The Devils could not piece together a roster of 12 NHL forwards at times last year. Boy how times have changed huh? With a healthy roster, and additions in Wayne Simmonds, Jack Hughes, Nikita Gusev, and John Hayden (who everyone always seems to mention for some reason) make the bottom of our lineup fairly crowded. I’m going to briefly look at what forwards are in contention here and then ask you guys what you think.
Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, and Kyle Palmieri
The first line will likely remain Hall-Hischier-Palmieri. If any of them move, it won’t be below the 2nd line. I actually also believe these are the only 3 players that are locks for the “top 6.” I’ll elaborate on exactly what that means in a second.
Jack Hughes, Nikita Gusev, Travis Zajac, Jesper Bratt, Wayne Simmonds, Blake Coleman
These guys will more than likely open the season as the middle-six. I think Nikita Gusev is the next “lockiest” top 6 guy after the Big 3 — I can’t see the KHL MVP being a 3rd-liner in the NHL. Hughes will probably be our 2C, but it wouldn’t be the first time Travis Zajac played more time over a younger more talented player. Bratt and Simmonds will likely duke it out for the rights to be the other top 6 winger (I’d expect Bratt to win, but at $5M AAV Simmonds roster spot is safe regardless). Coleman filled in admirably at times last year as a top 6, or even top line player — but he’s the most likely bottom-sixer of this list.
Miles Wood, Pavel Zacha, John Hayden, Jesper Boqvist, Kevin Rooney
Wood has 3 years left in his deal which makes him actually the longest term among non-ELC forwards on this team. Feels like he probably makes the cut, but as a bottom-6 lefty with no obvious special teams role on this team, his position is tenuous. Zacha seems the safest of this group given his ability to play center or wing and his all-league PK work. Rooney is Coleman-lite — he’s a hound on the PK and the forecheck which springs him loose for some offensive chances. Boqvist has, by far, the highest ceiling of these guys, but as a young player in a cramped roster who is on contract in the SHL, the Devils may deem it prudent to send him back overseas one more season. John Hayden is, I’m told, a person. Importantly, he’s a person that shoots right-handed, unlike the other 4 guys on this list.
Brett Seney, Nathan Bastian, Michael McLeod, Joey Anderson
Basically all the young guys that shouldn’t have played last year, but had to due to injury. Seney showed some scoring punch with 12 even-strength points (10th among Devils forwards) in just 500 minutes (same P/60 as Coleman), but was among the Devils worst players in on-ice impact. Bastian actually demonstrated potential as a power forward with 3 goals and 24 hits in his 7 games played. He also was a positive impact in goals, expected goals, and shots, which is likely what is EV_GAR/60 trailed only Taylor Hall among Devils forwards. He’s likely earned a shot again at some point — I just don’t think it’ll be opening night. McLeod has entered “bust” territory. Joey Anderson has not demonstrated anything special at the NHL level.
So before closing out I’d just like to show this one chart quickly which shows what players of each position we have and what their handedness is so that you may use it to ground your own roster decisions.
This is subject to change, but right now I’m leaning towards the top 4 lines that I have in the chart above. Zacha makes it because he’s a C and a PKer, Wood is young and under contract a while, Hayden was an acquisition (presumably for a reason). To be honest, though, I don’t think the team would look much different if you replaced the 4th line in the above chart with the 5th line entirely.
In a month I need to do a preview of the forwards so now it’s your turn to say what you think the roster will look like so that I can steal your ideas and minimize the criticism of that future piece.
Thanks as always for reading and leave your thoughts on the opening night roster in the comments below!