draft was that Walsh was the only defensman we picked before the seventh round, for an organization that desperately needs defensive help at both the NHL level and in the prospect pipeline.
Be that as it may, the Devils’ round 4 pick at #98 is an intriguing Russian forward, huge (6’5 219) Nikita Popugaev. Thought to be a first-round talent after scoring 20 goals in his first 29 WHL games his production dropped significantly in the second half of the season and Popugaev was traded from an eventual Memorial Cup winner. At least he has a good role model, wearing #71 for his idol Evgeni Malkin. With New Jersey’s two fifth-round picks they chose overage Swiss goalie Gilles Senn at #129 and Slovak forward Marian Studenic at #143. Senn is a big 6’5 191 presence in net who might be ready to turn pro sooner rather than later at age 21, unlike most drafted goalies, while the 6′ 164 pound Studenic could add more RW depth to the organization (despite being a LH shot), and he scored 18 goals in 58 games playing his first season in the OHL.
While the Devils continued their Euro-rush in the sixth round, this time they went to Finland for center Aarne Talvitie (5’10, 198 pounds) at pick #160. Finally in the seventh round the Devils decided to scratch off a few blueline lottery tickets, rattling off picks Jocktan Chainey (Canadian-born teammate of #1 overall pick Hischier at Halifax) at #191, Russian-born Yegor Zaitsev – no relation to the Leafs’ Nikita – at #205, and with their final pick went with American-born Matthew Hellickson at #214, concluding a busy Day 2 for Shero and Castron. Albeit one that took just under four hours, as the NHL briskly – which is great for viewer attention – finished its final six rounds yesterday afternoon.
With the draft concluded, Shero can now turn his attention to potential trades and free agency – our biggest decision in the latter might be what happens with former Devil and perennial drama king Ilya Kovalchuk, and in an ideal world he gets flipped for either defensive help or to facilitate our rumored interest in Habs forward Alex Galchenyuk. If the expansion draft was phase one of the offseason and the regular draft was phase two, we’re coming up on the third phase of this offseason. So far there have been few splashes, although the Mirco Mueller trade and letting Jon Merrill go in the expansion draft was a mild surprise. Hopefully that – and drafting Hischier – won’t be the biggest moves this offseason for Shero, otherwise we’re clearly looking at a longer hike than some of us hoped before seeing light at the end of the Devils’ tunnel. At least we can get a brief look at that light in development camp where many of the recent draftees (starting with Hischier) will likely get a lot of attention.