Drew Stafford is coming back to the New Jersey Devils. At least, he will for training camp and preseason. Stafford will be with the Devils on a Professional Tryout (PTO) agreement. The Devils announced this news earlier today through their official website and Twitter account.
What this means is that the Devils have another forward to take part in practices, drills, scrimmages, and (maybe most importantly) preseason games. Did the Devils need someone to come in? I would say so. Prior to this announcement, the Devils were otherwise entering training camp with just twelve NHL forwards assuming Miles Wood is signed before then. With plenty of action packed into a few weeks, having an additional body who is familiar with the rigors of the NHL game is a good thing to have around.
It is even more of a plus that it is Stafford, who was with the New Jersey Devils last season. John Hynes and most of his staff knows who he is and what he can and cannot do. Stafford’s value to the team was limited last season. He did only get into 59 games. Known for his shot, he took only 102 for an average of roughly 1.79 per game - which is not exactly ideal for someone whose best talent is firing the puck. Neither is only scoring eight goals for a low 7.8% shooting percentage. According to the 5-on-5 stats at Natural Stat Trick, Stafford was well below 50% in Corsi, Shots, and Scoring Chance For percentages. This aligns with the observations that Stafford was not particularly fast, he definitely was not that impressive on defense, and his contributions to the run of play were minimal. It was a bad look that the Devils were out-scored by a two to one ratio when he was on the ice either (although that cannot be all put on Stafford). To put it another way, Stafford’s lack of contributions was partially a reason why the Devils went out and obtained Michael Grabner and Patrick Maroon. Stafford did have one feather in his cap: the shootout. Stafford was the only Devil to score three times in shootouts last season and was arguably their best performer in them. Back in August, I thought that he could be a shootout specialist to somebody but probably not New Jersey since they did not bring him back by then. I turned out to be somewhat wrong.
So what can Stafford be in camp? Other than showing that he can do well in one-on-one shooting situations against a goalie, he can be used as a standard of sorts in camp. While Stafford did not play particularly well in 2017-18, he was at least in the NHL. From that perspective, a goal for hopeful players trying to make the New Jersey roster - like Nick Lappin and John Quenneville - could very well be to show that they can at least bring more to the team than a veteran like Stafford. Provided that Stafford himself puts in good work in training camp and preseason, he can provide competition for a 13th or 14th forward spot. Should no one surpass him, the Devils could easily give him a cheap one-year deal, utilize him in a rotational basis similar to last season, and throw him into shootouts as much as possible unless some others emerge in that part of the game. It may not be much value, but it is something provided he is not a total liability to the team in the rest of his game. That is what camp and preseason will be for him on top of being someone for others to possibly best for a spot in New Jersey. If he doesn’t perform or someone excels over him, then he can set free by preseason’s end.
I am fine with this decision bringing Stafford in on a PTO basis. There is no real commitment by the Devils; Stafford gets an opportunity to show that he still belongs in the NHL; and it gives the team a “measuring stick” of sorts the coaches may use to compare performances from the other non-NJ players. Would I have liked Nick Shore better? Sure. But for all I know, that may not have been a realistic option. In any case, I prefer Stafford coming in on a PTO than someone fully marginal like, say, Jimmy Hayes. We’ll see how it goes soon enough as training camp opens next week.
In the meantime, what is your reaction to this news of Stafford returning to the organization? Are you fine with Stafford coming back on a PTO? How good are his chances of making the team? What would he have to do to get a contract from New Jersey or any other NHL team? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Stafford in the comments. Thank you for reading.