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Can Brett Seney Still Carve Out a Role in New Jersey the Devils?

The now-24-year-old Merrimack product led the Binghamton Devils in scoring last season, does he have anything to offer in the NHL or is he destined to be a AHL/NHL tweener?

Minnesota Wild v New Jersey Devils

This week, we’ve been cycling through the players likely to make up the fringes of the Devils roster and get to the bottom of who has the best chance to carve out a role for themselves on the 2020-21 team. Today, we look at a prospect/player who has been very good in Binghamton since arriving in late 2017-18 and has even played 53 games for the big club over the past two seasons, but has been relegated to something of an afterthought with all of the new arrivals via more recent drafts and trades. That player is winger Brett Seney, a small forward with a bit of scoring touch entering his third full pro season. Can he carve out a position on the NHL roster? It might be an uphill climb at this point, but let’s look at how he got to this point and see how he could fit into the picture in Newark.

What Has Seney Done Up to This Point?

Brett Seney was drafted in the 6th round, 157th overall by the Devils back in the 2015 draft. The 2015 Entry Draft was actually Seney’s second go-around of eligibility, as he went undrafted out of the Junior A-level OJHL in 2014. Seney would head to the NCAA for his freshman season after going undrafted and put up a strong season at Merrimack College. The Devils took note and drafted Seney as an overager in the 6th round. Merrimack is generally an also-ran in the NCAA hockey ranks but Seney was a big fish in that small pond and led the team in scoring each one of his four years at the program (though he never quite cracked the point per game threshold).

When Seney finished his senior season in 2018, he quickly signed on with the Devils and headed to Binghamton, where he immediately had a pro impact, putting up 8 points in 12 games in his first pro action in the AHL. It was obvious from the jump that Seney had the goods to substantially contribute at the AHL level but, as with any prospect, whether that translates to the NHL is a completely different animal. In training camp for the 2018-19 season, Seney got a long look, appearing in four preseason games, but ultimately went back to Binghamton to start the season.

After a good start in the AHL, though, Seney got the call to the NHL in November 2018 and he hung around for a hefty chunk of the 2018-19 season, ultimately playing 51 games total for New Jersey. Seney showed he wasn’t completely out of his depth in the NHL — as evidenced by the amount of games he appeared in — and he scored at a respectable-enough rate for a fourth liner, putting up 13 points (5g, 8a) in those 51 games, about 0.25 a game. Overall, it seemed to be a decent enough rookie season at first glance.

Digging a little bit more deeply into Seney’s 2018-19 season, though, the limitations start to appear. Seney can clearly score a little bit, but to hang around in an NHL bottom-six when you don’t have upper-end talent, you generally need to have some versatility to your game, and Seney’s play without the puck leaves something to be desired. A broad view of his on-ice numbers quickly show some struggles. Despite not seeing particularly difficult minutes, Seney found himself last on the team in ES xGF% (expected goals for %) among semi-regular players (300+ minutes) and second to last in CF% (shot attempts for %) and GF% (goals for %).

It wasn’t that Seney was a total disaster as a defensive player specifically (his xGA rate actually wasn’t so bad), it was that as a driver of team-level results, he had things going in the wrong direction at both ends of the ice. In watching him, the effort was there for Seney, too, he just didn’t have to size to win a lot of board battles or the apparent instincts to really anticipate plays and consistently create chances or breakouts for his team. His microstats, measuring his ability to create zone entries and chances individually, are brutal (with the caveat that it’s a small sample). His isolated impacts on the ice from HockeyViz are rough for 2018-19, with significant negatives in both directions, and the RAPM numbers from Evolving Hockey echo that. His microstats from Corey Sznajder/CJ are shown below, along with the isos from HockeyViz and RAPM from Evolving Hockey.

Seney microstats for 2018-19
via Corey Sznajder/CJ Turtoro
Seney isolated impacts
via HockeyViz
Seney RAPM 2018-19
via Evolving Wild

In short, digging beyond the score line for Seney doesn’t do him a lot of favors. Now, Seney was just a rookie in 2018-19 and he wasn’t exactly blessed with linemates or a team environment you’d expect someone to thrive in, but it also can’t be ignored when you are considering filling out a roster heading into 2020-21.

The Devils, aside from a quick 2-game November call-up/relegation, saw fit to let Seney do his thing in the AHL in 2019-20. To his credit, Seney had a strong season down in Binghamton, where he led the team in scoring (third in pts/game among regulars) and spent plenty of time on a top line for a BDevs team that had reasonable success with a big second-half resurgence before the season was cut short. Jeff Ulmer and his panel voted Seney Binghamton’s top forward in their year-end awards, so Seney clearly had a big hand in the team’s success.

So Can/Should Seney Make the 2020-21 Team?

The question now is does Seney still have a chance for an NHL career in his future and, most importantly for most of you reading this, can he be a contributor for the New Jersey Devils going forward? The competition for the bottom spots on the 20210-21 roster figures to be pretty heated, so I think Seney has an uphill battle to win out for a few different reasons. As you have seen over the past couple weeks if you’ve been reading AAtJ, or if you just have a general understanding of the organizational depth chart, there will be a lot of players fighting for time in New Jersey’s bottom-six, and unfortunately for Seney, a lot of them probably have a higher ceiling.

Now 24 years of age, Seney is inching toward that line where a player flips from a prospect to just another fringe NHLer. I think he may have a short window to carve out a bit more of a career than “occasional call-up” but the clock is ticking. Looking at Binghamton’s roster from last year and adding in the other new pro arrivals for the Devils, where does Seney fit into that hierarchy? Most of the other players who will be considered for the roster are younger and many likely have higher ceilings than Seney, to boot.

Seney will be competing with a list of players that includes Jesper Boqvist, Nolan Foote, Janne Kuokkanen, Joey Anderson, Michael McLeod, Nathan Bastian, and Nick Merkley for maybe two or three roster spots, tops, depending on what the Devils do in free agency. Still more players like Mikhail Maltsev, Fabian Zetterlund, and Yegor Sharangovich could work their way into the conversation at some point during the season as well. How many from that group does Seney have a better chance than of being on the Devils roster in a year or two? Perhaps a handful, but they are all younger and have more developmental runway in front of them.

They way I think Seney could fit in on this team is as a guy that they feel less pressure to force into bigger roles than the de facto 12th forward. For many of the other prospects listed above who are competing for spots heading into this season, the Devils likely have top-nine aspirations. If the last spot on the roster is going to be getting 10 ES minutes a night next to a couple other fringe NHLers, will the Devils want to fill that with a player like Nolan Foote or Jesper Boqvist that they ideally want in top-nine or even top-six scoring role in the future? Those players could be better served by a return to Binghamton where they can play a large role until space opens up on the roster from injuries or other reasons. The Devils kept Jesper Boqvist around last season heading into October and then gave him an ill-defined and uneven role while bouncing him in and out of the lineup and he had a hugely disappointing season until they finally sent him down.

With Seney, the Devils likely have a fairly good idea of the player he can be at this point and it’s probably not one that will be spending a whole lot of time in a top-nine. They know he can at least play NHL minutes adequately(ish), and if he has improved a bit from two years ago, he might be a half-decent pesky fourth-line scorer in the right situation. He draws a lot of penalties and can chip in on the scoreboard here and there, so if you put him with a couple linemates who can move the needle — or at least not get crushed — territorially (paging Dr. Zajac), you might end up with a fourth line that is a genuine annoyance for other teams instead of cannon-fodder.

If I’m being genuine, my hope is that the Devils have moved beyond Seney as a prospect. I think the roster needs to improve significantly, and if Seney is starting in the opening night lineup, part of me will wonder how there aren’t better options with a system that has gotten as purportedly deep as the Devils’. Even if you take out the guys with top-nine hopes, guys like Nathan Bastian and Joey Anderson seem to have more upside as NHL role players, even on a fourth line. That said, I do think there’s a way Seney can scratch out a role on the team and be a positive contributor around the edges. He wouldn’t be my first selection in that capacity, but I think he has enough talent and work rate as a player to potentially be effective in a minor NHL role. This may be his last best shot to do even that, though, at least for this Devils team.