The New Jersey Devils could still consider a trade despite winning the No. 2 pick in the 2022 Upper Deck NHL Draft on Tuesday.
“We want to enjoy this moment for our franchise, our fan base,” Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald said following the NHL Draft Lottery. “My job is to improve the club as best as I can using the assets that the League has given us. So, we’re just trying to enjoy this right now.”
Fitzgerald said on May 5 that he was open to trading his first-round pick if it would significantly upgrade the Devils roster.
New Jersey holds a top-two selection for the third time in six years after moving three spots from No. 5. The Devils moved ahead of the Arizona Coyotes, who had the second-best odds (13.5 percent), as well as the Seattle Kraken (11.5) and Philadelphia Flyers (9.5).
The Devils chose center Jack Hughes No. 1 in the 2019 NHL Draft and center Nico Hischier with the top pick after jumping four spots in the 2017 NHL Draft. New Jersey has twice selected No. 2 in the NHL Draft (1987, Brendan Shanahan; 1984, Kirk Muller).
“(Chief of amateur scouting) Mark Dennehy, along with (vice president of amateur scouting) Paul Castron have really dissected and they’ve done their job,” Fitzgerald said. “I think the part that we’ll see and you’ll hear about is, there’s a lot of players of similar projection, similar upside, at different positions.
“That’s what is going to make this decision hard because there is no slam dunk. There are a bunch of really good hockey players that we can add to our stable, so that’s a good problem to have. But Mark, Paul and the staff will figure this out. “
New Jersey (27-46-9) failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a fourth straight season and the ninth time in the past 10. It finished seventh in the Metropolitan Division, 37 points behind the Washington Capitals for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.
The 2022 draft will be held at Bell Center in Montreal. The first round will be held July 7. Rounds 2-7 will be July 8.
Fitzgerald wouldn’t divulge if he’d choose best player available or use the No. 2 pick to upgrade a particular area.
“From what I’m hearing from our scouts, there’s a lot of similar upside projection with the different positions,” Fitzgerald said. “You want to take that player with the highest upside that can be an All-Star, potential Hall of Famer. If it’s a defenseman, great, if it’s a center, great, if it’s a winger, great.
“What makes this hard and challenging, but it’s a great problem to have, is that a lot of these guys are projected to have similar upside. With that in mind, we’re going to draft the best player possible at No. 2. “
Fitzgerald said he has watched center Shane Wright, No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of North American skaters. The 18-year-old finished eighth in the Ontario Hockey League with 94 points (32 goals, 62 assists) in 63 games for Kingston.
“There is a is a body of work, there’s an evaluation, there’s a projection of every single player in the draft that our scouts are tasked to do,” Fitzgerald said. “Shane’s no different along with the other top players in this draft. I will say that this seems to be a lot of the same projected upside in a bunch of these players. That’s what makes it difficult to figure out which one fits us, and which one is going to be the one with the highest upside. “
Juraj Slafkovsky (6-4, 218), a left wing with TPS in Liiga, Finland’s top professional men’s league, was the youngest men’s ice hockey player at the 2022 Beijing Olympics but was named the tournament’s most valuable player, helping Slovakia finish third. He is No. 1 on Central Scouting’s final ranking of International skaters.
“He was impressive at the Olympics, but there’s more than evaluating a player in one tournament, especially one tournament without NHL players,” Fitzgerald said. “The guidance I’m asking these leaders of our amateur staff is let’s not get mesmerized by one tournament, one great tournament, one bad tournament. There’s a body of work here that has to be taken into consideration.”