The Presumed Top 6
Contract: 5-year, $25 million, expires 2020
2015 Stats: 82 games played, 3 goals, 19 assists, 23:49 minutes per game
Comments: The only player on the team to play all 82 games, there's really no overstating the importance Greene has had to this team over the last 3 years or so. Even after a down year by his standards, he is still one of the most reliable defenders in the NHL and his stat sheet isn't bare either. He also logged over 4 minutes of PK time per game. However, his PK stats were average at best (SCA60 and HSA60 both 6th on the team) so it wouldn't be shocking to see us rely a little less on him in that area with youngsters maturing.
2015 Stats: 64 games played, 3 goals, 21 assists, 20:37 minutes per game
Comments: Adam Larsson is the future of the Devils' blueline. He slid to us at 4th overall in 2011 and got significant time immediately. He had some issues maturing, and many contend he was mishandled by DeBoer, but after the calendar turned to 2015, he averaged over 23:06 minutes a game and 20 points. For some perspective, Ryan McDonaugh had 20 points in 23:01 minutes per game. Many attribute at least some of his success to his partner Greene, but from what I saw, it goes just as much the other way. If Larsson continues the production from last year and maintains it, then he will be on his way to being our elite defender.
Contract: 2-way, 3-year, $2.85 million, expires 2017
2015 Stats: 51 games played, 5 goals, 12 assists, 21:40 minutes per game
Comments: He is the other future of our blueline. He was a revelation in camp and in the beginning of the season. At only 20 years old he was already playing tough minutes on a top pairing. He was also briefly in the rookie of the year discussion before he got injured as his numbers were holding up well against 1st overall pick and eventual Calder Trophey-winner, Aaron Ekblad. He was 2nd among Devils only to Zid in WAR from defenders. Put simply, it is tough to oversell a rookie who won a job in camp, and proceeded to not only play, but flourish top pair minutes and in every situation.
Contract: 2-way, 3-year, $2.7 million, expires 2016
2015 Stats: 66 games played, 2 goals, 12 assists, 20:11 minutes per game
Comments: Merrill had perceived regression last year, but the more we study it the more it doesn't resonate with reality. Ryan's ground-breaking pass research has revealed Merrill to be a prolific shot generator via passes. Also, Merrill was arguably our best penalty killer. The Devils allowed Scoring Chances and High Danger Chances both at the slowest rate when Merrill was on the ice in comparison to the other regular killers. However, advanced stats giveth, advanced stats taketh. War on Ice also gives him the 2nd lowest WAR on the team (-5.48) better only than Mark Fraser (-7.34).
Contract: 2-year $3.15 million, expires 2017
2015 Stats: 61 games played, 6 goals, 13 assists, 16:35 minutes per game
Comments: Gelinas was a consistent threat on the powerplay and from the point in general. His shot is a true weapon and is likely the leading then that granted him a 2-year bridge deal. If he can shore up some of his defensive mistakes and become a better passer then he will have earned his regular spot as opposed to being given it.
Contract: 3-year, $5 million, expires 2018
2015 Stats: 57 games played, 2 goals, 9 assists, 16:18 minutes per game
Comments: The new guy. Not lighting up the statsheet, but once again --Ryan to the rescue. John Moore is an advanced stats darling: of Devils defenders, only Larsson and Zid had a higher SCF%Rel than Moore last season. And he's young, cheap, and played significant time on the powerplay last year. Moore will be on the bottom 4 but will probably be a regular contributor.
The Other Guys
Raman Hrbaranka - Many expect him to make the jump again this season after playing 1 game in the NHL last season. He shouldn't light the world on fire, but he's worked hard and has earned his shot at bottom 4 minutes.
Vojtech Mozik - From the Czech Republic, Mozik registered 29 points in 51 games with a pro squad. He's offensively dynamic over there, but we'll have to wait and see if that skill translates to the NHL. I'd assume we'll see him at some point this season as well. If his luck turns around after a nightmare flight, he could even bump Gelinas or one of hte two-way contracts out of a spot regularly.
Reece Scarlett - He's been an up-and-comer forever it appears. He's been passed on the depth chart by several defenders already and with this being a contract year, it could his last chance to impress coaches enough to play him. I would expect Scarlett to play in the NHL eventually, but probably not for the Devils. Casualty of crowding.
The Contractless Guys
Seth Helgeson - played 22 games and was sound defensively, but an absolutely offensive black hole. He should re-sign and will be a cheap fill-in, but I'd still be surprised if he ended up in a regular role barring multiple injuries.
Bryce Salvador - Went down with injury, possibly forever. The once-reliable Devils captain is just having a tough time keeping up with the young guys. Shero hasn't ruled it out, but that might just be respect for a revered veteran as he does not fit in with the cultute Shero has been pushing -- a fast, possession-drivin team.
Mark Fraser - God I hope not. I hated this guy's game in 2015 literally the exact same amount that I did in 2010.
Summary and Projection
I expect Helgeson to get signed and he, Mozik, and Hrbanenka should all see 20+ games. I would only truly see Mozik as being able to carve out a top 6 spot moving past 2015-2016 though. Greene and Larsson should be the pillars of the D for the forseeable future. Severson and Merrill should be as well, but they are both on two-way contracts and there's a new coaching staff. Don't be shocked if one or both of them spend some time down if things don't go well so the coaches can get a closer look at some of the other prospects. I still expect Gelinas to get traded, but if he's not then he has carved out a niche as a bottom-pairing defender that plays significant powerplay minutes. Moore could very well be an important piece for the Devils' future as well. If he pans out, we have him pretty cheap for 3 years and then will be looking to resign him as a 27-year-old.
What's great about the defensive corps right now is that there is every possibility that it looks exactly like this 5 years from now. Now, obviously, odds are against that happening. But, being set in net and on defense is a good start to building a team. As someone smart mentioned not too long ago.