It’s an interesting dynamic. With the New Jersey Devils winning the draft lottery for the fourth time in the last 11 years, and the third time in the last 6 drafts, this is a very exciting time. I jumped out of my seat when I saw the Flyers logo flip over for the fifth overall pick, and knew the Devils had won the lottery again. Three picks from the top 2 in 6 years are huge; The first and second picks have already proven to be sinking into the slam, and if the next pick is, it means seriously improved odds of having a legitimate competitor in New Jersey in the near and perhaps not so near future. Now, we know that high selections don’t guarantee anything, just look to Edmonton for proof. Their back-to-back picks for Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov did the least for the franchise to change. But if you can make the right choices, and the demons are 2 vs 2 so far, that’s indicative of a return to legality.
However, at the same time, she’s hoping the team won’t be in a position to win the lottery again anytime soon. Winning the lottery means the team isn’t in the playoffs, it’s not competing, isn’t that the contender you’re looking for. And many people thought the team this year could be competitive, so it’s a gift that comes with a few caveats.
Because of that last point, and because New Jersey, on paper, is about to really turn around and compete for qualifying glory soon, many will want to use this pick to fill a need right now. Stephen had already spoken the day before about this, and why trading the goalkeeper’s choice at the moment is not a good idea. I agree with him on this. However, I am not against choice trading if the payoff is correct. Personally, I tend not to trade the selection, but if you told me I could get Kevin Fiala and the first all-rounder in Minnesota this year, I’d probably pull the trigger on it. Not only would I be a fan of Fiala in second place, but if the Devils also get their first late round with Fiala, that’s a really good deal. I doubt Minnesota would want to offer that, but you never know, right?
However, what I really want to discuss today is the risk of retaining selection, but using selection to take a positional need rather than picking the best player available. You’ll probably hear arguments that the Devils shouldn’t take someone like Logan Cooley because, well, the Devils are just stacked in the center and they don’t really need another petite player and playmaker in the center when they really need to score goals and defend, the goalkeepers don’t care. For me, this is the wrong way of thinking. If you think Cooley isn’t the pick, but instead is Juraj Slafkovsky or Simon Nemec or someone else, I have no problem with that if you make the case based on the player’s merits and what he expects to be at the NHL level. They could both turn out to be better than Cooley, who knows, and it’s worth discussing if you have an initial draft.
However, if you think Cooley would be the best player in the group, but you wouldn’t take him because the Devils have Hisshere and Hughes, I don’t agree with that argument. The second general check should not be a place to take topical need. It is a site to take the best available player. As John pointed out in his reaction to the lottery, this is not a very deep draft. The luxury of taking someone in office just isn’t here. The second choice should be a player who will one day be an all-star on your team, not just a complementary piece. If the Devils get the next Damon Severson, the minute-eating defender who’s probably best placed as a second pairing, it won’t be a landslide for the second overall pick. Yes, it’s better than Nolan Patrick, but it’s still not what you could get. The real success is finding the next Jack Eichel (the healthy version you don’t want to be traded). Now, it may happen that Eshel has been considered a talent for generations, some believe to be as good as Conor McDavid. However, you should get the second person generally of the same caliber, the talent is there. Consider the 2017 draft where Willy Patrick took on. They could have had Kal Makar, Elias Peterson or Miro Heskanen. Especially with Makar, that’s the kind of player you want to be in second place.
On top of that, the No. 2 pick may not be someone who’s ready for the NHL this year. Yes, maybe some of them are, like Nemec and Slafkovsky, but even that is debatable and won’t be fully determined until these kids hit training camp and play some pre-season games, as soon as possible. Drafting the scoring wing just because that’s what the team needs could be a bad move because by the time that player becomes the wing you want, that may be filled in by someone else. Similarly, some believe Cooley is probably two years away. In a couple of years when he is ready to join the big club, there may be an even greater need for a skilled position in this squad, for whatever reason. Back then, if he became a star and the demons drafted someone else with mediocre talent instead, what a disaster it would be.
To me, it all means that in the lead up to this draft, in all the conversations to be had about what to do with this invaluable commodity that is public choice number 2, if the conversation is about current spot need and getting the scoring in the ward or The defense of the top four, you should not revolve around it using pick to fill that need. It should be about trading that choice for a proven NHL merchandise that fills this need. When the discussion is about the use of selection, you should focus on who is the best player, and who will be the best player at the NHL level. If the belief is that the player is a choli, then great, get it. If the belief is that it will be Slavkovsky, cool, get it. Whoever the best player will be in the long run, this is the method to use in the selection. Any other use of choice would be a wrong choice in the long run.
Finally, if you were interested, I saw this graph after the lottery and thought it was interesting and worth throwing away for anyone who hasn’t seen it. And it adds fuel to the argument that the best player should be chosen. Don’t worry about the situation when selecting.