2021 NHL draft recap: Devils add to the family

A busy 2021 NHL Draft brings new talent into the Devils organization. 

Leen Amin

Leen Amin

The Devils’ social team absolutely crushed it this weekend. One of the big stories heading into the draft was whether or not Jersey would add a second Hughes to their defensive corps of the future. The fans wanted it, and the organization obliged.

And the Twitter fun began.

Before we get into the deep-dive on this year’s draft class, let’s run down the picks for the New Jersey Devils:

1 (4) – Luke Hughes, D
1 (29) – Chase Stillman, F
4 (68) – Samu Salminen, C
4 (100) – Jakub Malek, G
5 (129) – Topias Vilen, D
6 (164) – Viktor Hurtig, D
7 (203) – Zakhar Bardakov, C

Analysis

The Devils kicked things off in a big way by drafting LHD Luke Hughes, the younger brother of their star youngster Jack, fourth overall. It’s fun and exciting that the Devils now have two Hughes brothers, but this is also a fantastic pick. Hughes, like both of his brothers, is one of the best prospects in his class. He’s a great skater and defender and is capable of scoring. His offense has improved over the years and will surely improve further at the University of Michigan.

With their second pick of the first round, which they received from the New York Islanders in exchange for forwards Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac, the Devils took another member of a hockey family, Chase Stillman. The son of long-time NHLer and two-time Stanley Cup winner Corey Stillman, Chase is a physical center who uses his body to battle for pucks and be impactful on the forecheck.

The Devils might have reached here: Stillman was expected to go much later. He averaged two points per game in Denmark’s U20 league, but analytics don’t like him. Many dismiss his performance in Denmark because of the weak competition. As we mentioned, this pick is reminiscent of the Shakir Mukhamadullin pick last year, when the Devils were believed to have taken him too high because he’s more of a project pick. Nonetheless, Stillman uses his body better than most in his class and his skating has improved, so there’s a lot to like here.

The Devils didn’t pick again until the third round. They made up for the Stillman pick by getting a steal, drafting center Samu Salminen. Salminen was expected to go much higher and it would have been less surprising had the Devils taken him with the 29th pick and Stillman with this pick.

Salminen is a very well-rounded player. He’s strong offensively and defensively, is great in the face-off circle (an ongoing issue for New Jersey), is a great leader, has some speed, and can score. This was a fantastic value pick for the Devils.

With the 100th overall pick in the fourth round, the Devils went with goaltender Jakub Malek. This isn’t a noticeable pick, as Malek was unranked. He was decent in the Czech second tier, but it’s difficult to know how we will pan out. Malek is tall, but not big and doesn’t take up most of the net, something that might hurt him.

In the fifth round, with the 129th overall pick, the Devils took LHD Topias Vilen. This was another great value pick for the Devils: Vilen was a near-consensus top-100 prospect. Vilen is a good passer and skater. He’s a good defender with offensive upside. He was Finland’s number one LHD at the U-18 world championship and was on the ice for just one of the 16 power play goals that Finland conceded in the tournament.

Next up, in the sixth round with the 164th pick, the Devils took RHD Viktor Hurtig. Hurtig is massive, standing at 6’6″, 190 lbs. Hurtig’s size is appealing, but this was a reach for New Jersey, who likely only took him because of his size. He isn’t particularly good at either end of the ice and is overwhelmed by opposing attackers quite easily. Hurtig has potential as a puck-mover, but this is definitely a project pick for the Devils.

With the 203rd pick and their final pick of the draft, the Devils took C Zakhar Bardakov. At 6’3″, 198 lbs., Bardakov is praised for his physicality more so than for his scoring ability. He’s a great forechecker, but that’s about it. He isn’t a good skater and isn’t very skilled. It would honestly be surprising if he does end up having an NHL career.

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