The New Jersey Devils will begin training camp for NHL rookies this Tuesday, September 14. Veterans will report on the following Tuesday, September 21. In between, the Devils will play three games in Buffalo for the 2022 Prospect Challenge. The team’s preseason will begin on Monday, September 26. The Summer is almost over and so is the hockey-less offseason for NHL teams. However, this leads to a question: What is the purpose of the rookie camp?
From my understanding, the reason to have those players come in a week early is to get the NHL rookies - prospects with and not with the Utica Comets - in form ahead of those expected to make the roster. Getting some additional time to drill, scrimmage, and those exhibition games will give the coaches and team personnel more information as to whether the player has progressed or could fill a larger role than what they had. In other words, it is to give them an opportunity to earn a future opportunities when the vets report to camp and when NHL preseason games begin. Why would a team want to do that? In a word: depth.
Training camp and preseason is used to determine the makeup of the roster for the start of the season. The most a team can have at anyone time is 23 players active roster. A team shall use, at most, 20 players for games. However, a team will absolutely use more than 20 to 23 players in an 82-game season. Injuries will happen. Poor performances will command changes. Management may make transactions for the roster from waiver wire pickups (and losses) to trades and perhaps even a signing. It is a long season in the NHL and the grind is real with several weeks of 3 to 4 games in a 7-day week. A team will need to establish a depth chart beyond the 13th forward or the 7th defenseman.
In the case of the New Jersey Devils, they may need to prepare to use at least 20 forwards and 9 defensemen at one point or another in the 2022-23 season. Why those specific numbers? Because that’s the minimum number of players used at those positions over the last twelve seasons. (And having 3-4 goalies in mind is also a plus.)
Sure, there can be outliers like the 7 goalies used last season. However, the Devils often had to go 3-6 defensemen deeper than the traditional six-man blueline over the course of a season. At least 8 more forwards were used. A total of 41 players is the most the Devils have used within the last twelve seasons and it happened three times.
It is true that some of these numbers are a result of the team not being good for most of these seasons. In selling players, someone had to be called up to take their place. However, that is kind of the point I am trying to make. A lot of call-ups will be made throughout the season for one reason or another. This means a team needs to have a handle on who they can call up from Utica beyond just one or two players. That is determined initially by how those players do in rookie camp ahead of the start of the season. That is the reason for this camp: to help establish depth beyond the 23-man roster.
Of course, it is not as simple as picking the next man on the list at the position. The context of the call up matters. If, say, Brendan Smith gets injured and a defender needs to be called up, then whoever is brought up for Smith may be different than if, say, Damon Severson was out. The length of the call-up may play a role too. Someone more experienced may get the call for an extended one whereas someone younger may get shorter call ups of one or two games to see how they do. How the players are doing in Utica also plays a role in terms of who gets called up. If, say, Nolan Foote catches fire and the Devils need a forward, then perhaps he gets a call up that he otherwise would not get. Likewise, if someone in Utica is hurt, then they cannot be called up. And should the player be seen as having a future in New Jersey - Simon Nemec comes to mind here - then there is a balance the team has to manage between giving someone a shot in the NHL and letting them develop at a lower level (and, in Nemec’s case, let an ELC slide into 2023-24). The larger point is that the depth chart will change as the season goes on. And the next best forward or defenseman (or goalie) may not get a call up if they are ill-suited for the role New Jersey needs to fill for the time being.
Still, this all gets established for this season to some degree by the work that gets put in ahead of the 2022-23 season. That starts this week for many of the players that may get to come to Newark if only out of a necessary call up. How well they show up in shape - it is Best Shape of Your Life Season - in physicals matters. How much they took away from last season and can demonstrate improvements in drills and scrimmages matter. How well they do in exhibition games matter. A good impression can be set now. That could lead to later opportunities down the line, be it later in training camp and preseason (Jesper Bratt is proof of this) or during the actual season and New Jersey needs someone in Utica to be a Devil for a few games or more (like Nico Daws last season).
Depth will go deeper than the 23-man roster that makes the team for opening night on October 13. This week will begin the process of establishing who those players are for at least the start of the 2022-23 campaign. It is not necessarily exciting or worthy of fanfare to find out who’s the 17th or 18th forward; the 9th or 10th defenseman; or whether Nico Daws or Akira Schmid should be the team’s #3 goalie. But as past seasons show they may very get their time in the NHL - even if it is just for a game. Good luck to all involved. Most of all, do not get hurt at the Prospects Challenge.
Lastly, no, as of this writing, a roster has not yet been announced. The point of this post is general enough. When one is announced, we’ll have a post up for it. Thank you for reading.