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What's Next for New Jersey Devils and Free Agency After the Draft

The 2015 NHL Draft is over and free agency will begin in just a few days. This post looks at where the Devils are and what they should given what happened at the draft.

The draft is over, but there's still plenty of work for Ray Shero to do in this coming week.
The draft is over, but there's still plenty of work for Ray Shero to do in this coming week.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The 2015 NHL Entry Draft is over - here is my summary of it - and the next major part of the offseason is on the horizon: free agency.  Unrestricted free agency will begin on Wednesday.  While the draft took a lot of focus on this site, I did point out in the last few weeks who would be available at each position of some kind of need for the Devils.  CJ wrote a good summary taking stock of the Devils' roster before the draft. Consider this to be some kind of update.

Two developments warrant an update. First, the Devils acquired Kyle Palmieri at the draft.  For the cost of the 41st overall pick and a third rounder in 2016, the Devils added a 24-year old right wing to the roster.  Yes, the Devils got a player under the age of 25 at a position of need.  While his numbers don't jump off the page, he will get a chance to play more minutes and in more offensive situations than he did in Anaheim.  He's under contract for a year, so the Devils aren't committed to him for a while.  The comments in my post about the trade appear to be mostly positive. As they should, the Devils' roster did get better on Friday.

Second, after the draft, Tom Gulitti reported at Fire & Ice that Ray Shero does not intend to re-sign Scott Gomez, Steve Bernier, Mark Fraser, and Peter Harrold. All four have been pending unrestricted free agents and now all four will become available on July 1.   Per Gulitti's article, Shero may still bring Steve Bernier, Mark Fraser, or Peter Harrold back depending on what happens.  However, Scott Gomez appears to be the odd man out as Shero specifically stated:

"The good thing is all of the guys wanted to come back," Shero said. "Scott's been a great Devil. This really isn't about Scott Gomez. This is more about Josefson and what we can find out about his development. Now, we draft Zacha. How are you going to five Zacha an opportunity to see where he is in training camp if you don't have any positions available. So, it's more not about those players in particular. It's more about giving other guys an opportunity and where we want t go and getting younger and a little different type of team.

Based on this, you can pencil in the Devils' centers being Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias or Adam Henrique, Jacob Josefson, and Stephen Gionta.  If Pavel Zacha is amazing right from the get-go, then he could get into the mix - although, I'd rather not start his entry level contract right away.  Plus, Sergey Kalinin did play center so he's another option as well.   Therefore, there really isn't much room for Gomez.  I would go as far as to speculate that none of the other three will return. Bernier had a real good year for his standards and this is his one chance to cash-in.  Given the thin free agency class, he could actually get good offer elsewhere. My read is that Shero expects that to happen.  I don't think many will mind Harrold or Fraser departing; they're depth defensemen but they'll come cheap and they can fill in spots on other teams.   Of course, with this news, that partially reveals what the Devils truly need in free agency this year.

As CJ wrote the week prior to the draft, right wing is the weakest among the forward positions. Obtaining Palmieri obviously helps.  However, I don't trust Stefan Matteau, Sergey Kalinin, and Jordin Tootoo to make up the remaining holes with Dainius Zubrus filling in and possibly Joseph Blandisi getting a look in camp.  I can agree with wanting to give Matteau and Kalinin the opportunity to succeed. Ryane Clowe could do it if he's medically cleared to play hockey, but we can't count on him surviving a full season.   I still think the Devils would do well to sign another right winger to play more difficult minutes, leaving the lower two spots for the younger players and Tootoo.

With Fraser and Harrold being told they can freely explore the market, defense remains an area of need as well.  Even with Adam Larsson and Eric Gelinas eventually being re-signed, the Devils have five NHL defensemen signed.  I don't trust Vojtech Mozik, Seth Helgeson, and Raman Hrabarenka providing the depth alone.  Remember, the Devils used eleven different defensemen at one point or another.  They need bodies.  As the team traded one of their most profilific puck moving defenseman last season, it would be smart for Shero to find a replacement. A top-four caliber defender would strengthen the blueline.  The numbers work out; adding both won't hamper the development of Larsson, Damon Severson, Jon Merrill, and Gelinas. It won't force Mozik to jump into the NHL pool and swim right away.  And if Shero wants to trade, say, Merrill or Gelinas, then he'll pretty much have to add defenders. Don't be surprised or unhappy if that happens on July 1.

Outside of that, the Devils may be set. Again, the Devils really don't need to add a center unless they intend on playing that player wing. At left wing, there's Mike Cammalleri, Adam Henrique or Patrik Elias, Tuomo Ruutu, Dainius Zubrus if they want to use him there, and Reid Boucher.  Adding another left wing may not be a terrible idea, but the group of left wing free agents this year is more dire than the right wingers.  The Devils certainly have the cap spaceto take on some ugly contracts for an asset like a first rounder or swing big for a free agent.  However, I would prefer banking it for later use - such as next summer.

In total, I would expect Shero to add at least two defenseman and I would prefer if he adds at least one more right winger to strengthen the roster.  While this would not necessarily make the Devils a playoff team in 2015-16, it would make the team stronger.  Isn't that the point?  The whole idea of a re-build is to get the team to be better where they were.  Get them on the right path, so to speak.  It's tempting to state "Let's be bad for five years, stock pile picks, and then, BAM, Cup contenders."  However, the Islanders didn't get out of their doldrums by just getting picks and hoping they succeeded.  Ditto the Blackhawks, Lightning, and Kings.  Drafting well is only part of the picture; the part requires making good decisions in free agency and roster management.  We will find out later this week what decisions Shero will make and, a few months from then, whether those decisions were good.

Are you pleased with the news that Gomez, Bernier, Harrold, and Fraser will not be re-signed? Who should replace them?  Who do you want to see Shero add to the roster from free agency, if at all?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the upcoming free agency period and the Devils in the comments. Thank you for reading.