Last season’s opening night roster had many New Jersey Devils fans scratching their heads with a few of the choices made. A couple of spots were open at least to start the season due to Travis Zajac and Brian Boyle starting the season inactive, and when the dust settled, many expected names such as John Quenneville and Joseph Blandisi to be filling roster spaces.
Except that they didn’t; both wound up starting the season in the AHL (and Blandisi was later sent to Anaheim in the Sami Vatanen trade) with Jesper Bratt, Blake Coleman, Brian Gibbons and (technically) Michael McLeod making the team out of camp. Will Butcher also made the team, though with the state of the team’s defense, I wouldn’t say that it was entirely unexpected.
While last season had a crop of what all wound up being pleasant surprises (sans McLeod who never really got a chance due to his injury) I don’t have the same optimism going into camp this year for a couple of reasons: there aren’t any spots open and there aren’t any players ready to fill them.
A Lack of Spots
As I mentioned a bit earlier, the Devils are heading towards training camp with a fairly set roster; unlike last year, the only major missing piece will be Cory Schneider who had offseason surgery. The Devils, however, will still have Keith Kindkaid and Eddie Lack ready to go, so even if Schneider is missing some time, it doesn’t equate to an open roster spot.
A cursory glance at the Devils’ situation per CapFriendly shows that they will have 13 forwards once Miles Wood is re-signed; however, Kurtis Gabriel will more than likely be minor league depth and subtracted, and this count also includes Joey Anderson. Given that Anderson was signed and practiced with the team during the playoffs, I feel he will make the team. Likewise, the team can either have a depth player as the 13th forward, or one of Quenneville/McLeod will make the team. Anyway you look at it, that’s not an opening night surprise.
The defense is fairly set as well; Steven Santini is an restricted free agent who will be back, and we have sic other returnees from last season as well. The Devils unfortunately were not able to push Andy Greene down on the left side, so unless Butcher or Mirco Mueller look better in the preseason, expect Greene/Vatanen as the pair logging major minutes. I’d assume that to be the top pairing, and for Mueller to join Damon Severson on the middle pair, just because Severson and Butcher are similar in how they can join the rush. That leaves Butcher with Ben Lovejoy, which in a limited role, saw that pair do well. The Devils could juggle Santini somewhere into that lineup (replacing Lovejoy probably isn’t a bad plan) and recent KHL signee Egor Yakovlev could also push to make the team. The team will have seven to eight NHL defenders, and even Yakovlev making the team wouldn’t truly be surprising, as he’s a KHL veteran.
No Players Ready to Fill Spots
I’m also going to assume that even if Schneider isn’t 100% for opening night that with his estimated return, he won’t be on injured reserve, and the Devils will simply carry three goalies to start the year until he returns. Either way, the only spot that seems to be open at the moment is one in the press box, and that is not an ideal spot for a young player; either play them, or send them to the minors/juniors to play.
Taking a quick look at Jersey’s prospect chart isn’t exactly inspiring at the moment either. Few, if any, of the player that have not already been mentioned in this article are NHL ready; even recent first rounder Ty Smith would benefit from another year in juniors before having a serious shot at playing in New Jersey.
Now I also don’t want anyone to interpret this as me believing that our pipeline is terrible and we don’t have NHL quality players that we’ve drafted/developed. I truly do believe we have some players that will carve out careers at least in a depth role, with some having a greater impact; the issue, however, is that they won’t be NHL ready this season. I think with the number of bodies in Jersey already, someone will have to blow everyone away to make the team, and I just don’t see anyone with the potential to do that this season. I know everyone isn’t thrilled with “status quo” right now, but long-term, developing the prospects at an appropriate level will lead to more sustained success, which is obviously the most important team goal.
Now I’d like to hear your thoughts on the Devils’ roster and prospects; do you think the roster is essentially set, or is there someone unexpected you see being in New Jersey on opening night? Will the team go 13-8-2 with one forward and two defenders healthy scratched? Do you foresee one of the mentioned eight defenders in Binghamton to start the season? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!