This is one long offseason.
As we wait for any additional news on how the upcoming NHL season will look (if there’s an NHL season), I wanted to take a look at every Devils defenseman in the organization and rank where they stand in terms of how likely they are to play next season with the big club.
The Locks To Start the Season With the Team
Barring some out of nowhere trade or injury, these guys will be playing with the Devils as soon as the season starts
While aging and not as effective last season, Subban is the most established defenseman on the roster, has shown the most success in the recent past, and the Devils are paying him 9 million a year. He’ll start.
It’s weird to think that this is Severson’s 7th full season with the team. He’s arguably the best defender on the Devils and he’ll start with the team.
Murray has a history of injury problems, but is effective when he’s on the ice. The Devils traded a 5th round pick for him, and he’s solid enough when healthy to be a top four defensemen for the Blue Jackets. He’ll be on the team to start.
Last season was rough for Butcher, but he still is an NHL caliber defender. Hopefully Butcher is able to find his game again, and finds his touch he had his rookie campaign.
The player in this tier who has a very small chance of falling down to the next tier. However, the Devils did sign him for 1.15 million, so I expect them to play him. Also averaged over 20 minutes a game for the Jets last season, so he has the skills to play.
Will Likely Start the Season With the Team
There’s nothing special about Carrick, but he did play 49 games with the Devils over the past two seasons. He also has the advantage of playing LD, so it’s likely him or Ty for the last spot. More likely than Ty Smith to at least make the team as a 7th defenseman.
I so badly want Ty Smith to be a lock to make the team, but he’s still very young and also failed to make the team last season, when he was expected to make it. I do think one more year of junior play to refine his game was good for him, and hopefully he establishes himself to at least make the opening lineup.
Could Steal a Spot to Start
These are some players who are either veterans or young players who spent some time with the AHL team and could take the spot with a good training camp.
Tennyson is like Carrick, but worse. He’s a veteran player, and if the Devils brass deem that Ty Smith is still not ready, he could have the jump up over other players due to his veteran savvy.
Josh Jacobs was a 2014 2nd round pick of the Devils. Now 24, Jacobs has seen very brief stints with the Devils in the past two seasons. While with Binghamton, Jacobs has established his game defensively and was selected by AAtJ writers as the team’s best defenseman. If Jacobs comes into camp strong, he could surprise and open the season with the team.
Somewhat similar to Jacobs in terms of position, Colton White was a 2015 3rd round pick of the Devils. A 23 year old defender, Colton also plays a more defensively styled game, and similarly has seen some stints with the Devils in the past two seasons. Same theme with Jacobs - if White impresses, he could steal a spot.
Could Make Their Debut
As much as I would love for the following two players to make the team out of camp, I do think they need some seasoning in the AHL before they take the jump to the big club.
Bahl, standing at 6’6 and 240 lbs, was the prized piece in the Taylor Hall trade. Now 20 years old, Bahl is ready to make his professional debut. While some Devils fans may clamor for Bahl to get his chance right away and prove himself, I think Bahl needs some time in the AHL to further develop his defensive and physical tools against professionals who previously spent time in the NHL, and make those necessary adjustments to prove himself. Bahl has a lot of potential to be great for the Devils - the time may not be right away though. I fully expect him to earn a look midway through the season, however.
Reilly Walsh, after months of uncertainty over whether he’d sign with the Devils, signed his ELC in August after three successful years with Harvard. Fear arose that Walsh would return to Harvard for his Senior year, thus becoming a free agent, but the pandemic caused all Ivy League Fall Sports to be cancelled, allowing the Devils to sign Walsh.
Walsh, in terms of his play style, is an offensive minded defenseman on the right side with an excellent shot. Unfortunately, the Devils already have two of those in Severson and Subban, so his role is redundant at the moment. As such, I would expect his situation to be similar to Bahl - further development in the AHL, with a look midway through the season.
No Chance/Not Ready
These are either players who I view as too raw to take a look at, or who I don’t view as having much NHL potential at all.
Nikita Okhotyuk is a 2019 2nd round pick of the Devils out of the OHL. A very solid skater, according to Craig Button, Okhotyuk is more raw than both Bahl and Walsh, and will likely be on the Josh Jacobs and Colton White road of development where he spends significant time in the AHL to help him develop. Okhotyuk has the potential to be solid down the road, but the time isn’t now.
When the Devils signed Sissons, I was excited for his potential. In his final season in the WHL, Sissons posted 13 goals and 58 assists through 72 games, before then scoring 11 points in 38 games with Binghampton. Last season, however, indicated how truly behind Sissons really was. He spent the majority of his time in the ECHL, where he again showed he needed to work on his defensive game. I don’t know if he plays in the AHL next season, but there’s practically no chance he sees NHL time next season.
Quenneville, the cousin of former Devil John Quenneville, is another player who put up monster offensive numbers in the WHL (26 goals, 54 assists in 70 games!), but struggled in the AHL. He was acquired as a throw-in in the Andy Greene trade, and looks as if he has no NHL future, due to his short height (5’8). He’s enough of a wild card where something may eventually come from him, but it’s looking unlikely at this point in his career.
Groleau was another undrafted guy who the Devils picked up in hopes of developing. Unlike Sissons and Quenneville, Groleau focuses on his defensive game. Groleau, however, also did see some time in the ECHL last season, and offered no output for the AHL club (0 goals, 7 assists in 32 games). He’s still very raw, and likely has more potential than Sissons and Quenneville, but this year likely is not the year for him as well.
Do you agree with my tier list? Is there anyone you think is in the wrong tier? Let me know in the comments below, and take care!