The general consensus by experts regarding the 2021 NHL Draft is that Michigan defenseman Owen Power will be the first-overall selection by the Buffalo Sabres. After that, however, is anybody's guess.
A lot of the fallout will occur after the expansion Seattle Kraken make their choice at No. 2. It's nearly impossible to guess whom an expansion team, which has needs at all positions, will decide to draft. However, getting a read on Seattle and general manager Ron Francis, which is the job of any good draft analyst, could help determine how the rest of the players fall.
While the majority of prognosticators have Seattle selecting Power's teammate and Michigan center Matty Beniers, others see them taking a different route.
"The one thing that Ron Francis has traditionally done, if you go back and look at the footprints on Carolina's team today, D heavy, D heavy, D heavy," said Sam Cosentino, an analyst for Rogers Sportnet. "So, I'd be hard pressed seeing them not going to a defenseman at No. 2. The way the rest of it sets up I think is determined by the expansion draft."
As such, Cosentino has Seattle selecting Barrie defenseman Brandt Clarke, brother of Devils' forward prospect Graeme, with that pick. He also has the Anaheim Ducks taking Swedish blueliner Simon Edvinsson. Which leaves American defenseman Luke Hughes, brother of Devils' center Jack, as the choice for New Jersey.
Despite Beniers and Edmonton sniper Dylan Guenther being available in his mock draft, Cosentino believes New Jersey will stick to the blue line.
"When I look at the Devils' situation in particular, I think about some of their young forward groups that have come along," he reasoned. "You see (Michael) McLeod, (Marian) Studenic, (Nathan) Bastian, (Yegor) Sharangovich, all these guys that are coming along from the forward group. Then I look at (Shakir) Mukhamadullin, who was their first-round pick, one of three, last year. The lone defensemen of those three with (Alexander) Holtz and (Dawson) Mercer. I feel (Mukhamadullin is) more of a project guy that's going to be a big, nasty guy that New Jersey can use down the road.
"So where does that bring us? It brings us back to today. What are we looking for? Ty Smith, great year. He's probably going to be a part of your power play moving forward. But I think that dynamic puck-moving defenseman, and a guy who's in on the rush all the time and offensive minded is that type of guy. I would pick Hughes and Clarke to be those guys."
Not only do Hughes and Clarke fit the mold of what Cosentino believes the Devils are targeting, but the team will also have an extra scouting report on them.
"I also think when you have that brother connection you know what the family is like, you have a pretty good sense of what the brother is like, what their work ethic is going to be," Cosentino said. "You also have that inside information that you might not get with another pick. In this draft where there is some uncertainty, that additional information is really valuable."
As far as the second Devils' pick in the first round, 29th overall (though technically the 28th pick with Arizona forfeiting its first-round pick), Cosentino thinks New Jersey could look to add a goaltender of the future or a player to address the team's grit and toughness. But, if he had his druthers and were Devils' general manager Tom Fitzgerald, Cosentino would opt for another option.
"Personally I would be looking at offers on that spot to a acquire picks later or to defer to 2022 or 2023," he said. "I would definitely be interested in doing that if I were Tom Fitzgerald.
"If you're going to move a pick like 28, you might have to sweeten the pot to move it to a 2022 or 2023. But I'd be happy to do that, especially based on New Jersey's situation where they've had a boatload of picks the last couple of years and they do have some prospect capital making its way toward the National Hockey League. I would be interested in that no doubt."
Whatever the Devils decide to do, Cosentino believes they are in good hands.
"You have to have a guy like Fitzy that's been around it, knows it, now has his opportunity to put his stamp on things," he said. "I like that they kept him and trusted him to move forward.
"You have to have patience. You have to have an ownership group that's committed to the long-term vision."
Ownership has bought into the long-term plan of building through the draft. New Jersey has done an excellent job of selecting the right players, and the Devils have made development a key part of their hockey operations department, even recently adding Meghan Duggan as Manager, Player Development.
"I like where they are with their group right now," Cosentino said of the Devils. "I like the players that they've selected. But it's not just about what you do in the draft. It's about how you develop those players moving forward.
"You can draft as well as you can possibly draft, but if you don't have those other elements in place then all that drafting goes for not. And I think New Jersey is in a real good spot."