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Eric Gryba Should Not Play Over Egor Yakovlev

When the New Jersey Devils announced their opening night roster, Eric Gryba had made it while Egor Yakovlev did not. This post discusses viewing both players in limited preseason action as well as why Gryba over Yakovlev would be the wrong decision for tonight’s game.

New York Rangers v New Jersey Devils
Yakovlev’s not perfect, but the eye test says he’s better than Gryba.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

With the injury bug biting the New Jersey Devils hard early in the season, the team made the decision to call up four player: first the return of Kevin Rooney and Egor Yakovlev followed a day later by the returning pair of John Quenneville and Eric Gryba. Yesterday’s practice (along with these lines and pairs courtesy of Amanda Stein) seem to indicate that Gryba will play tomorrow against the Nashville Predators over Yakovlev. Only one word comes to mind here: why?

As stated, Yakovlev was the first defender called up from Binghamton when it was determined that Steven Santini would be going on injured reserve with a broken jaw. It wasn’t until Ben Lovejoy went on IR the next day that Gryba would return to New Jersey. Why call Yakovlev up over Gryba if he’s seemingly not going to play? If “Gritty Gryba” is what the Devils want on their bottom pair with Will Butcher, then prepare to watch him get coned a few times as he did in the preseason.

Eric Gryba at the NHL level is a known quantity at this stage of his career; he was also a healthy scratch multiple times for the Edmonton Oilers last season before the team put him on waivers just prior to 2018 with the purpose of assigning him to the Bakersfield Condors. In June, they bought out the remaining year of the two year contract he signed in the summer of 2017; said contract was paying him $900,000 per season.

Let that sink in for a moment.

The Edmonton Oilers...a pretty bad defensive team...chose to outright buy out a defenseman that they also could have simply buried in the minors without it affecting their salary cap. It’s not a contract spot situation either; according to CapFriendly, the Oilers are only at 45 of the allowed 50 player contracts.

And this is the guy that the Devils want to play over someone who has played fairly well for the B-Devils?

Maybe it’s a handedness situation, or the Devils don’t want to rush Yakovlev into an NHL game, neither of which really makes any logical sense. The only reason that kind of aligns with messages from the team is the idea that a player like Gryba makes the Devils tougher to play against.

That idea, of course, is nothing more than a myth.

Again, preseason action for both players was limited, but it did allow fans a glimpse of how both players would fit in with the team and its identity. Yakovlev took some time to adjust to North American ice and it showed at points in the preseason, but he still looked like the type of player who could fit in with the Devils’ ideology of being fast, supportive and attacking.

Then there’s Gryba.

Never a defender who could truly be described as “fleet of foot” Gryba seemed slow in the preseason. He was often out of position and giving the opposition good chances to turn the attack against the Devils. Additionally, his actual ability to defend could be considered...suspect at best? The biggest shock in training camp had to be Gryba making the team, despite their being better options for the final roster spot. The team was never tougher to play against with him in the lineup, though they certainly appeared to be bleeding more chances.

Egor outplayed Eric in camp; Bingahmton has been a microscopic sample size for Gryba, but Yakovlev has outplayed him there as well. Now they’re both at the NHL level and the thought process is that Gryba will play better than Yakovlev.

Again...a defenseman that even Edmonton didn’t want.

Think about that.

Thank you for reading!