After weeks of debate over the latest class of hockey players, the annual NHL Entry Draft in Montreal is upon us. Once the hometown Canadiens use the first overall pick Thursday night, the Devils will be on the clock. That second pick has been up for discussion and trade rumor since the Devils won the draft lottery.
The Devils have nine picks across the seven rounds that will take place on Thursday and Friday, including three fourth-round picks and selections that date back to trades from more than three years ago. With each pick, I'll name a player that may be available for the Devils to pick.
The top five prospects have had many teams consider moving toward the top of the draft, including rumors of Montreal trying to trade with the Devils for the second overall pick and thus holding the first two picks of the draft. The amount of talent at the top makes the Devils' pick far too valuable to do this.
First round (2): Simon Nemec, RHD, Nitra (Slovakia)Devils fans have salivated over Juraj Slafkovsky since winning the second pick in the lottery, but his rising stock may vault him to the first overall spot. If Montreal passes on Slafkovsky, that is the pick for the Devils. However, if the Canadiens use their top pick on Slafkovsky, there's a variety of opinions on what the Devils should do. Centers Shane Wright and Logan Cooley would be there for New Jersey in this scenario, but the top of the draft also has two strong, NHL-ready defensemen.
Deciding between Slovakia’s Simon Nemec and David Jiricek of the Czech Republic is difficult and allows Fitzgerald to look at the two strongest right handed defensemen of this draft. Jiricek has been linked in mocks to New Jersey, but I am pointing towards Nemec instead. Nemec is a sound passer and a smooth skater that has more experience and a stronger track record of the two. Nemec is off the charts in terms of evaluation, drawing comparisons to Victor Hedman, another second overall pick. If the Devils cannot land Slafkovsky at first overall, the Devils can pivot to his teammate from the World Championships in Nemec.
Second round (37): Luca Del Bel Belluz, C, Mississauga (OHL)As tempting as it might be for New Jersey to draft Jack Hughes (no relation) simply for the irony, there are intriguing names at the bottom of the first and top of the second round. One of the more interesting names is Del Bel Belluz, who seemed to have benefitted from the pandemic altering his development in the OHL.
After struggles in his rookie season of 2019-20, Del Bel Belluz exploded offensively with 30 goals and 44 assists in 67 games. Attributed to improved explosiveness, he is not the most talented skater on the ice, but does possess great agility and playmaking ability. From the same program that produced Michael McLeod a few years earlier for the Devils, Del Bel Belluz is a work in progress deserving of putting the work in.
Third round (70): Julian Lutz, LW, EHC Munchen (Germany)As there are risers in every draft, there are some who see their draft stock take a tumble. That has happened to Lutz, who projected out to be a first round pick until he suffered a reported spinal injury after leading the U18 German team. Lutz had been on a quick projection to the pros, becoming a regular player for the U18 team in the Erste Bank Juniors League by the time he turned 14.
Lutz remains a fast skater with an aggressive forecheck. Lutz has the ability to shoot from creative angles while also being smart with shot selection. Losing nearly a full year of development has cost Lutz a possible first round selection, and Lutz has been attached to New Jersey as early as round two, so drafting him in the third wound would be a steal.
Fourth round (102): Topias Leinonen, G, JYP (Finland)The first of three picks in this round, the Devils will control a lot in what happens at this point of the draft. The first choice could end up being the first goalie to come off the board in the entire draft. It’s not a strong draft for goalie prospects, but Leinonen is ranked as the best European prospect. At 6-foot-5 and hailing from Finland, it’s no surprise that people can see Leinonen developing just like longtime Nashville goalie and fellow countryman Pekka Rinne. Much like Rinne, Leinonen can show unexpected agility.
The big knock on Leinonen is his footwork, which will need some work. He also has aggressiveness when it comes to rebounds, which can prove to be a problem in the NHL if he gets too aggressive. For an organization that was exposed at the goalie position last season, Leinonen will be an appreciated asset. Leinonen might also find himself a part of the more immediate future with Mackenzie Blackwood and Jonathan Bernier both pending free agents after this season.
Fourth round (from NYI) (110): Jace Weir, RHD, Red Deer (WHL) A pick acquired from the Islanders when trading Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri in 2021, the Devils can take this round and acquire quality talent that has been overlooked. Weir is a right-handed defensemen, which is coveted across the league and often discussed by Tom Fitzgerald. Early in the season, Weir was producing offensively and vaulted as high as a second round pick. That production did not last and Weir’s stock fell. But Weir’s game did not struggle, shifting instead to an impactful defenseman beyond the score sheet.
With great outlet passing ability and strong discipline, Weir can be a strong penalty killer and bring stability to a defensive unit that already has strong offensive-minded defenders. Weir has been forgotten about by some as other defenders have shown better goal scoring ability, but a poised passer with spurts of offense provides great value in round four.
Fourth round (from EDM) (126): Lucas Edmonds, RW, Kingston (OHL)The third pick of the fourth round for the Devils came from the Edmonton Oilers as a result of the Dmitry Kulikov trade. It could be used to select Edmonds, who has seen his stock rise by appearing on tape with teammate Shane Wright, particularly on the power play. Edmonds is one of the more intriguing overage prospects in this draft, meaning he is a prospect that has gone undrafted in previous drafts. The spotlight of playing with Wright, along with the offensive boost in the OHL, means this is the time for Edmonds.
Edmonds is considered to be more physically mature at age 21 compared to teenage prospects and is a disruptive presence in front of the net. Edmonds could see teams with more veterans on the roster and a championship window closing interested in drafting him. Reports are that more than 20 teams have inquired about Edmonds, suggesting he wouldn’t be around at the end of round four, but Edmonds is valuable for the Devils if available here.
Fifth round (from CBJ) (141): Ludwig Persson, LW, Frolunda Jr. (Sweden)The Devils dealt their own fifth round pick to Buffalo in the Will Butcher trade, but were awarded this pick more than two years earlier. The return for trading Keith Kincaid to Columbus in February 2019, the Devils could take a player talented enough for first round talent. Person, who doesn’t turn 19 until October, flies on the ice and is dazzling offensively. With the Devils having plenty of talented wingers in development in recent years, Person can be used to replenish the reserve supply in the minor leagues.
The big knock for a young and talented offensive winger, naturally, is that his defense needs a lot of work. The Devils will be able to take that time and develop the rest of Persson’s game. Swedish prospects are coveted by some teams around the league and the Devils have been linked to enough Swedish players in the offseason that they may join those ranks. This spot has provided recent luck for the Devils, who drafted Yegor Sharangovich at 141st overall in 2018.
Sixth round (166): Maxim Barbashev, LW, Moncton (QMJHL)The 18-year old Barbashev jumped to North American this past year after two strong years of development in Russia. Barbashev is not the classic Russian prospect, foregoing finesse for physical play. Barbashev is fast and strong, using that combination to level some shattering hits. Strong physicality and a razor sharp hockey IQ would make Barbashev a fan favorite in whatever fanbase he ends up with. Barbashev also has a wrist shot that cannot be ignored.
As you might assume, it’s the worries of defensive play that prevent Barbashev from being higher on many boards. Barbashev has impressive spurts on the ice, but putting together consistent strong shifts in a game will be a major focus of his development. Barbashev will grow into a strong disruptor with the tools to do so, but his ability to show that on NHL ice will take time.
Seventh round (198): Mathew Ward, C, Swift Current (WHL)The final scheduled pick for the Devils could be used on one of the draft’s more interesting prospects. Teams know who Ward is, but only by sticking out while scouts have been following his teammates. By this point, Ward could likely see at least two of his teammates from the WHL already selected, but Ward is more than meets the eye.
Look beyond a 5-foot-8 skater and instead focus on Ward’s fearless demeanor on the ice and one of the highest hockey IQs among all prospects. In 64 games for Swift Current, Ward had 22 goals, 35 assists and 96 penalty minutes. The Devils have a history of players willing to mix things up and generate a spark, making Ward valuable as a projected bottom six winger. An energy line with the likes of Nathan Bastian and Michael McLeod has made things happen for the Devils as a fourth line and Ward is cut from a similar cloth.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: NJ Devils: 2022 NHL mock draft, projected picks for each round