With the Devils making a conscious shift toward a younger defense this year, the team has a bit of a different look on the back end going into the 2014-15 season. The young trio of Adam Larsson , Eric Gelinas , and Jon Merrill all stand to be given consistent, significant roles, and the Devils will be limited in terms of experience, especially if someone goes down with an injury. Peter Harrold is around to fill in in the event of any short-term injuries/scratches, but any extended missed time on the blue line will necessitate a call-up of a defenseman from Albany. The question is whether the current blue line depth situation is acceptable, or whether they should sign a veteran player to manage the risk in the (somewhat likely) event that one of their current NHL blue-liners misses a number of games on the year.
The current crop of D in Albany features a decent group in terms of young talent. Brian has a nice roundup of all the defensive prospects in the system from yesterday, including those in the AHL. There are likely at least a couple players who are/will be good enough to hold their own in the NHL, but they are still all without any type of NHL experience, and it's understandably difficult to put that much faith in players who have yet to play a meaningful big league minute. Still, it seems at least a few of the players the Devils have available in house should have much more upside than most of the players left who would sign a two-way deal.
Options Currently in Albany
Damon Severson - Severson is likely the most talented young defenseman not yet in the NHL for the Devils (and perhaps even including the NHL contingent). Not only will he likely be among the first considered in the event of a call-up but he is aiming to challenge for a spot right out of training camp. Whether that outcome is possible remains to be seen, but if he does spend time in New Jersey, one would hope that it is on the ice. Calling a player like Severson up just to sit him in the scratch box is something that will draw some ire from fans and, more importantly, could hinder his progress as a player as he is only just turning pro.
Seth Helgeson - Helgeson had a strong debut in Albany last season and definitely figures to be a call-up candidate as things currently stand. Helgeson is more of a defensively-inclined type than Severson and he already has a year of AHL time under his belt, so perhaps the Devils will be more keen on him making the jump for a chunk of the upcoming season, particularly if Salvador is the one to miss time.
Reece Scarlett - Scarlett also had a decent first season in the AHL, chipping in a fair amount on offense from the blue line. Perhaps if the Devils want to bring up someone with offensive ability, but would prefer to give Severson a full turn in the AHL, Scarlett could see some time with the big club.
Raman Hrabarenka - Hrabarenka was another player who was able to take a step forward in the AHL last season, but, as Brian pointed out in his prospect update, he still needs to progress a bit on defense and he hasn't really seen the toughest competition yet in the A. He might be a possibility, but he seems a couple spots down the list.
Corbin McPherson - McPherson seems like a possible candidate if the Devils are looking for an "insurance policy/7th defenseman" type call-up. He played well alongside Seth Helgeson against tough competition in Albany last season, earning himself his first NHL deal at 26 years old. I don't know how much of a big future McPherson has, given he's starting his ELC after 25, but if he's done well in the AHL, he could be an option as a stopgap without being too concerned about stunting his development.
As ever, a good place to start when looking at possibilities on the free agent market is Cap Geek's UFA Finder. When the Devils look at their options here, they will likely be searching for someone willing to spend time in Albany, but who can handle NHL minutes if called upon. Under this scenario, they need to find someone willing to sign a two-way contract and accept that much of their season will likely be spent at the AHL level. Predicting who is willing to do this is hard to do, but it seems like most of the long-time NHL veterans over 35 probably aren't likely to be interested. That leaves young-ish journeyman types who may have to settle for a tryout contract when training camp as the pool that the team will probably be left with.
So if the Devils do pick up veteran help, someone in the vein of Andrew Alberts, Mark Fraser, or Matt Taormina seems like a likely option; someone who has displayed an ability to take NHL minutes, yet may have to take a deal like this to stay in the league (Taormina and Fraser would also fill the much-beloved Devils retread role). None of these signings will be met with a ton of fanfare, but if the team feels they need to add someone with experience, that is the type of player they will need to consider. There is also the consideration that any veteran FA picked up who performs well could be plucked off waivers if they need to be sent back down to the AHL. Obviously that is far from a huge concern, but it makes it possible that the player is one-time-use if they do an admirable job in relief.
What Option is Best?
Personally, I'm not against acquiring a veteran like a Mark Fraser (or the like) as a sort of insurance policy, but even if that does happen, I'd like to see the team giving shots to younger (and waiver-exempt) players first to see if they are able to handle NHL time before they call up the veteran. If the prospect(s) proves incapable or unready in his call-up, the team can move on to the more known quantity, but I think at least a few of the available Devils are at least as good, if not considerably better than whoever they might be able to bring in to be an injury replacement.
But what do you think? Would you be more comfortable if the team secures a veteran depth guy? Or would you rather them steer clear altogether? Do you think the current AHL D can handle things when starters go down with injuries? If so, who do you think is ideal for the role? Sound off with your thoughts below and thanks for reading.