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So We Still Only Have 5 Defenders...

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With one month until the season begins, there are still only 5 defenders on the roster. In this article I look at the young guys that may slot in to the final spot.

Toronto Maple Leafs v New Jersey Devils Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

Yeah, so the Devils aren’t a complete NHL team.

No, like literally. We don’t have enough players yet. The season starts 1 month from the writing of this article and we have only 5 players that play defense on the roster.

Am I exaggerating? Yes and no. We actually have only 5 defenders on the roster, but we don’t have to go get one from free agency or off the street. Based on the fact that there are guys available (Kris Russell, Kyle Quincey, Dennis Seidenberg, Marek Zidlicky, etc.), it appears as though we are going to roll with the guys on the roster plus the sub-NHL guys. I’ll give you a look at a few of them here.

We could sign someone to a PTO and they impress, we could sign someone to a late contract, but I’m going to assume we go with some combination of young guns; Steve Santini, Reece Scarlett, Josh Jacobs, Vojtech Mozik and Seth Helgeson. It could also be one of the newcomers -- Brandon Gormley or Yohann Auvitu.

We signed Brandon Gormley to a 1-year, 2-way deal and Yohann Auvitu to an entry-level contract. My educated guess would be that they do not win the job out of camp, but it is certainly possible they do. Gormley is clearly here as a last ditch effort at proving he is not a bust. Auvitu has actually been a very successful Liiga player. For those who don’t know what it is, Liiga is the Finnish Elite League and if you Google it, you’ll see the consensus has them as the 3rd best league in Europe behind only the the KHL and the Swedish Elite league. In NHL equivalency, it grades out as somewhere between the OHL and the WHL so you can think of them as a typical CHL-quality league. NHL equivalency is how many NHL points a single point in a lower league is worth based on past player data who have played in both. I used this translator to determine our players’ NHLe point totals. Disclaimer: the conversion factors may be a bit outdated, but it’s pretty close. Also I didn’t adjust for age since we are talking about current NHL-readiness.

Name Birthdate Age League GP G A P PIM +/- NHLe
Steve Santini 3/7/1995 21.54 NCAA 41 1 18 19 50 24 14.06
Reece Scarlett 3/31/1993 23.47 AHL 67 4 20 24 38 26 13.81
Joshua Jacobs 2/15/1996 20.59 OHL 60 4 22 26 64 -1 11.37
Vojtech Mozik 12/26/1992 23.73 AHL 53 2 15 17 40 28 12.36
Seth Helgeson 10/8/1990 25.95 AHL 42 2 5 7 52 15 6.42
Yohann Auvitu 7/27/1989 27.15 Liiga 48 6 15 21 6 22 10.4
Brandon Gormley 2/18/1992 24.59 AHL/NHL Absolute S***

Scarlett and Gormley popped up in the #21-#25 section of our 25 Under 25 series with Brian. Meanwhile, Jacobs and Mozik just appeared in the #11-15 portion. Auvitu and Helgeson are over 25 and Santini must be slotted somewhere in the top 10.

Santini is a very good prospect coming out of college and he is the flagship of this crop. He has the most encouraging pure defensive skills and it showed when he registered a +24 in 41 games lat year at BC. As a stay-at-home defensemen, he still registered an NHLe of 14.06. In other words he is likely already better in almost every aspect of the game than Jon Merrill. If he is not already an NHLer, he will be very soon.

My next guy is actually Mozik. He was a +29 in Albany while the next highest player was a +16. To verify the efficacy of that statistic, Albany scored 58 goals with him on the ice versus just 20 against for a staggering 74% GF%. He is 3rd on the team in relative goal ratio and 2nd among people that played 20 games behind only the 27-year-old Mike Sislo. That being said, his offensive numbers — particularly the powerplay ones (1G, 4A) — leave something to be desired given his scouting report. Still young and now adjusted to the North American game, I think we’ll see some of him in the NHL.

Helgeson has been an offensive black hole of absurd proportions in the NHL, but he actually scored more points in the AHL playoffs than the supposedly two-way Mozik. He has played 41 games in the NHL which gives him a leg up on everyone except Gormley who played 58. While neither of these guys inspires confidence, their NHL experience makes seeing them in NJ a real possibility.

After the aforementioned players, Josh Jacobs may be next on the list. He can skate, he can shoot, his defense has improved tremendously, his hockey sense is already very strong, and — perhaps most importantly — he is the youngest on this list by almost a full year. When all is said and done, it would not be shocking to see him carve out the most substantive role of the group, but it would also not be surprising if the OHL-NHL jump proves to be too much. With the exception of Auvitu, the rest of these players were in better leagues and for all the acclaim his two-way game received, the 11.37 NHLe begs to differ.

Reece Scarlett is likely more ready than several other players on the list, but also less likely to be rushed along for management to get an assessment of him. He’ll come up when he is the 6th best healthy defender under contract and no sooner.

Yohann Auvitu would be a surprise. However, we weren’t nearly excite enough about him in my opinion. He has shown consistent improvement in Liiga play year after year until the playoffs last year where he registered 13 points in 18 games en route to a 2nd place finish. He won the Pekka Rautakallio Trophy for best defender in the league as his team, HIFK, finished the regular season with the best record in the league. He’s a legitimate prospect that we got for free.

Conclusion

In my estimation, right now is Tier 1: Santini, Tier 2: everyone else. I gave you guys my guess of a hierarchy. but the guy thats last on my list — Auvitu — I lavished with praise and the guys at the top of the list — Helgeson and Gormley — I criticized pretty haphazardly. Truth be told it wouldn’t be shocking to see any of these guys with the NJ club and that’s very exciting to many of the Devils faithful. Of these 7 guys, it feels highly unlikely that we don’t manage to uncover at least 1 or 2 NHL players.

Your Thoughts

Did I leave anyone out? No seriously, there’s only so much research I can do.

Do you guys want to see us go after a free agent or are you cool with promoting from within?

How would you mess with my hierarchy? Who do you most want to see in the NHL? Who do you most want not to see?

Leave your thoughts below and thanks for reading!