The New Jersey Devils have the unenviable position of drafting first overall for the second time in three years when the NHL Draft rolls around in June. A first overall pick will (almost) always help an NHL team to turn their fortunes around even if it is not an immediate cure for what ails them. CJ started off our offseason series yesterday by providing an early free agency primer; today I continue by looking at the needs of the team that they should be addressing, be it through free agency or otherwise.
Right Wingers (Specifically Right Handed)
Looking over the players under contract in the New Jersey system, the only “pure” right wing we have signed in the NHL is Kyle Palmieri. Stefan Noesen could be re-signed, but he’s a Bottom 6 player at best, and the underlying theme for both RW and defense is that the team needs impact players. No offense to Noesen, as he’s definitely someone who plays the game the right way, but he shouldn’t be a priority.
Additionally, a look at the Devils’ minor league side reveals the lack of RW depth in general; in Binghamton, the Devils have Joey Anderson, Marian Studenic (who I still think could eventually be an NHL player), Nathan Bastian, and UFA to be in Nick Lappin and Blake Pietila. There’s going to be some depth signing made just to flesh out the AHL roster, but as for the impact? Well...
The list of RWs hitting UFA isn’t pretty according to CapFriendly. When Drew Stafford is #16 out of the Top 20, you know the available names aren’t necessarily impact guys. The one intriguing name on that list would be Mats Zuccarello who missed some time with injuries, but still posted 40 points in 48 contests. He may not be a right handed shot, but he can still pile up points, which is paramount and reason enough for me to ignore the rule in the title of this section. The Devils should be looking for more right handed shots as well, but they can do that while building their prospect pool (more on that later).
Anybody who watched the Devils this season could see that their defense was a huge problem this season; sure the goaltending stunk for a large stretch too, but the defense wasn’t helping and in some cases they were even compounding the issues. CJ mentioned yesterday that Ty Smith should be infused into the equation next year, but there’s a number of upgrades that can and should be made if the Devils are serious about being a competitive team again.
Outside of Andy Greene, Damon Severson, Sami Vatanen and Will Butcher, the defense should be purged in favor of upgrades. If one of the above players can be packaged for a clear upgrade on them, the Devils need to look at that as well. Jeremy Davies should be given a good, long look in camp next season as well. No matter what happens, the season can’t start with the same core plus Smith and/or Davies; even with those two added, there’s a need once again for impact talent.
It looks as though unrestricted free agency won’t do much again. There’s one impact option on this list though; if the Devils can find a way to land Erik Karlsson, he will go a long way towards legitimizing their back end. The chances of that may be slim, but the option (and a possible overpayment) need to be explored. Jersey’s Team could also use a defender with a bit of snarl, and I’m not sure any of the names above would bring that while not being a liability (or too old for the Devils’ core) so they might need to pursue a trade here.
Technically, the top section about right wings covered this, but with the possible exception of left wing, the Devils could use more offense from everywhere on the ice. If the team is able to play Taylor Hall, Jesper Bratt, Blake Coleman and Miles Wood all at left wing next season, I believe the Devils really don’t need to upgrade that side of the ice. The middle even with the possible addition of Jack Hughes is a huge question mark after Nico Hischier. Travis Zajac had a great 2018-19, but he isn’t getting younger and could regress offensively at any time. Pavel Zacha still has yet to establish himself as a legitimate NHL option and Kevin Rooney is nothing more than a nice fourth liner.
There will be more outside options available that could boost the Devils for next year; for example, if say Matt Duchene is willing to sign, or Jeff Skinner, or even a somewhat lesser option such as Kevin Hayes or Brock Nelson who both fit in with the “rebuild window” the Devils are operating within, then it could be in the team’s best interest to add one or more of those players. Three of those four would also address the center depth questions. Alternatively, the team could look at more in-house options such as Studenic or Jesper Boqvist. I do think it’s time for Ray Shero to use some of his cap space though, so there will need to be some money traded for additional scoring.
Replenishing the Pipeline
Perhaps not necessarily a current roster need, but still something worth discussing and thinking about. I know there are those who would like to see some of the Devils’ draft picks traded to a cap strapped team for an underutilized NHL player a la the Kyle Palmieri deal. At the same time, I think the powers that be need to take a good long look at the pipeline and realize that the Devils need more impact prospects. The team cannot continue to mortgage picks, nor can they continue to miss on picks if they want the team to have an extended period of success beginning in the near future. If a Palmieri-esque deal comes along, and the Devils accept it, they had better be certain that they don’t miss on their early round choices.
As you could see from both yesterday and today’s articles, there are some areas where we were purposefully a bit ambiguous with our discussion, looking at topics more broadly rather than in specific. As he mentioned yesterday, over the next nine weeks, CJ and I will be collaborating and delving into most, if not all of the pieces that we’ve discussed in more detail to hopefully bring as complete of coverage as we can for this Devils’ offseason.
Do you agree with the areas highlighted as being where the Devils need to focus on improving their roster? If someone is available from a position that isn’t necessarily a need, should the Devils sign them anyway? What do you think is the greatest current area of need for the team? Leave any and all thoughts below and thanks as always for reading!