As first reported by Tom Gulitti earlier today, the New Jersey Devils have signed their first overall pick in 2007 (2nd round, 57th overall) Mike Hoeffel to an entry level contract. What's rather unexpected is that there are no indications that he will be reporting to Albany this year. Details on the contract have not been disclosed by Capgeek.com yet, but could the Devils be setting up his contract to begin next year so that it will not count towards the 50 person reserve limit for this season? (See my explanation of the clause that allows this to happen here.) Hoeffel's contract status will be updated in this post as it becomes available.
Hoeffel isn't really the news of the day though. The Devils also made an unexpected signing, adding Alaska Nanook junior defenseman Joe Sova to an entry level contract. While College Hockey News thinks he could be playing shortly with the organization shortly I haven't seen that reported anywhere else. This signing is interesting on a few levels which I will go into more after the jump. I will also touch upon the 50 person reserve limit and how the Devils look next year with Sova added to the mix. (Thanks to user Triumph44 who posted the news as a fanshot earlier today)
Joe Sova Statistics:
Who is he?
Sova is a 6-3, 203 pound defenseman from the University of Alaska (Tyler Eckford's alma mater). Sova, a junior (more on that below), was a high scoring defenseman for the Nanooks, with 24 points this season. In addition to being 2nd overall (just above Jon Merrill) in CCHA defenseman scoring, Sova was tied for 8th in CCHA power play points with 3 goals and 10 assists. He was also named as a CCHA Honorable Mention (along with Michigan's Brandon Burlon) with 20 votes (3 first team votes) and was only 5 points from joining Jon Merrill on the CCHA Second Team. He led the Nanooks in shots on goal (101), penalty minutes, (58) and blocks (98). He seems to have a good combination of offensive abilities, grit and defensive responsibility. This article from the Fairbanks Daily News gives you the impression that Sova is a humble player who works hard for what he accomplishes.
2011-2012 Reserve List & Defensive Depth Thoughts
While the 2010-2011 reserve list is close to the maximum of 50 (48 currently), next year's seems to be OK for the moment. The Devils have 27 active contracts right now per Capgeek and 29 when you add in Sova and Hoeffel to the mix. The Devils however, will have to decide the futures of 12 RFAs (Zach Parise being the most prominent of them) and NHL UFAs Johan Hedberg, Andy Greene and Adam Mair. They will also have to look at Albany to see if any of their UFAs will be re-signed. There are 5 UFAs who spend most of their time at Albany (Mike McKenna and Brad Mills the most prominent) and in order for Albany to have veteran experience to solidify the team some of these players are necessary to sign and keep on the reserve list with a two way contract. They also provide depth for emergency situations like injuries and suspensions.
While I don't think there will be any issues with signing UFAs or RFAs, I think it is significant that Sova was provided an ELC. First, Sova was a junior (albeit a 22 year old one, who is turning 23 in 2 months) so he is leaving a year early from Alaska. For him to both leave college early and receive an ELC and not an Amateur Try Out contract (which is what Matt Taormina did) shows that there was a market out there for him and that the Devils were likely not alone in pursuing him. Second, signing him so quickly after his season ended shows that he was a Devils target for some time.
It is also interesting considering that he is an offensive defenseman that is being signed when the Devils will already be adding Eric Gelinas to Albany's roster next year. This crowds the depth chart a bit for the defensive unit at Albany next year as he likely joins a unit that includes Dan Kelly, Alexander Urbom, Gelinas, Harry Young and others. I think his signing certainly signals the end for Tyler Eckford's (also a former Alaska Nanook) time in the organization and could also be an early admission that the team won't have the ability to re-sign Andy Greene. With Mark Fayne's emergence, Matt Taormina showing promise in his limited time, and a lot of future cap money invested in Henrik Tallinder, Colin White, the injured Bryce Salvador and Anton Volchenkov the Devils will be hard pressed to pay Greene even $2MM next year (and I believe he will command more).
The fact that Sova is a prolific scorer on the power play is important. Hopefully he can offer Albany and then maybe New Jersey the power play quarterback they both need. Albany, like their parent club, often runs a 5 forward power play. I have always preferred a defenseman on the ice during a power play.
As with Hoeffel I will update this post with Sova's contract details as they become available. While the Sova signing dashes my hopes for the Devils to sign Chay Genoway of North Dakota, I am OK with that. I am happy the Devils were active in signing college free agents. Sova's signing also does something else. It helps to lessen the blow of the 2006 draft in which the Devils selected 3 defensemen only 1 of which (Olivier Magnan) has really contributed value to the organization.
I don't know enough about Sova yet to even speculate on his future next year. I do know that the Devils seem to have been very aggressive in pursuing him, which shows that he must have shown the scouting staff a lot of promise. His size and power play skills give him a place in the organization and I look forward to seeing his progress in the future. I do hope he and Hoeffel play some games in Albany or Trenton this year as it would be great to get a chance to see what both have to offer to the future of the organization.
Thanks for reading and sound off with comments below!