The New Jersey Devils are off to a good start in 2022-23, yet still seem to not mind having a few talented youngsters in press box purgatory. Mike examined this in relation to Alex Holtz just over a week ago, and today I want to revisit this idea, but with Kevin Bahl, Bahl seemed primed to become a blue line regular this season after having his best training camp and preseason to date, with impactful underlying numbers demonstrating his effectiveness in the team’s own end. Yet as we have now hit the ten game mark of the regular season, Bahl has only dressed in games where the Devils utilized seven defenders.
Bahl is still exempt from waivers, so does it make sense to keep him scratched in New Jersey when he could be playing down in Utica and further honing his game? At this point, perhaps it is best for Bahl to be in the AHL continuing to grow with other young defenders. The Devils could call up one of the veterans they signed to be the seventh defender, or even sign a free agent to fill that role. The Devils aren’t hurting for contract spots, and while they’re tight against the cap, according to CapFriendly they do have space for a minimum deal due to long-term injured reserve.
While Bahl is already in his third professional season, it is important to remember he’s just 22, and is still developing. Sitting a player who’s developing in the press box is never beneficial to their development, particularly for defenders who often take more time to craft their overall game. Maybe the team feels Bahl has proven his worth at the AHL level and the best way to continue growing his game further is to provide him NHL-level competition. If that’s the case, then why is it he’s only appeared in practices and roughly a half hour of game time across three contests this season?
What’s even more puzzling though is the insistence on continuing to use Brendan Smith as an every night player. I’m not saying Smith brings nothing to the Devils; I actually believe he’s helping as a veteran and can still be effective as the seventh defender. My issue is sitting a statistically better player in favor of someone whose best days are behind him and is in the lineup for intangibles. Even in limited action, Bahl’s shown his value in terms of driving play whereas Smith, while still playing well, isn’t playing as well as Bahl. Additionally, while Bahl did take a penalty in his most recent appearances against Washington, Smith is taking roughly a penalty every other game, with a couple of them being very unnecessary. Maybe with the Devils winning right now, it doesn’t matter which man is playing, however for the team’s long-term success, seeing if Bahl can handle being an every night player should be slightly higher on the priority list.
If the Devils are content with their play, however, then perhaps it’s best to let Kevin Bahl get playing time in Utica. Not only will this help to keep him sharp, but more than likely this aids his long-term development as well. Conversely, if they want to use him as an NHL regular while moving Brendan Smith to the fill-in defender spot, that would also be acceptable. The only bad option in my eyes is keeping him where he’s at right now; it’s not enough playing time to grow for a talented youngster, so the Devils need to make a change one way or the other.
What are your thoughts on the Devils and their usage of Kevin Bahl; should they send him back to Utica for playing time? Should they use him more at the NHL level? Are you content with his current positioning as the team’s seventh defender? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!