The Devils chose to pass on Shane Wright in favor of defenseman Simon Nemac after shaking up their front office.
The biggest and most important news so far in this Devils off season so far has been the draft and lack of trades. The Devils, despite many rumors, did not land Alex DeBrincat, and chose to pass on Shane Wright in the draft. The Devils chose not to use their ample cap space and high draft pick to make a trade for an established NHL player. Many fans are upset with this lack of aggression from Tom Fitzgerald. A franchise that has been a failure on the ice for the last decade taking a patient approach isn’t thrilling fans but may be the right move.
Nemec came into the draft rated somewhere in the top 5 on just about every draft board and mock draft. The 18 year old defenseman is 6 feet tall and weighs 190 pounds. He is a right handed shot which fits well with New Jersey, who are heavy on left handed defensemen including Smith, Hughes, Mukhamadullin, Bahl, Okhotyuk to name a few on the roster and in the pipeline. Nemec has played in Slovakia’s top professional league for the last three seasons. He is known to be an above average skater and most project him to be a better skater than most NHL players when he enters the league. Where Nemec really stands out among his peers is his positioning, decision making, and overall great hockey sense. Nemec is known to be a guy who remains calm under pressure and makes the right play to either break out of his defensive zone or hold the puck in the offensive zone. For a team that has struggled on defense for the last several years, a reliable two way defenseman like Nemec could be exactly what the doctor ordered. There is a more detailed breakdown of Nemec as a prospect from The Hockey Writers here.
The Devils chose to pass on Shane Wright, who was available when they chose second overall. In my opinion, there is a strong possibility that Wright was the best player available. However, on a team that has young centers Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier locked in on long term deals, I don’t think he would reach his potential as a Devil. So while he undoubtedly has a very high ceiling, I have severe doubts that he would reach that ceiling as a member of the Devils. Using a second overall pick on a guy you expect to be your number three center for at least the next few seasons would be a waste of a top pick. The strength of Nemac in a position the Devils need and the lack of opportunity for Wright on the Devils roster combine to make me happy with the decision by the Devils front office to go with Nemac at second overall. Speaking of the Devils front office, some changes have been made there…
Long time consultant and short time assistant coach Jacques Laperriere (2003-2022) was also removed from his position. While these moves are relatively minor, they show that old minds from past regimes, are finally being removed from the decision making progress. This isn’t the level of accountability many of us wanted as Lindy Ruff is still employed, however it shows that the Fitzgerald recognizes that changes need to be made to how this organization goes about it’s business. Scouting and player development seem to be Fitzgerald’s priority to improve, I just wonder why it took this long. These seem like changes that should have been made years ago when the organization committed to finally rebuilding. Better late than never? We hope…?
In other front office news, the Devils promoted Kate Madigan to assistant general manager. This news got a lot of headlines as she is among the first women to have such a high position in an NHL front office. She has served in multiple jobs in the Devils hockey operations department since 2017, which is a little concerning. Things have not gone well for the Devils in that time frame so if she has been on board with many of the moves made by the organization, that is not a good thing. However, if she has been arguing against the direction of the organization, then her gaining more power would be a good thing. Sadly, I doubt they are promoting someone who has been arguing against the direction of the team for the last five years. Hopefully she sees the issues and has idea to address the teams weaknesses, but forgive me for not being optimistic on that front.
Free agency starts on July 13th. With a projected $25 million in cap space, I fully expect the Devils to be big players on the market. Goalies like Jack Campbell or Darcey Kuemper should get significant offers from New Jersey, as should Jersey native and super star winger Johnny Guadreau. Maybe we can get really nuts and convince Malkin to become a Devil? Filip Forsberg will be available, as will Andre Burakovsky. I’m setting my hopes high because the Devils need a lot of help, especially at goalie…again… They also finished last season 19th in the NHL in goals scored, so an elite winger would be nice too…
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