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Sam Cosentino 1-on-1 I DRAFT

Sam Cosentino, Rogers SportsNet draft analyst, gives his insights and analysis on the 2021 Draft and the Devils' future

by Sam Kasan @SamiKasan / NewJerseyDevils.com

The NHL Draft is a mere two weeks away. The New Jersey Devils hold the Nos. 4 and 28 selections in the first round, which is being held Friday, July 23. 

As things start to really ramp up, we welcome Sam Cosentino, writer and draft expert for Rogers SportsNet, to give his insights on the best prospects, best fits for the Devils and his sense of whom New Jersey will select.  

Video: Sam Cosentino's Draft Predictions | 1-on-1

Sam Kasan: Let's look at this draft, is Owen Power the legit No. 1. There's no doubt that he's going to Buffalo?

Sam Cosentino: Yeah, I think that's the case. It's a 6-foot-6 defenseman. They're really tough to come by. When you look at the history of guys with size, they tend to play a long time.

Zdeno Chara would be the perfect example of that. I think his play at the World (Championship) really cemented him in that No. 1 spot. There might've been some doubt going into that. His progression in the Worlds that started from three seconds in the first period of 2-0 loss to Latvia to playing over 20 minutes a game really spoke volumes to me. And I think he's the cement No. 1 guy.

SK: So interestingly enough, a lot of people have been Beniers going No. 2 to Seattle in their mock draft. You have a little different route. Who do you see Seattle taking?

SC: Well, if I look at the history of Ron Francis and you go to Carolina and you see the footprints of him still on that team with their ability to have drafted and acquired a lot of top end defensemen. And I think that's a way in which Seattle is going to go. You're always talking about building a team from the center of the ice out. So your goaltending, your center you're your defenseman, and building it from the back end to the front. And so. Well, I think there tends to be a lot more forwards that you can acquire through expansion or through free agency.

The fact of the matter is to have a homegrown defenseman that's truly yours. I think that's a difficult thing to come by. And I think that's why, when I look at Beniers as probably being the top-rated forward, I still think Seattle goes in the way of a defenseman.

SK: And you mentioned going with a defenseman. Obviously, this is Devils' podcast. So Devils fans want to know who you have the Devils taking in this draft. It's a name that might sound familiar.

SC: Yeah. It's probably two names that as I kind of flush it out here over the last couple of weeks since the draft lottery, but either Brandt Clarke or Luke Hughes I think are the guys that are going to end up going there. I think New Jersey is going to go the way of the defenseman. I think you're looking at two guys who have an offensive mindset there, and I think what's pretty cool these guys wouldn't be drafted simply because they're brothers are New Jersey prospects, but because based on their own merit and just how good they are. You look at Brandt Clarke, I've watched him going back to his under-16 days with Don Mills and playing with Shane Wright and putting up over 100 points. And then I look at him through his first year as a 16-year-old defenseman in Barrie, did things that not many 16-year-old defense have done in that storied franchise in the past. And then, having the adversity of going over to Slovakia and to a strange country, strange land, food, language, different size ice, that sort of thing. And by the time he'd left there, he was running their power play and arguably the top defenseman. So that would make the case for Brandt Clarke.

But you look at Luke Hughes and the same sort of thing. Here's a guy who unfortunately got injured. He wasn't able to play on the under-18s. You have great familiarity with Jack and the Hughes family. This guy's a little bit bigger than his brothers. I think he defends better than Quinn at this age.

And I think a guy who has tremendous offensive upside, you know, just around a point per game with the U.S. under-18 program and a nine-game point streak throughout the course of this season when he was healthy. And the fact remains that he's a lot like his brothers and that he has tremendous confidence with the puck. But the skating, the edge work, the elusiveness in his game are all very much like Quinn and Jack.

SK: You have Clarke off the board by the time the Devils are picking in your mock draft. If Clarke is on the board and Hughes is on the board, and even let's say, (Simon) Evanston's on the board, which of those three guys do you like the most or which maybe of those three guys do you think fits most with what the Devils are looking for.

SC: Well, if I look at (Shakir) Mukhamadullin who was picked in the first round last year, one of the three first rounders, I think Edvinsson, there are some comparisons you can make there. A little bit of a departure, so that's probably not the way in which I would go. But if I had my choice between Hughes or Clarke, man, that would be a real tough decision. I think when you look at Clarke, the fact that he's a right-shot defenseman, and those tend to be a little bit more rare, might put him slightly ahead of the class. Having said that though, he's a little bit of a knock-kneed skater. And so there have been some concerns in the scouting community about skating ability. And then if you look at Hughes, are you worried about the injury and if that's going to have long lasting implications moving forward. So, I don't know, I'd be happy with either one of the three, to be honest with you, but if I'm sitting there and I'm New Jersey and all three are available, I'm probably leaning towards one of the brothers. Hughes maybe just the shade bigger than what Clarke is, but Clarke is the right-shot guy. So, I tend to lean the way of the right-shot guy.

SK: Didn't mean to put that on the spot there? As you said, after the top 10, it's kind of a free for all on where the draft goes. But within that top 10, is there anybody that you think some teams are sleeping on that you might have higher ranked than teams may have ranked, or somebody that may be a surprise pick.

SC: Yeah, I think Mason McTavish is going to be a real interesting guy to watch. I mean, I've always had him sort of in that 15-25 range, but then after watching them at the Under-18s, my opinion of him as a player changed immensely. And obviously it did for NHL Central Scouting as well as they now have him ranked as the No. 2 North American skater. But he's a guy who brings some bite to the game. He had the opportunity to play center at the Under-18s. Where he didn't necessarily do that in Peterborough. And so, he was winning faceoffs and I think that added element, and now maybe people projecting him as a center iceman, as opposed to solely as a winger has added significant value to, to his stock. He's got a dad that played professionally. He's shown that he can score goals. There's some leadership things in there. He's a much more complete player than I would have had them projected going back three, five, six months ago. And so, he's a guy that I think is going to surprise some people. NHL Central Scouting has him at two, I think I have him at about nine. So he's a guy inside that top-10 that I think you're going to see a wide degree of varying opinions on him.

SK: Interesting. Well, the Devils also have a second first-round pick, 28th overall. So, who are some names that you think the Devils may go with. If they even use that pick at all, I should say.

SC: Putting it up on the trade block, I think would be very interesting if you could try and defer that pick down the road into '22 or '23, I think that would be a marvelous option based on the number of picks that New Jersey's had here over the last couple of years. So that would definitely be in play for me there. You'd also maybe be looking to hit a homerun. Someone who maybe you have projected higher than other teams or other lists have projected lower. Maybe it's a Sean Behrens where you get that ultra-dynamic, a smaller-type offensive defenseman who shows some dynamic ability in that range. Maybe you go to a goalie. You have Blackwood there. You have (Nico) Daws and (Akira) Schmid kind of waiting in the wings, but maybe to go to a goalie. And I always say the best time to draft a goalie is when you have one because the projection is five years out. And so you'd be looking at a (Benjamin) Goudreau. You'd probably be looking at a Sebastian Cossa, the Edmonton Oil Kings in that position. Or maybe you decide to address the size and grit area of the game, whether it's Zach Dean, whether it's William Stromgren, that type of player or (Simon) Robertsson out of Sweden. So, you do have some guys there who I think add a little bit more size, a little bit more bite, maybe whose offensive ceiling isn't quite that high, but someone who you think would be a nice mix into your group here down the road, by adding that size and grit.

SK: And we've talked a lot about the second day. One of those days where we might end up getting 10, 15 gems out of the second day just because of the way this year has been. So with the halting of an entire league and entire season and video only scouting and all these different variables, who are some second-day guys that maybe some New Jersey fans should keep an eye on or keep an ear out for as they kind of get drafted through that you think might fit the team.

SC: Yeah. Stan Svozil is a guy who played at the World Junior. I thought was really effective defense when you're maybe concerned a little bit about his upside, but the fact that he can handle heavy minutes, play in key situations, he moves pucks particularly well. And I do believe that there's some unearthed offensive upside if he takes the development path of taking care of his own end first and then worrying about offense later. Another guy, Zach Dean, had talked about him a little bit. I think he's a guy in that list. Ayrton Martino is a guy who had some success in the SHL this year. Even Nause, a defenseman, played with the Quebec Remparts.

Connor Roulette is a guy who I think was projected in the first round earlier. Plays with the Seattle Thunderbirds, played more of a secondary role for Canada at the Under-18s, but he's a guy that truly would have been on some radars because of his rookie year in 2018-19. So, there's a few guys there that I think that have definitely some first-round potential, but may slip into Day 2.

SK: And the last one, before we let you go, looking at the landscape, looking at this entire year. How do you see the talent in this poll? I know every year is different, every year fluctuates, and we won't know until two, three, four, five years down the road, but just looking from a perspective, if you can even gauge it, considering everything went on, how deep or quality do you think this group is?

SC: Well, I was really bullish on the '02 group, that was last year's draft class. The '03 is not nearly as bullish on, but I do find that inside that top-10 you're going to find some certainty in those picks. After that though, I do think it's going to get wild. I do think there's not a ton of depth to this draft. Having said that there's going to be teams sitting there on Day 2 at around picked 40 or 45 that are saying, oh my God, this guy was actually highly rated in our first round and he's still available to us. So that speaks to the randomness of the draft. I think. Maybe to a lack of depth in this draft class, but you add in the factor that the Ontario Hockey League didn't play. So, there's typically a large number of players from Ontario that are selected. And the fact that you add in that, maybe there's better books than some of the re-entry players. And so, you might see more of those players taken. Maybe don't have that cachet or that sexiness to the name that you would expect in the first round. But guys who have really kind of improved upon themselves over the course of the pandemic, they've grown physically, that that may be there are diamonds in the rough. So, it is pretty wild to think that maybe a little bit more of an influx of analytics, a bit more of an influx of the video influence of this draft, but it's going to be a lot of fun. It's going to be random. And I'm really looking forward to being able to analyze it.

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