The last remaining restricted free agent for the New Jersey Devils in this offseason has now been signed. Earlier today, the New Jersey Devils announced that Fabian Zetterlund has been re-signed for a two-way contract for one season. When Zetterlund is in the NHL, he will be paid at a rate of $750,000. When he is in the AHL, he will be paid at a rate of $125,000. Per the Devils’ announcement, Zetterlund will get at least $175,000 in salary for 2022-23. Therefore, he will get paid a little bit more than his AHL salary even if he is there all season. Obviously, if he ends up in the NHL for long enough to get past $175,000 in salary, he will get more than that with the given rates.
It is very much a low-stakes deal that you see for many minor league players. Zetterlund did play in 14 games in 2021-22 and he was awesome in April 2022. He was a bright spot in a dismal final month of last season. Enough to make some of the People Who Matter, like me, to think he should at least have an inside track on a roster spot in New Jersey in the Fall. He is strong, he can be quick, he was a positive force in 5-on-5 in that April stint, and he flashed enough skill to be more than just a beefy boy on the wing. If not in that last month of the season, then certainly in the AHL as he was the second-leading scorer on the Utica Comets last season with 24 goals and 28 assists. How Zetterlund is seen by management from his Utica play will be a factor for his near future.
Zetterlund will absolutely be one to watch for in camp. One good month in the NHL does not necessarily mean a player is worthy of a full season of NHL hockey. Especially a month where the team had nothing of value to play for, which showed as the team went 3-8-4 with zero wins at home. How he shows up along side the bottom six forwards and other Comets fighting for a spot in the roster will determine if he starts next season in New Jersey or not. I would be inclined to think he would. Last season was Zetterlund’s third season and given he signed at age 20, he is no longer exempt from waivers. Being demoted to Utica would risk him getting snagged by another team. As he was one of Utica’s top scorers and he is on a cheap one-season deal, I can see another squad taking a flier on him
if only to boost their AHL team. (Update: No, the crossed-out can’t happen. Zetterlund would have to go through waivers again to be demoted if claimed.) Of course, if Zetterlund does not perform well in camp and preseason games, then the risk may be worth taking than keeping him on the roster after a camp. He still has to show he belongs. The one-season, two-way contract with a NHL minimum salary supports that.
To that end, I am fine with the signing. As with Tyce Thompson’s contract, it is so small in cap room that one really cannot find fault with it. CapFriendly still shows the Devils at just barely under the ceiling ($73,375 to be exact) as they list Zetterlund as non-roster with the other Comets. I presume the Devils’ plan will be to put Jonathan Bernier on Long Term Injured Reserve to make more space for call-ups and future moves as the season gets closer. With this signing, the Devils have no other free agents to sign within the team. Barring any big moves from GM Tom Fitzgerald, the remainder of this offseason will likely consist of PTO announcements until the Prospects Challenge and training camp begin in September. (In the meantime, enjoy Luke Hughes in the WJCs.)
Should Zetterlund perform well in camp, I think he will start in New Jersey, claw his spot on the roster, and work to earn a more lucrative contract next season. If not, then he may be sent down through waivers and, should he pass, the Devils may opt to cut ties short of another strong season in Utica. Zetterlund is 23 years old. He is not likely going to improve a whole lot more than what he is; but a little bit is certainly reasonable. Still, this season will be an important one for Zetterlund’s NHL career. I wish him the best. I do hope the Swole Swede has a strong camp and lift expectations to a regular bottom six role at wing during this coming season. P.S. Ryan Novozinsky has confirmed that, yes, Zetterlund absolutely lifts.
Now I want to know what you think. What is your reaction to this signing? Do you think Zetterlund makes the Devils roster out of camp this season? Do you think he ends up in Utica at some point or, worse, gets claimed off waivers when he is demoted? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Zetterlund in the comments.