Devils Sign Vilen to ELC

As the dust settled on the 2022 NHL Draft Lottery and the Devils’ pick position became clearer, a name from a Draft past put his signature to an Entry Level Contract.

The team announced today that defenseman Tobias Vilen, the fifth-round pick in 2021, inked a three-year ELC that will kick in for the 2022-23 season. According to the Devils’ PR team, Vilen will be present at the Devils’ Development Camp later this summer.

The 19-year-old Lahti, Finland-native played in Finland’s Liiga last season for Lahden Pelicans. In 50 games in 2021-22, he had six assists for the club. He also appeared in three Liiga Playoff games last season.

The Devils press release notes that Vilen (who was born April 1, 2003) was the youngest member of the Pelicans and played 35 regular season games for the team in Liiga in 2020-21. That year, he posted three goals and five assists totaling eight points.

The 6-foot, 1-inch, 195-pounder played in the Pelicans’ organization prior to his time at the Liiga level. He played for their Under-20, Under-18 and Under-17 teams going back to 2017-18.

The press release said that he is a left-handed shooting blue liner who has represented Finland at “the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in 2020, and the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Under-18 World Junior Championship (WJC) in 2021. In the 2021 WJC, Vilen served as an assistant captain, collected four assists and was teammates with fellow Devils’ prospect Samu Salminen (2021 NHL Draft, Round 3, 68th overall).”

As for the impeding 2022 Draft, Peter Robinson of recently wrote on who he felt the Devils were going to pick when they are up with the second overall pick.

Robinson mentioned that, since there is not really a consensus number one overall pick right now – with stock rising on more players – the Devils have a few more options than they would have had previously.

Robinson distilled it down to basically three players that the Devils could end up choosing with their pick come July 7: Shane Wright, a center with the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League, Logan Cooley, a center with the United States National Team Development Program or Juraj Slafkovsky, a left winger from TPS (Liiga – Finland).

He does throw in a few other names as well, but he does note that those three names remain “as close to a ‘top 3’ as can be determined right now.”

Wright, Robinson said in his profile, was “[l]ong considered a shoo-in to go first overall, Wright’s season was cancelled in 2020-21 when the Ontario Hockey League scrubbed its schedule as the pandemic ravaged Canada’s hockey leagues. That, along with Wright’s slow start to the season, brought other players into the mix. Wright has had quiet stretches this season but his proponents believe his understated effectiveness is precisely the point: that’s how he’s going to during a long, productive NHL career.”

Wright played 63 games for the Frontenacs this season and tallied 32 goals and 62 assists for 94 points. Robinson does mention that he is producing largely the same in the OHL playoffs right now with the Fronts “and scored the OT series-winner in his team’s conference quarter-final series.”

Although Wright’s Frontenacs are still active in the OHL Playoffs, they are currently down two games to one in their semi-final series against the North Bay Battalion. Robinson said that the Devils will have scouts present at the Fronts’ games this week.

Slafkovsky is the next of Robinson’s top three. He is a very large (6-foot, 4-inches, 220-pound) winger from Slovakia who participated in the 2022 Olympics with the Slovaks where he chipped in seven goals in their bronze medal winning performance.

Robinson compares Slafkovsky to Wright in that both had “outstanding play mixed in with some indifferent stretches” only differing in that Slafkovsky is “playing against pros in Finland’s Liiga, that country’s top league.”

Robinson envisions Slafkovsky’s “enticing combination of size (6-4, 220) and skill” meshing well on a line with Jack Hughes or Nico Hischier centering.

Slafkovsky will be participating in the upcoming World Championship (which kicks off tomorrow in Finland) for Slovakia and Robinson notes that, should he have a good tournament, his stock would certainly rise and could make things more difficult for the Montreal Canadiens with the first overall pick.

Rounding out Robinson’s top three is Logan Cooley, a center with the USNTDP. He has already committed to the University of Minnesota for next season and, as Robinson says, “NHL-readiness is rarely a factor after the first overall pick, so Cooley being at least a year away from pro hockey will not hurt him.”

What actually hurts Cooley’s chances of being taken by the Devils, according to Robinson, is his relative redundancy within the New Jersey lineup. Cooley, he mentions, is an “all-around package of skills and gumption” that could “make him a No. 1 center in the NHL.” Robinson questions if the Devils need that much depth with Hughes and Hischier already in the lineup.

Robinson does peg him as a “best-player-available” type which could make him attractive to the Devils at the number two spot.

He also references Cooley’s “moxie” which is described as “a quiet confidence needed to be an effective pro.”

From there, Robinson rounds out his top seven with four other options for the Devils (in no particular order) beginning with David Jiricek, a defenseman from Skoda Plzen of the Czech Extraliga.

Jiricek, whom Robinson says should be the first defenseman taken in the Draft, is 6-foot, 3-inches and 190 pounds, giving him size.

What he also has is professional experience, having played in the Extraliga, the top Czech league, “two full seasons” already.

Robinson next lists Joakim Kemell, a right-wing playing with JYP Jyvaskyla of the Finnish Liiga. Kemell, too, had a rough beginning to his season, “but was back in form later in the season and especially at the U18s, almost single-handedly sending Canada home early in the quarter-finals.”

Kemell has moved around in several draft rankings according to Robinson, but he does concede that that could be due to Kemell earning “praise well ahead of his draft season” making it “easier to pick apart his game,” something that plagues other players as well.

Back to the blue line for the next player (and back to Slovakia as well). Simon Nemec, a defenseman playing for HK Nitra of the Slovak Extraliga, also played for the Slovaks in Beijing, having “a quiet Olympics” according to Robinson.

He has come into his own in the Extraliga playoffs this season where he has potted four goals and added six assists to gather ten points over 13 games for Nitra.

Overall, Robinson does not seem to believe that his performance in the playoffs is enough to propel him to moving as high up the draft board as the second pick, although he does say that “[s]tranger things have happened.”

The last player on Robinson’s list is forward Matthew Savoie of the Winnipeg Ice of the Western Hockey League.

Savoie, who Robinson relates “unsuccessfully lobbied to be able to play in the Western Hockey League as an underage player,” is actually playing his second season of junior hockey. He suited up for the United States Hockey League’s Dubuque Fighting Saints in 2020-21 “during the pandemic.”

As for the Ice, Savoie led them in scoring with 90 points (35 goals and 55 assists) last season.

Robinson does bring up that Conor Geekie, a center and teammate of Savoie’s on the Ice, “is an interesting prospect because some teams covet him more than Savoie but is not a candidate to go second overall.”

But with Winnipeg currently in the WHL playoffs (leading two games to one over the Moose Jaw Warriors in their second round series), there is still time for Geekie to end up overtaking Savoie or Savoie cementing his place as a top-two pick for the NHL Draft. 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.”