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Predicting The Final Cuts and Opening Night Roster

With the preseason drawing closer and closer to a close, the New Jersey Devils have already trimmed their roster to 28, meaning they only need to make 5 more transactions to be ready for opening night. Today’s article looks at who the final five cuts might/should be, and how the team may look come opening night.

NHL: Preseason-New York Rangers at New Jersey Devils
If Ty Smith keeps knocking Rangers players around, he’s a lock to start the season in New Jersey!
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

NHL training camps are beginning to wind down; the pre-season is slowly giving way to the regular season, and the New Jersey Devils sit with a mere five roster transactions needing to be made to get them ready for opening night. Some of these moves may seem obvious to the general eye, but based on the names that are left, there could be a couple of surprises. Today, we look at who’s left, and who will (probably) be left after the last round of cuts.

The Terrific Twenty Eight

The following players are still with Jersey’s Team as of the time of this piece being written:

Forwards: Brian Boyle, Jesper Bratt, Blake Coleman, Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, Marcus Johansson, Stefan Noesen, Kyle Palmieri, John Quenneville, Kevin Rooney, Brett Seney, Drew Stafford, Miles Wood, Pavel Zacha, Travis Zajac

Defensemen: Will Butcher, Andy Greene, Eric Gryba, Ben Lovejoy, Mirco Mueller, Steven Santini, Damon Severson, Ty Smith, Sami Vatanen

Goaltenders: Mackenzie Blackwood, Keith Kinkaid, Eddie Lack, Cory Schneider

Just by looking at this list, we know at least one goaltender will be cut, and possibly a second depending upon if Schneider is deemed healthy enough to start the season or not. With 15 remaining forwards and 9 remaining defenders, the Devils will need to cut 3 of those players to make the mandatory opening night roster maximum of 23. Obviously, there are a number of players on these lists who are safe, but there are enough who could be on the bubble for one reason or another.

Players Who Could Be on Their Way Out

Forwards: Kevin Rooney, Brett Seney, Drew Stafford

Without these 3 “bubble” forwards, the Devils have the necessary 12 forwards to ice on opening night. One or two will be kept around as a spare forward if injury occurs, and for this reason, Brett Seney will probably be the odd man out. He’s still young and raw with some growing to do; a season in Binghamton receiving top 6 minutes could do wonders for his development. Seney is also exempt from the waiver process, so the Devils will not have to fear losing a player if they choose to give him some AHL time. At the same time, Stafford and Rooney to a lesser extent are known quantities and neither projects to fit into the team’s long-term plans, so it will be interesting to see who get the final forward spot; Rooney also does not require waivers, so the team may opt to send him to Bingo for more seasoning as well.

Defensemen: Eric Gryba, Ben Lovejoy, Mirco Mueller, Steven Santini, Ty Smith

Outside of New Jersey’s top 4 of Butcher, Greene, Severson and Vatanen, no one should be safe; defense is the Devils’ Achilles heel, and as such, the team should be looking to ice the best six it can every night.

That being said, Eric Gryba brings nothing of value to this team right now and was viewed as a Binghamton signing from the start; he’s more than likely only around for tonight’s preseason tilt and should be waived for assignment tomorrow. Ben Lovejoy was fine last season in a limited role; however, he is one year older and looks one year slower as well. The Reverend should transition into a “not every night” role while still being a strong voice in the locker room.

Two of the remaining three players require waivers to be kept, so Ty Smith is the odd man out, right? Not so fast; while Steven Santini has looked passable in the preseason (certainly good enough to be the bottom pairing righty) Mirco Mueller has looked rough to put it lightly. He is continually getting pinned into his own zone and many of his passes are downright dumbfounding. If the Devils want to maximize their returns, Smith and Santini should be on the roster come opening night. The team also could opt to cut a pair of forwards, and scratch two defenders; keep that in mind for later.

Goaltenders: Mackenzie Blackwood, Eddie Lack

Not really surprising news that the third and fourth string goalies will be sent down once the starter is healthy. Keith Kinkaid will retain his role as the backup to Cory Schneider.

The Final Moves

So, to gaze into the crystal ball and make the final cuts, here’s what the Devils 2018-19 opening night roster could (should?) look like:

Cuts: Brett Seney (assigned to B-Devils), Drew Stafford (released from PTO), Eric Gryba (waived to B-Devils), Mackenzie Blackwood (assigned to B-Devils), Eddie Lack (waived to B-Devils)

Lineup:

Hall - Hischier - Palmieri

Johansson - Zacha - Bratt

Coleman - Zajac - Noesen

Wood - Boyle - Quenneville

Extra: Rooney

Butcher - Santini

Smith - Severson

Extra: Mueller, Lovejoy

Schneider

Kinkaid

There could be some differences, most specifically in net, but if the team should be icing the 20 best players every night, this is the right personnel. The Devils could opt to flip the wingers on lines three and four if they desire a bit more offense, as Zajac is still quicker and more skilled than Boyle even as both grow further away from their prime. If the team really wanted to push towards the future, and Seney impresses enough, they could keep him with Wood and Quenneville (making them the de facto third line), push Boyle to the extra and send Rooney through waivers as well. The odds of this happening seem slim, hence the above lineup.

The defense pairings are designed to best meet the needs of each player’s style; Greene-Vatanen is essentially a lock to start the season where they were last year, but it also leaves a stay at home player with a puck mover. Similar reasoning was put into the Butcher-Santini pairing, but it also doesn’t leave a fairly raw Smith-Santini pairing. Instead, Severson moves down to balance the lineup and help mentor the youngest member of the New Jersey roster; this balance will allow the team to roll all three pairings at even strength, and in instances where the team needs, they can shuffle players around to best meet the game situation.

Your Take

Now I’d like to hear your thoughts on the Devils’ roster and the cuts that need to be made; which five players do you see not starting the year in New Jersey? How do the lines shake out based on what you’ve seen? Does Ty Smith make the team just as Nico Hischier did last season? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!