Out of nowhere this afternoon, the New Jersey Devils announced that they have signed HC Plzen defenseman Vojtech Mozik to an entry level contract. Per the CBA, it'll be a two-year, two-way deal since he is 22. The amount of the deal should come out later tonight. In the meantime, I know exactly what you're thinking. Who? Also: why?
Let's answer the second question first. I planned to explain why the Devils need to sign some defensemen in my next free agency post next Sunday. Even after re-signing Adam Larsson and Eric Gelinas, the Devils would still only have five defenders signed who played a significant amount last season. Even if you have a lot of faith of those in Albany, the Devils used ten defensemen at different points last season. They don't just need good players, they need players at that position period. To an extent, this signing at least addresses the need for bodies to be available.
As for who, well, that's a bit trickier. Let's start with what is easily available. Mozik is 22 years old. Elite Prospects lists him at 6'2" and 198 pounds. Here's his season stats so far in his career from EP:
He's been a pro since he was 19 and he's been a regular for the Czech national team. The Devils' press release boasts that he led the Czech league in goals by defensemen. This is true, though he was tied with three other defensemen with ten. Still, one could call him a productive one in that he finished fourth among all Czech defensemen in points last season. His 94 penalty minutes suggests he's got some beef in him, though that's not really a positive for a defender. Going back to the goals, Tom Gulitti found a highlight video of all of the ones Mozik scored last season. Those are always nice to watch, even though it doesn't paint a full picture of the player.
Mozik has also received some NHL attention in the past. In 2013 and 2014, Mozik attended the Rangers' prospect camp. For whatever reason, a deal did not take place. There were some recent rumors that he would sign with them this year, but clearly that did not happen. This is a bit of a reach, but if any NHL team was interested in a young player enough to bring him to camp twice, then I don't think it's because he was lacking in any talent.
Still, it's an unknown. I can only confidently say he's a body and he'll get his chance in training camp to earn his spot on the depth chart. Evaluating defensemen within the NHL isn't always easy. But there are no advanced stats available - at least that I know of - for the Czech league. I can't tell you whether he was productive and a good, reliable defender. And even if there was, who knows how his talents will translate to North American rinks and the speed of the North American game.
That said, I don't think this was a bad signing. Again, the Devils need bodies at least for defensemen depth. Again, the Devils are re-building so now is the perfect time to try out some interesting players from European leagues. Again, we at least know he put something in his league and he was good enough to get invited to a prospect camp by the same team twice. Again, an ELC isn't all that much of a cost to bear and if it doesn't work out, it's easy to let him go. I don't think there's a lot of reason to get excited for him until he demonstrates something in training camp. At the same time, I don't think there's a lot of reason to be unhappy about this news. Surprised, sure. It certainly surprised me. All the same, I welcome Vojtech Mozik to the New Jersey Devils organization.
One last thing: I don't think this signing precludes anyone getting traded. The Devils probably still need a defenseman or two for the main roster for the upcoming season. If Mozik is one of them, then great; but it would be really premature to worry about someone being moved because of this one.
That's my take on this afternoon's announcement of Mozik's signing. What do you think of it? I expect him to be at least a depth player, do you have higher hopes? If you have seen him play, what should Devils fans expect? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on this signing in the comments. Thank you for reading.