After another lackluster Devils season, Tom Fitzgerald and company find themselves with the 2nd overall pick. With the young talent on their team, they should be nearing the end of their rebuild, too. They still need a few more pieces to make the team a legitimate threat, but they have plenty of options. Packaging the 2nd overall pick with a couple of pieces for a star like Alex DeBrincat is an option that has been discussed. They could also fill any needs through free agency, as they have plenty of cap space. And while they have options from the 2nd overall pick, drafting a player could be the best long-term option.
Juraj Slafkovsky is a strong, playmaking winger from Slovakia, coming in at 6’4″ and 218 lbs. This year, playing for TPS in the Finnish Liiga, he put up 1o points in 31 games. This put his projected path at a top 15-10 pick. However, his play for Slovakia in the Olympics, as well as the World Cup of Hockey, shot him up the draft boards as a projected top 5 pick. Most draft rankings have him in the top 5 and some even have him as a top 3 pick, along with guys like Shane Wright and Simon Nemec.
Slafkovsky sets himself apart from other prospects in his class, and even previous classes, with his unique mix of size and skill. As previously mentioned, 6’4″ and 218 lbs is an insane size for the amount of skill that he possesses. His huge frame makes him excellent on the boards and in the corners with keeping possession. His puck possession ability opens up the ice and allows Slafkovsky to make a pass or get a shot off. And unlike most large players, his size doesn’t take away from other attributes. His speed isn’t Connor McDavid level, but he still has above-average skating. And even more surprising, for such a large player, his playmaking ability is better than his shooting. Slafkovsky
Despite his strengths, Slafkovsky *is* a very raw talent and does have some things to improve. For example, while very strong in both zones, his transition game could use work, as he doesn’t have much creativity or consistency when entering the zone. His shot, while nothing to scoff at, could use some work too. If he can improve his shot, he can become one of the most unique offensive threats in the league. While Slafkovsky might be considered “too raw of a talent” to go top 3, the problems he has can all be improved through coaching and experience. It might be cliche, but you can teach a player zone entries, but you can’t teach 6’4″. What Slafkovsky could bring to the Devils, or any franchise for that matter, is too good not to use a top pick on him.
How Would Slafkovsky Fit With the Devils?
The Devils have been in talks all offseason about acquiring a star winger. Johnny Gaudreau and Alex Debrincat are names connected to New Jersey. However, Slafkovsky could help them with that and give them another long-term option at wing. With Holtz likely coming up from Utica, he should find himself getting top 6 minutes sooner than later. Assuming the Devils draft Slafkovsky and don’t sign a top 6 forward in free agency, here’s what the top 6 looks like in the future:
Not too shabby. Not only could Slafkovsky, Hughes, and Holtz potentially be one of the best first-lines in hockey (assuming Holtz and Slafkovsky pan out), but it would be somewhat affordable. Johnny Gaudreau will likely be asking for one of the priciest contracts in hockey, even if he gives the Devils a hometown discount. If you can find a way to build a top 6 without breaking the bank for Gaudreau, it helps improve the defense and goaltending, which the Devils are in need of far more than forwards.
Drafting Slafkovsky is also more profitable than trading the 2nd overall pick. The most likely trade involving the 2nd is for Debrincat. If Fitzgerald can find another team who is willing to give up a haul, go for it. However, a trade for Debrincat likely ends up with the Devils overspending for another small forward. Debrincat is amazing, but the Devils already have a plethora of small skilled forwards. They need size and puck possession, someone to win puck battles and get the puck to their stars.
Young and cheap talent is invaluable in this league, just look at the Avalanche. Getting someone like Slafkovsky who fills a need for cheap would be the best thing the Devils could do. Slafkovsky is the perfect fit for the Devils, and fans should be excited if his name comes up on draft night.