Fabian Zetterlund is a very strong - as confirmed by Ryan Novozinsky - winger who has come up through the system since being drafted in the third round of the 2017 NHL Draft. Amid his third season of pro hockey in North America, he received his first taste of the NHL. With the Devils not doing all that well in 2021-22, he received a second call-up for most of April. He excelled with three goals, five assists, and plenty of flexing on opponents. And I do mean excelled. This was in conjunction with a breakout season with the Utica Comets where the right winger posted 24 goals and 52 points in 58 games, a massive jump from the 8 goals and 19 point career highs he had in his first two AHL seasons. This was a player who has arrived, as they would say.
Zetterlund went into this season with the hopes of several of the People Who Matter - myself included - of making the NHL roster out of camp this season. While he was not a star in preseason, he did indeed make the roster. That he is now eligible for waivers probably helped along with his last stint in New Jersey. Zetterlund did wait to have to play, but just the one game. He suited up on October 15 in that horrid home opener against Detroit. Zetterlund played 9:40 and primarily played with Erik Haula and Miles Wood to great effect. As a line, the trio out-attempted the Red Wings 12-3 and Zetterlund set up Wood’s goal in the second period. Zetterlund himself witnessed 14 attempts, 7 shots, and 1 goal (which he created) by the Devils to the Red Wings’ 3 attempts, 3 shots, and zero goals. Not a bad game in a night where the Devils were deservedly booed off the ice in a 2-5 loss to Detroit.
Zetterlund would be rewarded by being taken out of the lineup completely. The coaching staff opted to go with 11 forwards and 7 defensemen for the next game. Curiously, they took out Zetterlund for the Anaheim game for a reason of I could not tell you. Again, Zetterlund played well in his limited ice time and he played well for Lindy Ruff at the end of last season. Yet, he sat in the scratch suite as the Devils came back to beat Anaheim. The Devils won so the roster remained for the Islanders, then for the Sharks, and then for Monday night against Washington.
Alexander Holtz suffered a similar fate. He went from scoring a power play goal in Philly to being demoted to the fourth line to joining Zetterlund as a scratch. This despite an even better preseason from Holtz. On Monday, Mike ended his post about Alexander Holtz’s then-exclusion from the New Jersey Devils lineup with the following (emphasis mine):
With him being waiver exempt, he is an easy player to move up and down (unlike Zetterlund, who warrants a post of his own on this topic) and while he did perform very well in Utica last season, I’m sure there’s room for him to prove he can be even more dominant at that level. If the Devils don’t want to play him in the NHL, they should come up with a better plan than “let him eat some chicken fingers in the scratch suite,” for how they plan to foster his development.
I am declaring that this is that post. As Mike pointed out, Zetterlund cannot just go to Utica like Holtz. He would have to clear waivers. Would he be claimed? Possibly. If he was not, then what would he stand to gain? Zetterlund is 23 and has been in the AHL for the better part of three seasons. There really is not much more there he can learn. Especially after what he did in April 2022. In his first NHL game, he created a goal and Detroit could do nothing much against him - and they did not. I am not sure why Zetterlund had to be dropped from the lineup. So I have to guess.
Here is the best I could come up with in terms of a guess. With the switch to 11 forwards, Jesper Bratt, Dawson Mercer, and Tomas Tatar have been used at right wing. Bratt and Mercer have been mainstays. Tatar, for all of the criticism from last season, has been working as hard as anyone to produce. To a fault, sometimes, given the penalties he has taken. Then there’s Nathan Bastian. Bastian and Michael McLeod have been used in limited fashion with various others being double-shifted with them. They largely have been used for penalty killing and spot work here and there. A luxury, but Lindy Ruff and his staff has done well to not over-extend the other nine forwards. It has led to three wins so, of course, it was not going to be addressed.
This, in spite of the fact that Bastian and McLeod have not exactly been all that great in their limited use. Not that you go to either for points, but they had zero throughout the week. In terms of the run of play in 5-on-5, they were tilting the ice but so was every other line. As far as the penalty kill work, it has been good. But not necessarily special enough as other forwards have done their job well. Not to mention that Zetterlund was able to do it in the AHL and could feasibly follow the formation. Bastian is bigger and has more NHL games under his belt. That is pretty much what he has over Zetterlund unless I’ve missed something. Zetterlund may be stronger (he’s the Swole Swede for a reason) and we know he can throw his body around, antagonize bigger opposing players (just ask Miro Heiskanen), and chip in a little more than just once in a while - something he did in his first game. I struggle to grasp the argument that Bastian has to be in the lineup when Zetterlund could probably do everything he does and possibly better.
As this week began, an opportunity for Zetterlund presented himself. Between a thrashing by the Washington Capitals on Monday night and Ondrej Palat picking up a lower body injury, Zetterlund (and Holtz) re-entered the lineup for the first time in a couple of games. The game was in against Detroit. Holtz had a night that he may want to move on from quickly, as he took a penalty and could have denied Detroit’s second goal against. Zetterlund, on the other hand, showcased why he should have been in the lineup more often in the first place. Just like he did in the home opener.
On Tuesday, October 25, Zetterlund was lined up with next to Tatar (now at left wing) and Nico Hischier. This line crushed it in large part of Zetterlund’s energetic play. He was a force from the wing and kept attacking Alex Nedeljkovic with pucks. On a night where the Devils dominated the Red Wings on the shot count (39-17 in 5-on-5, 41-22 in total) and run of play (61-38 in 5-on-5 attempts), the leading shot taker and attempter for the Devils was Zetterlund. He took 8 attempts and put 7 on Nedeljkovic - more than any other Devil in the 6-2 beating of Detroit. Nedeljkovic robbed Zetterlund of an assist as well as a goal on a rebound try I am still stunned Nedeljkovic got in front of. Zetterlund took no penalties and no nonsense when Detroit tried to hit their way out of their problems; he just kept on shooting and going where he wanted. And these advances did not lead to the Red Wings picking on him defensively. When Zetterlund was on the ice, Detroit took exactly 8 shooting attempts, 3 actually got to Vitek Vanecek, and none went in. Outside of getting on the scoresheet, I’m hardpressed to come up with what he would have to do to be more impressive in Detroit. It is certainly a lot better than Nathan Bastian, who certainly did not have a bad game himself.
Surely, Zetterlund’s night in Detroit should be enough to warrant more minutes. I am writing this up on Wednesday evening ahead of this posting on Friday morning ahead of Friday night’s game against Colorado. I am hoping that Zetterlund is in the lineup against the Avs. I am hoping that Zetterlund continues to demonstrate to the coaching staff that he deserves further playing time. I am confident that Zetterlund has the capability to play regularly in the NHL. Not just from last season, but just from his two games against Detroit in this season alone. Who, looks at these games from #49 and says, “He must sit,” who? Do they not want the Devils to get a boost from a beefy winger who can rampage oppositions?
If he is not in the lineup tonight or after games where Zetterlund does quite well, then there is a problem. A relatively young skater does well and gets immediately dropped the lineup while other possibly lesser players continue to play. I cannot imagine that would a good message to the player being dropped - or some of other players on the roster. Maybe not a massive one, but a problem that did not need to be created. And it was a message sent with Zetterlund being oddly scratched for four games before showing up in Detroit. Zetterlund played well again. Hopefully, this problem is not repeated today. The solution is clear: Play Fabian Zetterlund. Until he shows otherwise or he cannot due to injury. Play Fabian Zetterlund. It is the right thing to do. Play Fabian Zetterlund. He lifts more than just weights; he can help lift a team’s performance. Just ask the Red Wings.
Clearly, I am in favor of more and continued appearances of Fabian Zetterlund for the New Jersey Devils. What about you? Why do you think he was dropped from the lineup after the home opener? Do you think he should remain in the lineup after his second game against Detroit? If not, why? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Zetterlund in the comments. Thank you for reading.