The second overall pick brought with it as much debate and uncertainty as we've seen at the top of the draft in many years.
With a clear top-six having established themselves as the premier group of players in the 2022 Draft pool, the New Jersey Devils held one of the most valuable commodities on the trade market going into Thursday night.
A trade for second overall never seemed to pick up much steam on the rumor mill. It was then clear with the selection of Simon Nemec that New Jersey valued defense over the available forwards, passing on an increasingly more frustrated-looking Shane Wright.
With Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, and perhaps Dawson Mercer already projecting as NHL centers, the Devils elected to boost their defense of the future with four of their first five selections, and they've started with true high-end talent.
Simon Nemec is one of the best D prospects the Hockey Prospecting model has ever seen (model even undervalues him). Massive production in the pro Slovakia league in his D-1 and DY. Like we've never seen from a draft eligible pro Euro player. Hockey Prospecting loves Simon Nemec. pic.twitter.com/xsaHvJz99g
— Byron Bader (@ByronMBader) July 7, 2022
Nemec is generally regarded as the highest-upside defense prospect in the draft. There was no chalk pick at number two, and he was mocked anywhere from two to five pre-draft.
Corey Pronman of the Athletic compared his play to Florida's MacKenzie Weegar, and the model above chose Victor Hedman, each of whom received Norris votes in 2022.
Having already experienced so much at the international and professional level against older competition, it's entirely plausible we'll see him wearing number five for New Jersey in a few short months.
With the young talent already in New Jersey looking to take their next steps, this could be a turning point in the future of the organization. The questions remain as to who's going to take the goaltending to the level they need to win, but the foundational pieces inspire as much hope as any in the Metropolitan.
The Plan in Free Agency
New Jersey also projects to have plenty of cap space to be aggressive in the free agent market, however, goaltending is coming at a premium this year with no obvious links to the Devils thus far besides Vitek Vanecek, a restricted free agent acquired from Washington.
Per Elliott Friedman of Sportsnet, Jack Campbell from the Toronto Maple Leafs is looking for a five year deal at around $5M per year, but it seems like New Jersey could be patient in goal and hope that Mackenzie Blackwood cleans up this season.
There's a handful of elite forwards slated to become available for the right price, especially superstar Johnny Gaudreau, who hasn't come to terms with Calgary yet and seems dead-set on joining a Metropolitan team this week. After a 115 point career season, it could cost them somewhere in the $75M range over seven years to acquire his talents.
My sense is #Flames have put an offer on the table for Johnny Gaudreau - north of $10 mil x 8 years - that would make him not only highest-paid player in Calgary franchise history, but among richest in #NHL.
If Gaudreau walks, it likely won't be because of money.
— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) July 12, 2022
We wondered if Tom Fitzgerald would kick tires on Alex DeBrincat, but that ship has sailed. Claude Giroux and Evgeni Malkin are also options, albeit strange to imagine in Devils uniforms and not currently rumored to be on the radar as of now.
Defensively, the overall talent level is a little disappointing, however, John Klingberg has had success in the past and a change of scenery could unlock what was once there for him.
Is it time to win now?
Could one superstar signing boost them to the playoffs for just the second time in the last ten years?
Even with a Gaudreau-type, the key to winning in the playoffs is hot goaltending. Is Blackwood the guy who can steal a series against opponents like New York and Tampa?
Time will tell if Blackwood can regain his early form, but as of right now, the objective answer is no.
Even so, the puzzle is coming together quite beautifully. Hughes is primed for a true breakout season that puts him in the upper-echelon we expected on his draft night. Jesper Bratt is blossoming into a legitimate high-end talent. Dawson Mercer has plenty to build off of, and Simon Nemec is ready to burst onto the scene.
It could be the start of a new era in Newark, and one that brings playoff hockey back to Prudential Center.
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