When the New Jersey Devils signed Kevin Rooney to an NHL deal in the midst of the 2016-17 NHL season, it wasn’t seen as a deal of any consequence for the team. Sure, Rooney had a level of success at the AHL level prior to signing with the big club, but his signing was seen more as a “NHL fill-in” deal rather than signing someone who could have a significant impact on the team’s play. In his limited NHL action prior to this season, he had no points in the four games he played in his signing year and again came up empty in the only contest he appeared in last season.
Flash forward to this year, and Rooney earned another call-up, mostly due to injury necessity this time. However, this Kevin Rooney was a bit different from the one we saw prior; he was a bit more assertive in his play. Six games into this recall in a game against the Chicago Blackhawks, he followed a play which saw Drew Stafford take a shot on a partial breakaway that Cam Ward would stop. The puck would squeak out with a little help from the Blackhawks defense and Rooney would hammer the loose puck home for his first career goal, which would later stand as the game winner.
Rooney also has shown himself to be a capable penalty killer, picking up two shorthanded points and seeing more regular deployment since the Devils traded Brian Boyle to Nashville. He has tallied nine points in his 33 NHL games this season (six of them being goals) and has been one of the few players the Devils have employed in the Bottom 6 recently that hasn’t looked out of place. He was even promoted into the Top 6 for a few games (again due to the volume of injuries) and over his past 10 games, he has picked up six of his points.
The point right now is that Rooney has certainly proved he is not a liability on the ice, and the question can be posed as to whether or not he has earned a spot for next year. Now obviously a lot can happen over the summer; Boyle could come back in free agency for all we know, and Rooney could again find himself in Binghamton due to a lack of spots. At the same time, I feel as though Rooney has proven himself to be more NHL-ready (or at least more useful) at this point than some other plays who have had extended stints. I think Rooney has an inside track over Joey Anderson, Brett Seney and even Stefan Noesen at this point.
He may not be the biggest player, but Rooney’s game is better suited for Bottom 6 play than the above trio, mainly due to the fact that he plays with seemingly more physicality than they do. Additionally, Rooney plays center and has done a good job on faceoffs this season, sitting at just under 49%. While there’s never a “safe bet” for any Bottom 6 forward or Bottom Pairing defender to make a roster for the next season, I think Rooney has impressed enough people and played well enough this year that he will at least get an extended look in training camp, if not outright penciled into a slot for next season.
At the very least, I think Rooney has proven himself as a useful NHL Bottom 6 player, which at the time of his signing, wasn’t really the prevailing opinion. If the Devils decide to stay “in house” for their lower line forwards next season (as they should) then Kevin Rooney is a good option to keep up with New Jersey.
What is your opinion of Kevin Rooney? Has he earned his spot on the team this season? Should the Devils have eyes on him to start next season as the fourth line center? Leave any and all thoughts below and thanks as always for reading.