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Dearth of Depth

One of the most exciting factors going into the 2016-17 season for our Devils was improved depth among the forwards. So far, that depth has not surfaced; today we look at why the depth forwards have been disappointing and what can possibly be done going forward.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at New Jersey Devils Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the only Devils with double-digit point totals at nearly the midway point of the season are their top 6 forwards and 2 of their defensemen. Does that narrative sound eerily similar? Well it should, as it’s essentially the same problem that the team was encountering last season, with the small difference of having an extra forward producing this season.

Last year’s New Jersey Devils were led in scoring by Kyle Palmieri, Adam Henrique, Travis Zajac, Michael Cammalleri, and current Carolina Hurricanes winger Lee Stempniak. This season, Stempniak’s production has been replaced by P.A. Parenteau, while the Devils have also added Taylor Hall to round out their top 2 lines. The problem beyond this becomes once again the lack of depth scoring that our Devils are receiving.

Things looked brighter coming into this season than they did last; Reid Boucher (who has bounced between 3 teams and now landed in Vancouver), Beau Bennett, Devante Smith-Pelly, Pavel Zacha, Vernon Fiddler, and a rotating cast of rookies/A-Devils were supposed to provide more depth scoring than the team had last season; through 39 games that certainly hasn’t been the case.

After Moore, Andy Greene and Kyle Quincey are the next highest point producers with 9 each. We finally see a forward’s name again after them with Bennett having provided 8 points (2 goals, 6 assists) in 33 games. I have to say that I’m happy that Beau hasn’t had injury issues this season, but now we need to figure out his production issues, as well as those of the bottom 2 lines. All forwards not in those top producers have combined for 17 goals (with 8 coming from Nick Lappin and Miles Wood), or the same amount as Zajac and Hall.

Suffice to say based on these statistics (as well as the team’s play and record) that the Devils have to be disappointed in their depth. The team’s defensive play has been bad enough, but to be sitting 27th in goals for when these additions were supposed to help alleviate scoring woes is unacceptable. Part of the problem lies with Adam Henrique and Kyle Palmieri not being on the same scoring pace as last season, but not having others to pick up the slack doesn’t help either.

So what’s to be done with the lack of depth scoring? With the young players still experiencing some growing pains, and the team still rebuilding/retooling, the hope has to be that some of these issues eventually work themselves out. Perhaps Zacha comes in next season and uses a year’s pro experience to his advantage; maybe it’s Lappin who finds more ways to get open and becomes a more consistent goal scorer. Again, right now our team is a lot younger than it has been for quite a few seasons, and for our players who are experiencing the pros for the first time, it isn’t always an easy transition.

There are however some loose ends that can be tied up; the Devils along with every other NHL team will lose 1 player in this summer’s expansion draft. With Smith-Pelly almost a certainty to be exposed, we have one player who’s contributed less than expected that could be off the roster. A number of under-performing restricted free agents are up for renewal next season (Jacob Josefson, Sergei Kalinin and Bennett) and it could be time for New Jersey to sever ties with them as well in hopes of replacing them with someone who can contribute more offensively.

Just like the problems on the back end, there really is no easy answer as to what New Jersey can do in hopes of improving their depth. They can continue to try different players from their system in hopes of sparking some scoring, or if they continue to languish in the bottom of the standings, perhaps the draft coupled with free agency can push a couple of other players into more comfortable spots in the lineup. Neither method is a guarantee, especially the latter; if the Devils can’t start finding contributors, this might be a longer rebuild than initially expected.

Now I’d like to hear your thoughts on New Jersey’s depth scoring; are you as disappointed with it this season as I am? Are there any players you think the Devils should sever ties with after this season in order to find better depth? What do you think is the answer to finding better depth forwards for our team? Leave any and all comments below and thank you as always for reading!