Devils to Pick Second in Draft; Comets Win Playoff Opener

The future of the Devils was in the spotlight tonight.

The organization not only moved up in the NHL Draft Lottery, shuffling ahead of, essentially, three teams to move from the fifth best odds of winning the Lottery (with an 8.5-percent chance of winning the first overall pick) to the second overall spot.

The Devils leapfrog teams like the Coyotes, Flyers and Kraken to move into the second spot while the Montreal Canadiens, who finished last in the league and, thus, had the best odds of winning. They did and will pick first overall in their own building.

As Catherine Bogart, staff writer for the Devils, pointed out, the “last time New Jersey had the 2nd overall pick was in 1987 when the Devils picked Brendan Shanahan.” Prior to that, the team took Kirk Muller at number two in 1984.

She also mentioned (in a separate article) that this “is the fourth time the Devils will have a pick in the top-five since the 2017 NHL Draft where New Jersey selected its now Captain, Nico Hischier. The Devils picked Jack Hughes first-overall in 2019, and Hughes’ younger brother, Luke, fourth-overall last year.”

General Manager Tom Fitzgerald now has his work cut out for him along with (Chief Amateur Scout) Mark Dennehy and (Vice President of Amateur Scouting) Paul Castron, who will work to make sure the Devils make the right choice for the team at that pick.

Fitzgerald feels that with another well-placed pick in the Draft, the Devils should be able to add to their already young and developing pool of talent.

However, there is still room for the team to “weaponize” this pick, as the Devils still have not taken the idea of trading it off of the table according to Mike Morreale of

I will delve more into Morreale’s article on if the Devils and Fitzgerald will decide to make that deal, as well as taking a look at some of the prospects that the Devils might choose with the pick, should they keep it, later in the week here on the blog.

In the meantime, a quick report about the Utica Comets and their victory in game one of their AHL North Division Semifinal series with the Rochester Americans.

The Comets won 6-3 on the strength of a strong second period comeback and two goals from AJ Greer.

Rochester jumped out to a 2-0 first period lead at the Adirondack Bank Center in Utica when Arttu Ruotsalainen scored 2:21 into the game and JJ Peterka scored on the power play at 6:03 gone by.

The Comets roared back to tie things early in the second when Tyce Thompson scored 4:31 into the period off assists from Nolan Foote and Reilly Walsh.

Just a second under a minute later, at 5:30 gone by, Robbie Russo tied the game from Nikita Okhotiuk and Foote.

Ruotsalainen scored again at 11:37 to put the Americans back in front before Ryan Schmelzer tied the game on the power play at the 15:53 mark of the second. Greer and Walsh had the assists.

Peterka had been called for slashing at 15:33 to set up the man advantage for Utica.

The second period saw both teams rack up penalty minutes – although only Peterka’s penalty resulted in a power play. The rest were all matching minors (or double minors in the case of Sean Malone and Russo’s roughing penalties at the 20 minute mark of the period).

This tied the game at three and set up a third period that saw the Comets score three straight to win the game.

Joe Gambardella scored the game-winner from Fabian Zetterlund 9:29 into the third period.

Greer then added the next two, his first at 14:04 (with Aarne Talvitie getting the lone helper) and his second at 16:30 (unassisted) to ice the game.

Greer, with three points, was named the game’s first star while Gambardella was the second star with the game winning goal. Walsh was the third star with two assists.

Goaltender Nico Daws made 19 saves on 22 shots for the Comets while former Devil Aaron Dell stopped 34 of 40 shots for the Amerks.

Game two of the best-of-five series will be played on Saturday, May 14 in Utica. Fitzgerald, Devils Not Adverse to Trading 2022 First Round Pick

An article appeared on this evening by Wes Crosby stating that according to Devils’ General Manager Tom Fitzgerald, the “Devils could trade their first-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft.”

While this is not a strange thing to report, since, really, the Devils can do anything with their own pick, it is an interesting look into where the Devils want to go this offseason.

Fitzgerald told Crosby that the pick could be traded to “allow the Devils to acquire an established player to complement a core of young forwards.”

As Fitzgerald noted: “I said this two drafts ago (2020), when we had the three first-round picks, I’m open to whatever can help our team improve. If that is using a pick like that, wherever it may be, to help bring in a player that we know, and feel, will help impact the results that we are looking for, absolutely.”

Fitz continued by saying, “That’s my job is to improve our hockey club thorough all the assets that we have.”

Crosby brought up the team’s goaltending situation over the last two seasons.

In 2021-22 in particular, the Devils “used a team-record seven goalies” with Mackenzie Blackwood – the projected Devils’ “one-A” goalie – finishing with a 9-10-4 record and a 3.39 goals against average and .892 save percentage over 24 starts and 25 appearances.

Jonathan Bernier, who was signed to be the team’s latest “one-B” goalie, played just ten games total with eight of those starts and had a 4-4-1 record (3.08 GAA and .902 save percentage) prior to having his season end on December 3 with a hip injury and surgery.

Fitzgerald, according to Crosby, said: “I’ve never hid from it. I’ve never dodged any bullets on where we need to improve. I’m still on that path. Both these goalies know where I stand. Competition will be part of that department going forward, whether Jonathan Bernier is 100 percent come that time. I’m not sure that’s going to be real.

“There will be competition in goal. I owe that, not only to the players and coaching staff, our fanbase, our ownership, everybody who’s invested in our team. … We need another NHL goalie to challenge and be able to play lots of games for us. I don’t know who that is.”

Crosby also talked about Lindy Ruff returning as Devils coach next season.

Ruff, who owns a 46-76-16 record with the Devils, is expected to come back behind the bench for 2022-23. Fitzgerald, however, said that “[t]here are areas that have to grow and develop. That’s something that Lindy and I had a very frank conversation about. Supporting him at this moment is something I believe is important because of the snapshot of all the positives I’ve seen from our players, how they respond to him. It’s something I can’t ignore.”

Crosby then segued that into a discussion of Jesper Bratt’s contract situation. Bratt is set to be a restricted free agent this summer and Fitzgerald sees signing him as a “priority.”

Fitzgerald said “Jesper Bratt is a big part of our future. We want Jesper Bratt here long-term. That’s my job is to work out a deal with his agent at some point. Offer sheets, I can’t control that. He has arbitration rights. We know that. So again, the goal is to get Jesper Bratt under contract and be part of the puzzle that we’re building here.

“Realistically, prices are also part of the puzzle. That’s where we have to figure out where we’re at with him. But absolutely, we need Jesper Bratt in our lineup. We know what kind of player he is. He makes us better.”

Where Fitzgerald said that the Devils need to switch things up is at forward. He acknowledged that with smallish skill players like Bratt, Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, the Devils have “a lot of the same up front.”

Crosby mentioned that the aim for New Jersey would be “to surround the young talent with a heavier lineup, one that could consistently reach the playoffs and compete once there.”

Fitzgerald told him: “No more excuses, ‘Oh, we’re the youngest team in the League. Guys know how ot play. Guys know what the standards are and the expectations of what we’re trying to build here and the culture we want to build. We all have to be pulling the same way.

“You may not like like certain things, but you have to be good teammates. You have to challenge each other. We need to take that step.”

The NHL Draft Lottery takes place on May 10 at 6:30 PM ET on ESPN and ESPN+ in the United States and SN, SN NOW and TVA Sports in Canada. According to Crosby, the “Devils have the fifth-best odds (8.5 percent) for the first Lottery Draw.”