This morning, the New Jersey Devils followed through with what they said last night and announced cuts to their roster. With the preseason coming to a close - there are only two games in this coming week - and Albany's season coming closer, this would be a big one. The Devils announced on their website this morning that fifteen players have been re-assigned to Albany and one of them is going back to juniors.
The one is John Quenneville, he will suit up for Brandon in the Western Hockey League. The fifteen going to Albany are:
Goalies (2): Scott Wedgewood, Ken Appleby
Defensemen (4): Brandon Burlon, Raman Hrabarenka, Vojtech Mozik, and Reece Scarlett
Forwards (9): Joseph Blandisi, Blake Coleman, Ryan Kujawinski, Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, Matt Lorito, Jim O'Brien, Blake Pietila, Mike Sislo, and Paul Thompson
I'm not really stunned by any of the cuts. It's good to see Ken Appleby still in the system on a tryout, a part of me hope he's signed to provide additional goaltender depth in the system. The four defensemen really didn't stand out. I think Burlon may have been the best of the four, but as he showed last night at times, he could be in over his head real easily. The AHL is the best spot for those four. Same for the forwards. Among the nine, I think Blandisi, Sislo, and O'Brien did the best in preseason. But Blandisi is still very new to pro hockey and Sislo and O'Brien are depth players at best anyway. Better to have them start playing in Albany than sitting as an extra in New Jersey. I think we could see them - maybe Thompson, too? - get a few games here and there in the NHL.
As the team's announcement points out, there are still nine defensemen and sixteen forwards in camp. Out of the seven blueliners expected to be in the NHL Marc-Andre Gragnani and Seth Helgeson remain on the roster. Among the sixteen forwards, Reid Boucher, Sergey Kalinin, Tyler Kennedy, Stefan Matteau, Lee Stempniak, and Pavel Zacha are still on the roster. The team will have to cut four more players by the night before the season begins. It could be three if Patrik Elias starts this season on injured reserve due to his knee issue; but all that does is delay one more demotion.
I'm a little surprised that both Gragnani and Helgeson are still up in New Jersey. Gragnani seemed to curry more favor with the coaches given his usage in the preseason games. He was still taking shifts late and he was used in multiple situations. I'm sure having a little NHL experience helped him earn an edge over the others fighting for a spot. Helgeson really hasn't stood out to me. I don't think he really adds much; what we saw last season from him is likely what we're going to get. That said, good for them for surviving these cuts. I think both will be sent down eventually, but I think they'll be among the first defensemen called when necessary - which was they were fighting for in camp anyway.
The tougher decisions will be made at forward. I think the team wants to keep Pavel Zacha throughout preseason before making any decisions on giving him NHL games. I still think that while Zacha has improved in each game, he should be playing big minutes in Sarnia than wondering to give him up to nine games of limited NHL action. Plus, he'd be the easiest roster decision to make, there's no issue of sending him back to the OHL. Boucher and Matteau have inside tracks to make the roster, partially driven by being young players that I don't believe are waiver-ineligible anymore. Boucher has done well enough so far; Matteau, not so much. But not wanting to risk losing a younger winger for free is a compelling reason to keep both around for now. It's good to see both professional try out players still in camp. I think Stempniak has made a better case than Kennedy, although the team's need at right wing may drive the team to keep both. This week will be crucial in deciding whether either gets a contract from Ray Shero. Lastly, the question for Kalinin remains: how does he fit in? I can't say I've been overly impressed with how he has played in preseason. I can't say he's been totally awful either. Should he get into one of the next two games, he'll have a big chance to sway the coaches' opinions and then consider that initial question in the context of a 23-man roster.
This leads to the larger context of these cuts. John Hynes and his staff can now focus more on developing what the roster will be for opening than mainly evaluating players. There will be evaluations, but the staff can start being more serious on who's paired with who and what the team's top lines will be. They can identify who should be on power plays and penalty kills, which I hope means a lot less of Eric Gelinas in shorthanded situations. Most of all, we'll have two games that will be pretty close to dress rehearsals for how the team will be structured. I'm personally hoping to see a general idea of how the team wants to breakout of their zone, how much they'll forecheck, and how they will get situated on special teams. These are the aspects that will speak to how Hynes will lead the team to start 2015-16, which may give some insight to how the team wants to re-build overall. It's still preseason, but having a better idea of how the team will be structured will give us a better idea on what we can expect the Devils to play like beyond "not very well."
I want to read your take on this morning's decisions. Were you shocked by some of the cuts in camp? Who do you think we'll see this season that was demoted today? Who do you think will be cut next (remember, it must be at least four players unless Elias is on IR)? Do you think Lee Stempniak, Tyler Kennedy, or both will get a contract by the end of camp? What do you expect in the next two preseason games? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the 16 players the team cut from camp and the 27 remaining in the comments. Thank you for reading.