This draft doesn’t have a “generational” player such as Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews but the Devils can certainly use the top pick overall.
Now that was a draft lottery. New Jersey, Philadelphia and Dallas all moved up into the top-three, which meant snake eyes for Vegas and hearbreak for the desolate Colorado Avalanche. And while this draft doesn’t have a “generational” player such as Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews (yes, yes, forget the semantics for a second), the Devils can certainly use the top pick overall.
New Jersey had one of the worst offenses in the NHL this season and whether the Devils decide to go with Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier, they will be getting a center who can produce points. Patrick, the Brandon Wheat Kings star, will turn 19 in late September. Even though he missed most of this season due to injuries, I would expect him to crack an NHL lineup right away, especially since he plays a solid two-way game. Hischier has only played one season in North America, but boy what a season it was. The dynamic Swiss pivot has beaten expectations at every turn, so why wouldn’t he continue the trend by hitting the NHL at 18?
Perhaps the biggest winners of the lottery, however, were Philly and Dallas. The Flyers and Stars already have nicely filled-out rosters, so getting top-three picks is gravy for them. Both teams are stacked with young defense prospects, so at this point I’ll assume they pick forwards. The Flyers can get whichever of Patrick or Hischier that New Jersey does not select and that prospect gets a cozy spot behind Claude Giroux, Val Filppula and Sean Couturier to grow in. Perhaps the kid even starts on wing, just to get a more prominent role. That gives Dallas first crack at Windsor Spitfires center Gabe Vilardi. A potent weapon himself, Vilardi needs to get a bit faster, but also has a nice amount of upside. Given how many weapons the Stars have up front, they can give Vilardi more time to develop in the OHL.
If there’s any silver lining for Colorado in dropping to No. 4, it’s that the Avs can finally bolster their blueline, given that one or both of Cale Makar or Miro Heiskanen will be available. Both kids are mobile blueliners who create offense and play a modern NHL game. Lord, do the Avs need one of those. Fans will likely have to wait a year or two before either are NHL-ready, but that’s OK.
I could see Vancouver taking either Makar or Heiskanen at No. 5, or perhaps they go with center Casey Mittelstadt, who is headed to the University of Minnesota next season. The Canucks still have the Sedins, plus the rapidly ascending Bo Horvat, so there’s nothing wrong with Mittelstadt filling out and skilling up with the Gophers for a season or two.
The Vegas Golden Knights got a bad beat in their first lottery. This is not a strong draft and at No. 6, the Knights will have several different directions to go in. They are more than likely not getting a player that can skate in the NHL right away, though there will be enough going on in Vegas anyway, so perhaps that’s for the best. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that Vegas needs everything. Do they go with scoring machine Owen Tippett from Mississauga? The similarly prolific Cody Glass of Portland? Or do they also go for a defenseman, such as Cal Foote or Timothy Liljegren?
Overall, the way the lottery balls bounced certainly added more chaos to an already uncertain draft. Both Philly and Dallas need starting goaltenders if they want to get back to the post-season and do damage, so perhaps we see some very early trades. Heck, New Jersey needs defensemen right away, so is the first pick even safe from trade?
Devils GM Ray Shero can enjoy a victory sleep before he even considers all the permutations available to him now, but whichever way he goes, he and New Jersey are now in the pole position for the 2017 draft in Chicago.