As the Devils’ rebuild continues heading into this season, the team seems to be approaching something of a turning point where a lot of young faces could see substantial time with the big club. With that in mind, we can try to predict which potential rookies have the best chances of staying in New Jersey this season. The Devils have three different first-rounders from the past few years who seem poised to potentially break into the league as well as some other recent draftees and free agent signings. What are the odds of these players being NHL regulars this season though? For the purposes of this exercise, we’ll define a regular as someone who gets into at least around half of the team’s games this season and we’ll limit the exercise to rookie players, meaning that guys like Pavel Zacha, Steve Santini, and Miles Wood won’t be included, given that they’ve already sort of graduated from being a prospect. So without further ado, lets get into the list:
This one seems obvious at first glance, but Hischier is not necessarily guaranteed to stay in New Jersey. Yes, he was the top overall pick and lit up the QMJHL last season but he has a little more left to prove than a McDavid or a Matthews. And with the Devils having a high probability of stinking out loud, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could be sent back to prove he can decimate the competition in the Q with another year under his belt. Still, it would be pretty surprising if he’s not in New Jersey for the duration of the season. With the way he’s been marketed and especially now with the injury to Travis Zajac, he seems destined for New Jersey unless he looks really out of place from the start.
NHL Sticking Probability: 90%
With Zacha not really being a prospect any more in the purest sense of the word, that pretty much leaves McLeod as the organization’s clear #2 guy outside the NHL. McLeod is an interesting case, in that he is almost certainly one of the current 12 best forwards the Devils could trot out on opening night, but could theoretically find himself back in Mississauga for developmental reasons. Even with the Zajac injury, the situation at center for New Jersey is a little crowded, and if the team isn’t keen on shifting him to the wing for the time being, there may not be room for him.
On the other hand, the Devils are hard up for right-shooting forwards and, more specifically, right wingers (though a bit less than a few weeks ago with Drew Stafford now in the fold), and McLeod seems like a pretty decent option to fill that weakness. Plus, McLeod could be a major help for a team that seems likely to struggle with their breakout and transition game, given his strength in that area. This one feels pretty much like a toss-up.
NHL Sticking Probability: 50%
Quenneville saw some time with the big club last season and is now at an age where there probably isn't much too more development necessary. Drafted in 2014, if he is going to be a significant contributor at the NHL, he's reaching the point where he needs to start showing it. At the very least, he needs to be able to look like he belongs in the NHL. He got a decent taste last season and was pretty good in Albany otherwise, so that doesn't seem like too farfetched an outcome. He probably has to get shifted to wing to stay in New Jersey, but with the other organizational talent at center, that seems like the direction he was headed anyway. It feels pretty likely that he stays up at this point unless he really struggles.
NHL Sticking Probability: 65%
Speers certainly has a chance to stay up for the season in NJ, but the chances feel a bitsmaller than the group above him. He surprised everyone by making the team out of camp last season only a year removed from being a third-round pick, but he only ended up playing three games in New Jersey before heading back to junior. Like McLeod, he's a right shot and a candidate to play at RW given his age and his potential, but he dealt with some injury issues last season and didn’t necessarily tear up the OHL when he was healthy. His odds of staying in New Jersey are probably somewhat dependent on whether McLeod heads back to Mississauga. Binghamton feels like it makes the most sense for Speers but I'd give him more than just a puncher's chance at sticking around for a majority of the season.
NHL Sticking Probability: 30%
The recent Denver graduate and Hobey Baker winner injected some late summer excitement into the Devils offseason when the Devils signed him as a free agent, but it’s difficult to say whether he will have immediate NHL impact for New Jersey. With the crew the Devils were slated to trot out on defense prior to his arrival, it’s not like he has huge barriers to his NHL entry in front of him, but one might be a little concerned about throwing him directly into the NHL gauntlet, given the lack of options to provide him with protection as he adjusts to the league. There is also a question of which side the Devils will choose to play him on, right or left. He spent the last couple seasons at Denver on the right, where there probably isn’t too much room for him in New Jersey at the moment, but he has played on the left side before where surpassing someone feels a bit more likely.
Paradoxically, the Devils blue line is both crowded and terrible, so it’s far from a guarantee that Butcher spends a majority of the season in the NHL, but there’s at least a decent shot he usurps a spot penciled in for someone like Mueller or Moore. Injuries are also always a possibility, so the chances feel at least decent that he ends up being in New Jersey, though I’d put it below 50%.
NHL Sticking Probability: 40%
Dyblenko is a weird case, in that we don’t know a ton about him or the Devils’ expectations for him. He’s played decently enough in the KHL over the past few years, but it’s hard to say if he’s at a level where he can be a regular in New Jersey. Recent European imports haven’t lasted too long with the big club and there’s nothing that Immediately jumps out about Dyblenko to make one think this case will be different. A rash of injuries could lead to a longer stint but I’m not expecting much more than a cup of coffee in the NHL this year for the Russian d-man.
NHL Sticking Probability: 20%
I’m sort of breaking the rules of this post since Mueller isn’t technically a rookie, but he’s new to the team and only played 4 NHL games last season, so let’s just call him one. I don’t know how good Mirco Mueller is, but he is more than likely destined for New Jersey this season. The thinking behind that being that he is the only one from this group being discussed that is waiver eligible. Unless he falls flat on his face, it feels highly unlikely that Ray Shero would risk losing him for nothing on the waiver wire after spending a second-round pick to get him over the summer. For better or worse, I’d pencil him in to the second or third pairing for this season.
NHL Sticking Probability: 85%
The Devils thought highly enough of Kapla to give him a few games in New Jersey last season, so he will at least have a chance to try to make the team out of camp, but I have some doubts about his ability to stick around in long stretches as more than an emergency call-up. Still, Kapla put up decently strong offensive numbers at UMass-Lowell over his career there and could maybe earn himself a chance if the Devils are looking for answers along the blue line. He’s a bit of a long shot to me, but he has at least a chance.
NHL Sticking Probability: 15%
Jacobs, once a player people hoped would be part of the team’s future on the blue line, has really stagnated as a prospect over the past few seasons. Drafted as a player who could hopefully be a puck-mover for the team, he hasn’t been able to make a significant offensive impact at any of the various levels he’s been at the past few years and has some major lingering questions about his awareness on the ice. He’s still somewhat young at 21, but the clock is ticking on him ever being a realistic option in the NHL. It’d be a huge surprise if he sees a handful of NHL games this season, let alone if he becomes a regular.
NHL Sticking Probability: 4%
There is a chance a few other younger prospects could wow in camp and earn a shot in New Jersey, but it’s most likely that the rest of the team’s prospects either head back to junior, Europe, or Binghamton this season. What are your thoughts on the above players’ chances of being regulars in New Jersey this season? Do you agree with the probabilities? If you don’t which ones would you change? Are there any other players you are looking at to have a chance to stay in New Jersey this season? Sound off with your thoughts in the comments and thanks for reading.