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Will Joey Anderson Make the New Jersey Devils Roster in 2020-21?

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Joey Anderson is entering his third season of pro hockey and has had two extended call-ups with the New Jersey Devils. Will he make the New Jersey roster right out of camp for 2020-21? This post discusses the possibility.

St Louis Blues v New Jersey Devils
Will 2020-21 be the season for Joey Anderson?
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

This week, the main posts on this site will be focused on players that expected to battle for a roster spot for the 2020-21 New Jersey Devils whenever training camp happens. There will likely be spots available pending whatever full-time general manager Tom Fitzgerald does in the offseason. With Lindy Ruff as the head coach, it is likely there will be opportunities to impress in on-ice sessions, off-ice sessions, and future exhibition games. Ahead of whenever training camp will be, we can identify who would be on the bubble to make the roster and guess at their chances of making it. To kick this week off, I will be looking at right winger Joey Anderson.

Who is Joey Anderson and What Has He Done So Far?

For the uninitiated, Joey Anderson was selected in the third round by the New Jersey Devils in 2016. Based on his profile page at NHL.com, Anderson turned 22 back in June; he has a right handed shot; and he is officially listed at 5’11” and 195 pounds. Anderson is a product of the United States National Development Team Program and went to the University of Minnesota-Duluth for two seasons. New Jersey signed him to an entry level contract on April 15, 2018 - which meant his ELC had two more seasons on it.

In those two seasons, Anderson did appear in the NHL. He appeared in 34 games in the 2018-19 season, which was undercut by a broken ankle. With the broken ankle, Anderson’s time with Binghamton was largely kept to eight games in October and spot duty for five games beyond February. Last season, Anderson played in 18 games for New Jersey, from February on to the pandemic-forced pause in early March. He spent the majority of his season with the Binghamton Devils.

It turned out to be right call. In 2018-19, Anderson’s time with kept to an average of 12:54. He put up 49 shots, scored four goals, and put up three assists. He did receive some shorthanded shifts as indicated by an average of 1:17 of shorthanded ice time per game, but he was largely kept as a fourth-liner. Last season, Anderson was able establish himself in the AHL. As per Jeff Ulmer and his Panel that grades Binghamton players quarterly, Anderson was excellent for the B-Devils. He played in all situations as he put up 15 goals and 19 assists in 44 games for the fourth most points on the team for Binghamton. As per this post about Anderson (and Mark Dennehy), he played most of last season on the top line with Ben Street and Brett Seney. This is a player who thrived.

And there were signs of growth with his 18 games in the NHL last season. While his average time was only raised a little bit to 13:13, he received more time on the penalty kill given his 1:58 shorthanded ice time per game average per NHL.com. After putting up four goals and seven points in 34 games in 2018-19, he put up four goals and six points in 18 games in 2019-20. Given he was still a fourth liner, nearly matching his production in a bit over half of the games is a positive sign. When he was on the ice in 2018-19, the Devils’ expected goals for percentage was just 45.76% per Natural Stat Trick. In 2019-20, it was actually positive at 52.16%. It is true that his CF% was way worse in 2019-20 at a woeful 42.11%, but that can be helped out by keeping him far away from Kevin Rooney, Travis Zajac, and John Hayden.

The general description of Anderson as a player is that he is a two-way winger. He understands and respects the concept of playing defensively. He can be a part of a penalty kill, which he has already proven at the professional level. He works hard and has had leadership roles with the USNTDP and in college. At 22, I have doubts as to whether he can be a significant scorer. I do think he can be a solid winger for a NHL team’s bottom six.

Who Will Challenge for a Roster Spot Alongside Anderson

At first glance, it appears that there should be a spot available for Anderson. Based on CapFriendly, the Devils’ right wingers are Kyle Palmieri, Jesper Bratt, Anderson, and John Hayden. Kevin Rooney could play right wing, but the Devils opted to play him as a center. Out of those five, only Palmieri is signed for next season. Bratt, Anderson, and Hayden are pending restricted free agents, so it is easy for the Devils to keep them. Should Fitzgerald opt to not qualify Hayden, then that makes it more likely that Anderson makes the roster on paper.

However, that does not mean a spot is guaranteed for the young winger. The Devils have other young forwards in the system that will also have something to prove in camp for the next season. Jesper Boqvist can play all three forward positions and he played in 35 games last season for New Jersey. Management was high on him in the past, similar to Anderson, and given that Fitzgerald is now the full-time GM, I think they will give him opportunities to prove himself. If they see him as a right winger, then that could hurt Anderson’s chances. Likewise, Nathan Bastian has impressed some in his few call-ups in the past as a bottom-six winger. He could do so again as he challenges for a right wing spot if one is available. Fabian Zetterlund and Marian Studenic could also stake their claim. Studenic is a particular one to watch as he was loaned out to HC Slovan Bratislava in the Slovak Extraliga earlier this month. This means he will have some games under his belt before training camp and could come in more prepared than others in camp.

There are also two centers that could be right wingers. Nick Merkley and Nate Schnarr are right-handed shots. Those names should seem familiar as they were part of the return from the Taylor Hall trade in 2019. Schnarr just finished his rookie season in pro hockey. The 23-year old Merkley may be more of a threat. He played will in a four-game call up with New Jersey last season and played very well for Binghamton. Unless Ruff and/or Fitzgerald insist on Merkley playing center, Merkley could be more of a threat to Anderson with respect to making the New Jersey roster.

Additionally, there is the possibility that Fitzgerald goes out and signs a right winger or two in free agency. Whether or not you agree it would be a good idea to do so, the market does have at least some decent players to strengthen the right side of the forward group. Should Fitzgerald go out and get Evgeny Dadonov, Mike Hoffman, Vladimir Namestnikov, Craig Smith, Melker Karlsson, or Jesper Fast (among others), then that means fewer spots for anyone to make the team at right wing.

This is not to say that Anderson has an uphill battle and a lot to overcome. It is that it is not at all guaranteed that Anderson makes the New Jersey roster. He’ll need to show up in camp and prove to Ruff and his staff that he is worth a roster spot in the NHL. It will be easier if Fitzgerald cuts Hayden and Rooney loose. But that remains to be seen.

Contracts & Waiver Status

Anderson is also up for a new contract. His entry level contract expired last season and his RFA status has further restrictions due to 10.2(c) of the CBA. Brian wrote about what the Devils should do with his next contract back in July. I echo his opinion that he will be re-signed to a one or two-season deal to see how he performs. (I also agree with Brian that Anderson has an inside track on a roster spot.) Given the restrictions of 10.2(c), Anderson will likely sign a new contract before camp begins.

For players on the bubble making the roster, waiver status could influence whether someone makes the team right out of camp, earns it through a call-up, or gets one in the future. For the uninitiated, a player must go through the waiver process when they are transferred from the NHL to the AHL. This means all of the other teams in the league have 24 hours to claim that player for themselves. If they clear, then they can be demoted to the AHL. There are exemptions from waivers, mostly for younger players. A player’s waiver status is based on how many seasons they are signed to a NHL contract, when they first signed a NHL contract, and how many NHL games they have played. Either the season or the games played will end the exemption, which ever comes first. CapFriendly’s waiver calculator is an excellent tool to determine whether a player is exempt from waivers and when that exemption will end. I used the calculator for Anderson and all of the other potential players I think could challenge for a roster spot.

  • Anderson - Exempt until 2021-22 season or 102 NHL games played.
  • Bastian - Exempt until 2020-21 season or 153 NHL games played.
  • Boqvist - Exempt until 2022-23 season or 45 NHL games played.
  • Merkley - Exempt until 2020-21 season or 155 NHL games played.
  • Schnarr - Exempt until 2022-23 season or 160 NHL games played.
  • Studenic - Exempt until 2021-22 season or 160 NHL games played.
  • Zetterlund - Exempt until 2022-23 season or 160 NHL games played.

This information makes the possible right wing roster battle more difficult for Anderson. Nathan Bastian and Nick Merkley are waiver-eligible when next season begins. This means the Devils risk losing either of them if they are sent down to Binghamton. I can see Bastian passing through as he has not done much in the NHL so far. Merkley, on the other hand, is a former first round draft pick (30th overall, 2015) and has done splendidly in minor-pro hockey. Injuries have undercut his season so far, but if he can stay healthy, he can be a real asset for an AHL team much less an asset to a team’s bottom six. As he was part of the return from the Hall trade, having him play in New Jersey helps justify the deal whereas someone else claiming him on waivers would make the deal worse in retrospect since New Jersey got one less thing out of it.

From a managerial point of view, there may be more of an emphasis in camp as to how Bastian and Merkley perform as opposed to Anderson and the others. If they do well and Anderson does just about the same, then the decision may be to start with Bastian and/or Merkley and then call up Anderson during the season or prepare him to make a roster spot next season.

Of course, that is a fairly significant ‘if.’ There are other possibilities. If Anderson really impresses the coaches and management in camp, then they will try to make a spot for him. At the end of the day, quality players make it. If Bastian and/or Merkley suffer an injury or perform poorly in camp, then they may actually clear waivers. If Fitzgerald opts to not qualify Hayden and lets Rooney hit the market, then Merkley could take Rooney’s spot in the lineup and there would be spots available for Bastian and Anderson. There could even be a minor deal made so Fitzgerald gets something for a player rather than risk him to waivers and get nothing for it.

Conclusions

Ultimately, I still have confidence that we could see Joey Anderson start the 2020-21 season with New Jersey instead of Binghamton. By no means it will be easy. Anderson needs to show up in camp and prepared to impress the coaches right away. Whether it is in drills, scrimmages, meetings, or exhibition games, Anderson will have the opportunities to impress the new head coach in Ruff and whoever will be on his staff and demonstrate his growth his the former assistant GM in Fitzgerald. He does have the advantage of having played over 50 games in the NHL and showing that he can at least play on a penalty kill in the NHL. Having both experience and being able to perform on a special team in the NHL could help tip the scales in Anderson’s favor. Can he do it? I think so. If he does, then I think he will make the roster right out of camp.

The biggest challengers will be Bastian and Merkley as they are eligible for waivers starting with this coming season. From that standpoint, the Devils can afford to have Anderson at least start next season in Binghamton and still retain his rights. However, the team is looking to improve for the future and Anderson can certainly be a part of that. How his next contract is structured will inform how the organization sees Anderson and his chances for playing in the NHL next season. That written, I believe their performances will be the ultimate decider in terms of

Even if he does not make it out of camp for 2020-21, I think we will see him at some point in 2020-21, and I hope he does well enough that we can pencil his name in for 2021-22. He may end up being just a third line right winger who can take a regular role on one of the two penalty kill units, but getting that player out of the prospect pool means one less expensive signing to make for that role in the future. Of course, this pending any other moves made by Fitzgerald ahead of the coming season.

While I am confident in Anderson’s chances even knowing Bastian’s and Merkley’s waiver status, I want to know what you think. Do you think Anderson will be able to win a NHL job out of camp for the 2020-21 season? Who do you think are his biggest challengers? What do you expect out of Anderson now that he is entering his third professional season? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Joey Anderson in the comments. Thank you for reading.