Out of all of the New Jersey Devils free agents this summer, only one still remains unsigned, and while he is a restricted free agent, it certainly seems odd that Reid Boucher does not have a new contract yet. While there’s no reason to panic yet (as there was a qualifying offer made, Reid can not become an unrestricted free agent - at least not for 4 more years) it’s troublesome that a contract that should seemingly be a simple bridge deal has not been taken care of yet.
General Manager Ray Shero has not been shy in showing that he is not afraid to do whatever it takes to make the Devils a winning team again. Maybe he doesn’t value Boucher the way that the regime that drafted him did. Reid managed to score 62 goals in one OHL season with the Sarnia Sting, but those goal scoring abilities haven’t manifested at the NHL level. Boucher is still a young player learning facets of the NHL game, but in a total of 73 NHL contests spread across 3 seasons (and more coaches than that) he has tallied 11 goals and 16 assists for 27 points. While not the greatest, those certainly aren’t bad number either. With Shero’s willingness to part with pieces that he feels don’t fit, and the number of left wingers the team has, the lack of a contract makes you wonder if (when he signs) this season will be do or die for Reid Boucher.
Odd Man Out?
The Devils will go into training camp this year with at least 5 players who could wind up in one of the 4 available left wing slots. To me it really boils down to Boucher, Joseph Blandisi, Michael Cammalleri, and Taylor Hall competing for the left wing position on the top 3 lines, as none of them play a 4th line game, and I think their talents could be wasted on a more defensive-oriented line. Hall is a lock to be on one of the top lines; let’s face it if he wasn’t then the team never would have traded for him. Cam should also be on one of those lines, but as I wrote about before, his usage may depend on who makes the team and how the coaching staff wants to spread out the scoring. That essentially leaves us with one roster spot to fight for between two young left wings and that’s if you overlook Pavel Zacha possibly playing on the wing.
For the purpose of this article, we’re going to assume Zacha plays center if he makes the team. The remaining left wing spot as of now in my opinion is Boucher’s to lose; Blandisi will be coming into camp still on his entry level contract as a player who does not require being placed on waivers to be sent to Albany; I may be wrong about this, but I believe for the upcoming season, Boucher will require being placed on waivers to be sent to Albany. No team likes to lose an asset for nothing so that’s already one reason for Boucher to stay on the team at least to start. Another reason Reid will get the chance is because of how Blandisi finished last season; with no goals in the final 23 games he appeared in and no points in the final 9, Boucher seems like he’s a more balances, polished player, which could result in Blandisi starting in Albany for more seasoning.
While Bouch may not be the odd man out, that certainly doesn’t mean he’s off the hook this season. I think under John Hynes, the Devils really got a good look at the type of player he can be, especially when he was placed next to Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri. If he had suited up for the full season last year, his 19 points in 39 games prorates to 40 in 82; not bad production at all for a second liner with room to grow still. My biggest quarrel with Boucher is his number of shots; as he is a player known for his shot, he should be using it, and a mere 74 shots last season (average of less than 2 per game) is not enough. He may be sharing a line with Palmieri, but Kyle put 2.7 shots per game on net last season; if Boucher were able to even get his shots per game up to an even 2, he would be potting a few more goals like we need him to. If a shooter isn’t shooting the puck, what good is he to the team?
Preseason Can’t Come Soon Enough
I may be jumping the gun a bit here by saying this could be a make or break year for Boucher, but he is someone we Devils fans have been wanting to see take that next step towards success for a couple of seasons. The advantage he has here is that he’s still young; he may still be a couple of seasons from putting it all together. The one hope we have to have is that he keeps playing hard and showing improvement especially with the expansion draft looming around the corner.
I agree with John’s past article that leaving Cam unprotected is a good plan, but it only looks good if some of our other left wingers prove that they can assume some of the burden that would fall to them if Las Vegas takes him. If Reid comes in and starts lighting up the scoreboard, it makes the decision to protect him a no brainer; if he doesn’t, he could find himself exposed and possibly on a plane to Sin City. Personally I’m rooting for him to make it this season, and be a part of the red and black for years to come. As the title of this section says, preseason can’t get here soon enough, so that we can see how the Devils play with another year of growth from our young players and some new parts being added to the machine.
Now I’d like to hear your thoughts on this upcoming season for Reid Boucher; do you think it is a make or break year as well? Is it too early in his career to put that sort of ultimatum on him? Do you want to see him protected or exposed in the expansion draft? Leave any and all comments below and as always thank you for reading!