It’s an interesting dynamic. With the New Jersey Devils winning the toss for the fourth time in the last 11 years, the third time in the last 6 drafts, it’s been a super exciting time. I jumped out of my seat when I saw the Flyers logo flip for the 5th overall pick, and knew the Devils had won the lottery yet again. Three top 2 picks in 6 years is huge; the first two picks have already proven to be slam dunks, and if the next one is too, that means a serious chance of having a legitimate contender in New Jersey in the near and maybe not even that near future. Now we know top picks don’t guarantee anything, just look at Edmonton for proof. Their back-to-back picks of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov did the minimum to transform their franchise. But if you can make the right calls and the Devils are 2-2 so far, that means a return to legitimacy.
However, at the same time, you hope the team won’t be able to win the lottery again anytime soon. Winning the lottery means the team isn’t in the playoffs, isn’t competing, isn’t the playoff contender you’re looking for. And a lot of people thought this year’s team might be a contender, so it’s a giveaway that comes with some caveats.
Because of that last point, and because New Jersey, on paper, is poised to really turn the corner and compete for playoff glory soon, many will want to use this pick to fill a need right now. . Stephen already talked about this the other day and why trading the pick for a goalie right now isn’t a good idea. I agree with him on this point. That being said, I’m not against trading the choice if the return is good. Personally, I’d lean towards not trading the pick, but if you tell me I can get Kevin Fiala and Minnesota’s first round this year, I’d probably pull the trigger. I wouldn’t be a fan of Fiala just for the No. 2, but if the Devils also get a late first round with Fiala, that’s a pretty good deal. I doubt Minnesota would want to offer that, but you never know, do you?
That being said, what I really want to discuss today is the danger of keeping the pick, but using the pick to fulfill a positional need rather than taking the best player available. You’ll most likely hear arguments that the Devils shouldn’t take someone like Logan Cooley because, well, the Devils are stacked in the center and really don’t need another little point guard player at the position where they really need to score and defend on the wings, regardless of goalkeeper. To me, that’s the wrong way of thinking. If you think Cooley is not the choice, but rather Juraj Slafkovsky or Simon Nemec or someone else, I have no problem with that if you make the case based on the merits of the player and what he plans to be at NHL level. They might both end up being better than Cooley, who knows, and it’s a debate worth having a pre-draft.
However, if you think Cooley will be the best player in the group, but you wouldn’t take him because the Devils have Hischier and Hughes, I disagree with that argument. The second overall pick shouldn’t be a place to take a stand. It is a position to take the best player available. As John noted in his reaction to the lottery, it’s not a very deep draft. The luxury of taking someone solely on the job is not there. The second choice should be a player who will one day be a star on your team, not just an add-on. If the Devils get the next Damon Severson, a minute-eating defenseman who’s probably the best as a second player, it’s not a huge success for the second overall pick. Yes, it’s better than Nolan Patrick, but that’s still not what you might get. True success is finding the next Jack Eichel (the sane version that doesn’t want to be traded). Now you might argue that Eichel was considered a generational talent, some thought the same as Connor McDavid. Still, second overall should get you someone of similar caliber, the talent is there. Consider that 2017 draft where Philly took Patrick. They could have had Cale Makar, Elias Pettersson or Miro Heiskanen. Especially with Makar, he’s the kind of player you want at No.2.
Also, the second pick might not be someone who’s ready for the NHL this year. Yes, some of them might be, like Nemec and Slafkovsky, but even that is debatable and won’t be fully determined until those kids join training camp and play pre-games. season, at the earliest. Drafting a goalscoring winger just because that’s what the team needs might be a bad decision, because by the time that player becomes the top winger you want, that need might be filled by someone else. ‘other. And likewise, some think Cooley is probably a few years away. In a few years, when he’s ready to join the big club, there might be a greater need for a skilled center in this formation, for whatever reason. At that point, if he became a star and the Devils drafted someone else with only average talent instead, wow what a disaster that would be.
To me, all of this means that looking ahead to this draft, in all the conversations that will take place about what to do with this invaluable commodity that is Global Pick #2, if the conversation is about positional need current and getting wing score or top four defense, this shouldn’t revolve around using the pickaxe to fill this need. It should be around the trade what to choose to get a proven NHL product that meets that need. However, when discussing the use of pick, it should focus on who is the best player and who will be the best player at the NHL level. If the belief is that this player is Cooley, then great, grab him. If the belief is that it will be Slafkovsky, great, catch him. Whoever is the best long-term player is how the pick should be used. Any other use of the pick will be a bad choice in the long run.
And finally, if you’re interested, I saw this infographic after the lottery and thought it was interesting and worth posting for anyone who hasn’t seen it. This adds fuel to the argument that the best player is the one to be picked. Don’t worry about the position when selecting.