Tonight is the penultimate night for the New Jersey Devils preseason. There will be a split-squad game tonight and the final preseason game is this Wednesday. That game is usually a “dress rehearsal” for the regular season. Andrew Gross at Fire & Ice confirmed along with a report of the rosters for both split-squad games that cuts will come on Tuesday. (Aside: Fire & Ice loves to have auto-playing videos now. My opinion on that: Boo.) How the players perform against Ottawa or New York is crucial from an evaluation perspective. In the meantime, I think it is a good exercise to guess who will be cut on Tuesday, assuming that Wednesday’s game will be close to the October 7 roster.
This is easy. Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid will be in New Jersey. Everyone else is going to Binghamton or elsewhere. Good luck to Scott Wedgewood passing through waivers. Cut: Wedgewood, Mackenzie Blackwood, Ken Appleby
This is not so easy. Back on September 4, I wrote that there was a log jam of defensemen. With the performances from Will Butcher, Mirco Mueller, Steve Santini, and Dalton Prout so far, it is a tough decision. How they will do tonight is crucial.
Going back to that post, I wrote that Andy Greene, Damon Severson, Ben Lovejoy, and John Moore are locks to make the roster. They still are. On the opposite end, the three defensemen that have not seen the ice in preseason are very likely to be cut even if they do play tonight. Those would be Colton White, Jacob MacDonald, and Josh Jacobs.
Among the rest, I do think that the defenders behind Severson and Moore in Brooklyn are all likely to be heading to Binghamton. Those would be Michael Kapla, Yaroslav Dyblenko, and Brian Strait along with White and Jacobs. The addition and usage of Butcher has made Kapla surplus on the roster. Dyblenko had some good moments but being kept out of the last two games entirely seems to me that the Devils do not think he has impressed enough. Strait did well enough in Montreal, but I do not think he has done anything that other defensemen have done. Looking at the group going to PEI, Viktor Loov has not contributed a whole lot and Tim Erixon received one game against the Rangers and was really just decent. I think Loov will go to Binghamton and Erixon is released from his PTO. These guesses combined mean the Devils will cut eight defensemen out of sixteen.
Unless the Devils want to carry only one extra forward, this leaves possibly three spots between Mueller, Prout, Butcher, and Santini. Mueller and Prout would have to clear waivers. Mueller and Prout have both done well in this preseason, too. Their spots may be safe. At a high-level view of the defensemen at Natural Stat Trick, Butcher has been used the most and has not exactly been great in 5-on-5 play. He was utilized quite a lot on the power play - which has also not been all that good. At the start of preseason, I figured he was set for the main roster if only for being given power play time with top players like Hall and Palmieri right away. The more I think about it, the less confident that I am that he is set for the NHL immediately. If the decision has to come down between Santini and Butcher going to Binghamton until some space opens up, then I think it could be Butcher to go. If the Devils carried eight defensemen, then this is all moot. But pay attention to these four tonight against Ottawa. How they perform could make a huge difference; I do not think it is a coincidence they are all playing together.
Players who are not on either roster for tonight’s split-squad game are very likely to be cut. 23 are going to Prince Edward Island; 25 are going to Brooklyn; and Travis Zajac and Brian Boyle are both out. (Yes, Boyle and Zajac were listed on the training camp roster.) Based on Gross’ report, I do not see Brandon Gignac on either roster. I think he will be cut on Tuesday for sure.
As with the defensemen, I think anyone who has been scratched up until now is also out of the picture. Even if they play tonight. Those forwards would be Ryan Kujawinski, Jan Mandat, and Bracken Kearns. I think it is likely that they are cut from the roster on Tuesday.
While they appeared in the preseason so far, the fact that Ben Thomson, Brandon Baddock, Nathan Bastian, Austin Cangelosi, Kevin Rooney and Blake Speers all played just the one game and played less than twelve minutes of 5-on-5 hockey (and only Speers played over fifteen minutes total due to penalty killing work) all point to those players being on the outs. Most should be in the AHL anyway for further seasoning; or the OHL in Bastian’s case. Speers did make last year’s New Jersey roster out of camp. But he did not do so well in his one appearance and that the coaches did not give him another one is telling. I think Binghamton is a better spot for him at the moment.
I do not really have a lot of hope of Blake Pietila, Brian Gibbons, Blake Coleman, and Nick Lappin all surviving the cuts either. These are players who primarily played in the AHL last season. While I liked some of Coleman’s penalty killing work and these four were not bad at all in their games, they really did not stand out to make a case for themselves. They served their roles in their games - but they did not impress. Combined with the fact that John Hynes and his staff already know what they have in Pietila, Lappin, and Coleman, and I wonder if their lack of impressive play will hold them back.
Their saving grace could be in the form of other cuts. Take Michael McLeod and John Quenneville. Like with the previous four, they have not been bad in their games. But the issue is that neither have really impressed. McLeod and Quenneville may have had some good moments, but none of their games left one thinking that they really belong in the NHL. I know I was hoping that McLeod could earn himself a NHL job, at least as a right winger. After last season with Albany, I was hopeful Quenneville would compete for a job. Short of some amazing stuff tonight, I do not think either are really ready yet. For McLeod, this is unfortunate as he’s in the same spot as Pavel Zacha was last season: possibly too good for juniors but not quite good for the NHL. In Zacha’s case, the Devils let him take his lumps in the NHL and he seems to be emerging now. I do not think the Devils need to do this with McLeod. For Quenneville, it’s easier: send him back to Binghamton and call him up if/when he thrives there and the Devils need him. He’s 21, it’s not like this is a make-or-break year for him. This could be three considering what the Devils decide to do with Jesper Bratt, who actually has been impressive in preseason action. I think he at least starts this season in New Jersey. If the Devils disagree, that opens up another spot.
There is one other looming question: will the Devils sign Jimmy Hayes? The big right winger has improved from his first preseason game, which was a bad one filled with penalties. However, he has not exactly thrived like Stefan Noesen, Bratt, Zacha, or others who have impressed in preseason games. He has been OK. That he plays right wing does help his cause. But is it worth signing Hayes to be a fourth-line right winger behind Kyle Palmieri, Drew Stafford, and Noesen? Especially after the season he just had last season? Especially if the Devils could just slot Nick Lappin there or play someone off-wing for limited minutes? I’m not so certain.
Since I’m guessing, I’m thinking McLeod and Quenneville are cut. I think Pietila, Coleman, and Gibbons are cut. I think Hayes is released from his try out on the basis that he has not really impressed despite not being horrible after that first game. Lappin stays as a spare forward. (I would not be opposed if it is Coleman instead.) This would leave Hall, Palmieri, Henrique, Johansson, Hischier, Zacha, Stafford, Noesen, Wood, Blandisi, Bratt, Boyle, and Lappin. That’s thirteen forwards and that could mean the Devils could carry eight defensemen - all four defenders mentioned earlier can stay. If they must keep two spare forwards: Lappin and Coleman with Butcher being the fall guy. Of course, if Hayes is signed before October 7, he would likely supplant Lappin and/or Coleman.
Those are my guesses. How tonight goes may change the situation. Maybe Quenneville or McLeod have a great game to command a roster spot. Perhaps one of those four defenders has such a strong game that they compel the team to send someone else down. Hopefully nobody at all gets hurt.
What are your guesses ahead of Tuesday’s cuts? Who do you think has the most to prove tonight? Please leave your answers in the comments. Thank you for reading.