A large portion of the New Jersey Devils roster is seemingly determined for the upcoming 2021-22 season. Players who have been tenured on the NHL club for a while, as well as their shiny new free agent signings will make up the core for the coming season, but as we have discussed in prior articles leading up to this point, there’s still a couple of slots left. Some feel that internal fills (such as Jesper Boqvist) are the best way to go, while others feel perhaps some of the PTOs that the team offered a couple of days ago might serve the group better.
Let’s play Devil’s Advocate for a moment (shout out to CJ’s previous series under that name as well) and assume the external contracts are the way to go. Let’s also assume here that the team wants to sign someone who is initially on a PTO so that they can see the fit with the rest of the team prior to the start of the regular season. If those two hypotheticals are true, then should the Devils be satisfied with the players they have to look at? With Jimmy Vesey, Mark Jankowski, and Tyler Wotherspoon coming to camp to fight for jobs, are there others who perhaps have a higher potential of making the roster>
A cursory look over at the remaining free agents on CapFriendly yields a few names that I personally think could be more impactful than at least one or two of those already on PTOs. The first one would be Alex Galchenyuk, who spent all of last season in Canada, with his time split between Ottawa and Toronto. While Galchenyuk did not have the most effective season, he did pick up his scoring pace a bit after joining the Maple Leafs. Personally, I would rather have Galchenyuk in camp than Vesey; both spent time with the Leafs last season, and while Alex wasn’t much more efficient than Jimmy, he ended his season on a strong note, while Vesey (after joining the Canucks) ended on a downward trajectory.
If the Devils are interested in a defender who might challenge some of the incumbents and move the needle a bit more than Wotherspoon, then maybe Erik Gustafsson might be worth a look as a bit of a reclamation project. After 60 points in 79 games with the Blackhawks in 2018-19, his play regressed and he spent parts of the past two seasons being shuffled between the Hawks and three other teams. Gustafsson is more of an offensive defender than someone who will help to shut down the opposition, so he may not be what the Devils are looking for, especially as they paid Buffalo to take another offense-minded back end player in Will Butcher. If that’s the case, I don’t see Wotherspoon pushing for a spot (his PTO seems more likely to be a lead in to strengthen Utica), but I don’t think the team would want to give Gustafsson one either.
Out of the three PTOs offered, I do think Jankowski might have the best opportunity to make the team; he’s more or less a defensive specialist center, which the Devils lost when they traded Travis Zajac to the Islanders. I’ve already stated before that unless the Islanders have interest (or an already signed contract that has yet to be announced), the Devils should look into another year or two of Travis. He can still play defense, he would bring more offense than Jankowski, and again is already familiar with the system. I can understand the hesitance for retreads, but if Zajac is available, why replace him with Zajac-lite?
I have to start this concluding section by mentioning I am happy the Devils are bringing in guys to compete and push the younger players in training camp. My concern again lies in the players they are choosing, unless the thought process here is that the three (outside of maybe Jankowski) won’t make the team outright and would accept a contract where they could be assigned to Utica. I think better options exist, especially if the Devils are trying to find guys to fill out the ranks, rather than just bodies to plug in during preseason.
Do you think the Devils should still be looking to sign any players with training camp on the horizon? Any PTOs that you would like to see added to the existing group? Do you believe the team signed the right guys to PTOs or not? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!