Defense, defense, defense; many of our articles and subsequent conversations here at AATJ seem to center around the New Jersey Devils defense...or lack thereof in most discussions. The Devils need to start improving their team defense yesterday if they want to be competitive in upcoming seasons, and one way they can do that now is from within. Reilly Walsh, the team’s selection in round three of the 2017 draft, signed with the team a month ago today.
Many had feared losing Walsh as a prospect due to the “college free agency” route that some other NHL prospects have taken. John wrote this piece about him upon his signing, which does a great job covering why he signed and the benefits of having Walsh under contract. Today we take a brief look at what he did during his collegiate career, and predict whether he might see time with the big club in 2020-21.
Walsh So Far
Heading over to look at him via Elite Prospects, Walsh had a fairly consistent college career; his 20 points in 33 games as a freshman would have to be considered a success, as freshmen usually don’t garner the same ice time as more experienced college players. He would follow that up with a 31 point sophomore season, and 27 more during his junior campaign albeit in three fewer games. For a player known as an offensive minded defenseman, I would say those stats fit the bill.
Of additional note should be Walsh’s low penalty minute totals; with his 16 minutes in his freshman year being his highest total (and only eight this past season) it’s within reason to assume Walsh is responsible on the ice. At the very least, it doesn’t seem likely that he will take dumb penalties, which already makes him a more enticing option than some players the Devils have used in the past few years.
At 6’, 185 lbs. Walsh is roughly average sized for a defender; his right-handed shot is a coveted asset in today’s NHL as his ability to move the puck. He fills a Devils’ need in general as a defender; but...
Walsh in New Jersey?
Despite the promise, playing a position of need and being a coveted righty, I just don’t see Walsh spending a ton of time in New Jersey this season. There’s three main reasons to me, though two go hand in hand: experience, redundancy and the depth chart. The latter two are the ones that are linked, so let’s talk about them first. On the right side, the Devils already have Damon Severson and P.K. Subban slotted in. It’s possible that Walsh outplays one or both of them in training camp, but it’s not what I would call likely.
On top of that, Walsh is a defender in the same vein as those two as well as Will Butcher; known more for their offense than their actual defending. With so many players that already focus more on putting points on the board, the team can afford to take their time with Walsh and his development. Again, if he plays well in camp, maybe he sticks around as a sheltered, third pairing player. He will probably be competing with Ty Smith and/or Connor Carrick for that third pair spot, and even that assumes that the team doesn’t go out and sign some free agents to improve the back end.
The third pair would probably be his ceiling however for his first season with the aforementioned Severson and Subban in front of him. As such, a season in the AHL for some pro experience might be the best part for him. We’ve all seen the Devils rush a few prospects (if not more) into NHL action too soon, and the stunted growth as a result of it has hampered some pieces that could have been more than they were/are. Even if the team doesn’t go and add via free agency, there’s some affordability of patience here.
The Devils are in a hurry to improve, but nor necessarily to be legitimate competitors for a Stanley Cup. With a number of right handed defenders already in place, they should invest some time in seeing what they have in Walsh, before they rush him into NHL action. I see him getting a few games this upcoming season, maybe as an injury fill-in. Other than that, I personally believe he will not be an NHL regular in 2020-21.
I’d like to hear your thoughts on Reilly Walsh’s situation this upcoming season; do you see him playing regular NHL minutes for the Devils? Do you think he’s more likely to spend his season in the AHL? Are you excited about his future as a Devil as well as his potential? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!