As we await word on when the NHL will hold its draft, it seems like a good time to begin looking at which players the New Jersey Devils should target. As it stands, they hold three first-round picks — all of which will be in the top 20 — in what’s a stacked first round.
When the Devils traded Taylor Hall to the Arizona Coyotes, they lost the most important forward on their roster. They’ll have some work to do to replace him, but fortunately, this draft class has plenty of talented forwards who could be game-changers down the road. One of those would be Cole Perfetti, who finished with 111 points in 61 games and is capable of playing center or left-wing. Here’s why the versatile forward could be a fit with the sixth overall pick.
Devils Need an Offensive Threat Like Perfetti
There’s no downplaying Hall’s loss to the Devils. He was the catalyst to their offense and the only true game-changer on their roster over the last three-plus seasons, even when he struggled this season. The hope is Jack Hughes, the first overall pick at the 2019 Draft, can have that kind of impact one day. But they’ll still need to put players around him to become consistent threats in the Eastern Conference.
What makes Perfetti a potential fit alongside someone like Hughes is his makeup as a forward. He finished with 74 assists in 67 games, so there’s no denying he’s one of the best passers in this draft class. Part of that is because of his hockey IQ and his ability to make smart plays to set up his teammates.
Another asset Perfetti has is his shot, which is one of the best in this class. Kyle Palmieri and Jesper Bratt are the Devils’ only legitimate shooting threats in the NHL. And it’s much of the same in their prospect pool, as Graeme Clarke and Nolan Foote, the latter of whom came to New Jersey through a trade, are the only ones with elite shots. So they need to add more shooting talent to win games consistently, especially in a league trending more towards offense.
That’s why Perfetti could appeal to the Devils with the sixth overall pick. Though, to be clear, it’s not just his shot that makes him an ideal target. The organization doesn’t have a prospect who has the offensive arsenal he has. And because he’s a left-handed shot, he could be the top-six left-winger that becomes Hall’s eventual replacement.
When he reaches his prime, Perfetti could round out a Devils’ top line consisting of Hughes and Palmieri or Nikita Gusev. Or he could be the missing piece on a line with Nico Hischier at center and Bratt as a right-winger. Either way, the Devils’ offense should be a lot more threatening with him on the ice.
Concerns About Perfetti
While Perfetti has plenty of upside, there are a couple of concerns with the potential top 10 pick. We’ll start with his skating, which isn’t up to par with some of the other top prospects in this draft class, like Lucas Raymond or Seth Jarvis. And that could be a problem if a team is looking to play him at center, where he saw plenty of minutes in 2019-20.
Another issue with Perfetti is his strength. He’s already 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, but he gets knocked off the puck pretty frequently. So he’ll need to bulk up and get stronger because he’ll have a hard time reaching his full offensive potential if he isn’t able to win one-on-one battles in the NHL.
Fortunately for the Devils, these aren’t concerns that should keep Perfetti off their draft board. Even if his skating doesn’t improve significantly, he should fit in fine as a winger on their roster. And looking at their farm system and NHL lineup, they have much more of a need for game-breaking wingers than they do centers. With Hughes and Hischier leading their top six, the Devils are set down the middle for a long time. They also have Pavel Zacha, Michael McLeod, and Mikhail Maltsev, who are in the same age group as Hughes and Hischier and could be bottom-six, NHL centers sooner than later.
But even with some of the concerns, the pros outweigh the cons with Perfetti. The Devils need offense, and that’s what he provides. He has a hard and accurate shot to go along with high hockey IQ and top-notch playmaking ability. He also has the versatility to play left-wing or center, an asset any NHL coach loves to have. He may not be an elite skater like some other top prospects, but he could still be a perfect complement to Hughes or Hischier as a winger. And that’s what the organization needs more than anything else to become a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference.