Before I even get to what the Devils did, first a mea culpa. I gotta eat it, I was a cynic about how all these reporters were forecasting a hundred different things that would never happen, and the hype of unpredictability at the top of the draft – but it turns out for once they were right. Even if nobody actually had one-time #1 overall pick Shane Wright dropping all the way to Seattle at #4. Maybe it was karmic justice for Seattle not drafting #1 overall last year. I’m not sure anyone had Alex DeBrincat going to Ottawa for ‘only’ pick #7, a 2nd and a 3rd rounder, or being dealt without a contract extension. Chicago also supplemented its teardown by cashing out on Kirby Dach. Perhaps the only predictable thing was the Islanders making another win-now move, dealing their first-rounder for defenseman Alexander Romanov and a third-rounder. Gotta love Lou, tripling down on being win-now with a rookie head coach.
Not like we don’t have our own problems though. It would have been nice to get in on DeBrincat but clearly we prioritized #2 higher than Ottawa did #7, plus the fact DeBrincat wouldn’t sign an extension pretty much should have taken #2 off the table to begin with. Would the Devils have made that trade if they didn’t win the lottery and stayed at #5? Tough to answer, although I do admit at the time we won the lottery I wasn’t 100% ecstatic about it – mostly cause I figured it was more likely for us to trade the pick for immediate help at #5 than at #2, where we would have been compelled to just draft – and that’s what happened.
Before I even comment on the Devils pick singularly, a note of congratulations to Slovakia and current Slovak Ice Hockey Federation president Miroslav Satan for developing the top two picks of this year’s draft – both the highest draft picks in Slovakian history – ahead of some guy named Marian Gaborik who was picked at #3 overall way back when. Although I wasn’t really believing the Juraj Slafkovsky at #1 overall hype until today, it started picking up more steam when I was spending too much of my off day obsessing over the rumors. Clearly the betting lines knew something was up when the smart money started shifting to the Slovak winger as the choice for #1 though although I don’t think the betting lines ever had us taking his teammate at #2 overall.
I guess credit – or blame depending on your point of view – for the secrecy around #1 overall should be given to neophyte Canadiens GM Kent Hughes. Credit in the sense of it certainly kept up the suspense but also blame in the sense that you had this draft at Montreal, with the fans in attendance still mostly believing you were gonna pick the Canadian kid (Wright) who was long thought to be the #1 pick. Instead of maybe spending a couple of weeks gradually smoothing over the ground and leaking your interest in Slafkovsky, giving the fans time to process it and fall in love with the guy who’s actually going to be picked, you basically pulled the rug out from under everyone in attendance. Did you really expect the poor kid not to get booed when you pick him over the local kid in something of a surprise?
I can’t promise our fans wouldn’t have reacted the same way if the draft was in Newark once they saw we also passed on Wright for defenseman Simon Nemec, but unlike the Canadiens we didn’t have total control over who we picked either. Although I was surprised we passed on Wright, I wasn’t mad when I saw the pick. If anything I was more annoyed after, when I heard Fitz emphasize twice during his post-draft interview on ESPN that (paraphrasing) ‘Nemec was a right handed shot and that’s valuable to us’ as if we were drafting for need rather than just going straight BPA. I get organizational need can be used as a tiebreaker between two similarly ranked guys or in the later rounds but I’m sorry, you can’t look to draft an eighteen year old at #2 overall for need.
Not to mention it seems like our entire defense other than Jonas Siegenthaler is going to be finesse, puck-moving defensemen – which plays well with analytical numbers but not as well in actuality on the ice when you actually need your defensemen to play defense. That’s not to say this kid can’t be good, maybe he will be, I’m not going to waste angst pretending I know. It’s not that huge of a reach considering he was thought of as a top five pick all along and supposedly Seattle wanted him at #4 (not knowing Wright would fall to them though), but I can’t say I have a lot of confidence in this management team to get it right either, with our mixed bag in terms of non-slam dunk picks and total ineptness when it comes to actually putting a good product on the ice.
Hopefully there’ll be more to comment on after free agency, but I suspect it’ll just be another offseason of rationalizations and excuses for why we didn’t do anything. I can’t really think anything else when I see franchises who shouldn’t even be considering themselves win-now (Ottawa, the Flyers, etc), at least trying to make win-now moves while we’re all good, nothing to see here in year #10 of the neverending rebuild.