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Under the Radar Targets - NHL Free Agency

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NHL: Detroit Red Wings at New Jersey Devils Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

With the current Devils roster at the moment, this is how I envision the lines to stand

Hughes - Hischier - Palmieri
Gusev - Zajac - Bratt
Boqvist - Zacha - Johnsson
Seney - McLeod - Wood

Butcher - Subban
Murray - Severson
Smith - Carrick

Blackwood
Crawford

Edit - For Clarity Sakes, the original ????’s were meant to display an open/contended spot - that evidently wasn’t very clear. I’ve put in placeholder names for now, and now edited the lines to reflect DailyFaceoff’s combinations

Obviously, a lot of these lineup spots are subject to chance depending on how the Devils feel about certain prospects in their system. Will the Devils want to give a chance to prospects like Nick Merkley or Janne Kuokkanen? Will they give Brett Seney another full-time opportunity? While I’d love for the prospects to show up to camp and prove to the Devils that they’re ready, I offer another solution - free agency rentals for the trade deadline! Some of the free agents on this list have high trade value, and are perfect rentals for a Devils team looking to rebuild, and also full out their roster! Let’s look at some names that I think the Devils should consider. With a lot of cap space to boot, the Devils could afford to overpay on one-year deals to find that value.

Andreas Athanasiou

The polarizing, long-time Red Wing player is an interesting case. His resume has a 30 goal season on it, and he’s still only 26 years old, and unlikely to get a long-term contract this offseason. Also - Athanasiou is incredibly fast, and skillful to boot.

Unfortunately, Athanasiou was nothing short of awful last season.

In 46 games with the Red Wings, he recorded 10 goals and 14 assists, with a terrible +/- of -46. While +/- is often regarded as not too important of a statistic, that -46 may be a bit hard to overlook. Furthermore, when he was traded to the Oilers, he only recorded 2 points in 9 games, and no points through 4 postseason games, before getting non-tendered at the end of the season.

These negatives, however, are what makes Athanasiou and the Devils a perfect fit. Athanasiou is currently in the process of trying to regain his value, as a result of last season’s poor play. Prior to that season, he was set for a huge payday, due to his age and previous good play. Now, Athanasiou needs a team where he could potentially make an impact, and build his value up for the next season. Enter the Devils, a team clearly looking to rebuild, with ice time available. Realistically, the Devils may be pushing it if they give all their available spots to prospects like Kuokkanen, Boqvist and Foote, so signing a player like Athanasiou, with the obvious intent to trade him, might be a deal the Devils are looking for.
Of note - Athanasiou last year was able to snag two 2nd round picks from the Oilers last year.

Jeremy Bracco

As recently as two years ago, Jeremy Bracco was a top-prospect on the Maple Leafs. While he was (and still is) yet to make his NHL debut, Bracco had performed at an MVP level for the Toronto Marlies, recording 22 goals and 57 assists through 75 games. Last year, he wasn’t nearly as good, but still recorded solid playmaking numbers with 4 goals and 30 assists through 44 games.

To me, Bracco always seemed like that player stuck in a bad situation, looking to make his impact. In fact, as recently as May 2019, The Hockey Writers suggested that the Devils should look to explore a trade for Bracco, due to his high-potential and playmaking abilities. With all that said, should a year ruin Bracco’s value substantially, particularly for a team such as the Devils with opportunities to have?

In a worst-case situation, Bracco proves he doesn’t fit at the NHL level, and gets waived to the AHL again. However, I see this as a potential win-win move for the Devils and Bracco - a young (24) player looking to prove a point.

Sami Vatanen

The fit is obvious - Vatanen would feel comfort returning to New Jersey, and likely would be able to sign a short term deal in order to try free agency again in post-Corona times.

While I’m sure most of us are already aware, Vatanen recorded 5 goals and 18 assists with the Devils, before getting traded to the Hurricanes for Kuokkanen and a 3rd round pick. In the playoffs, Vatanen was solid, as he recorded 3 assists through 7 games.

Would he resign with the Devils? Is he still searching for a long term contract? Who knows - but the fit is too obvious to ignore

Other Candidates

Andy Greene - Likely going back to the Islanders

Alex Galchenyuk - Good hockey player, but has some internal demons and skating issues

Carl Soderberg

Travis Hamonic

Conor Sheary

Dominik Kahuk