Training camp for the veterans and the rookies has begun this morning for the New Jersey Devils. The team released their roster. It looks like, well, everyone else’s training camp roster this week. A group much larger than 23 players consisting of NHL veterans, NHL rookies, players hoping to be NHL players, AHL players, and a smattering of PTOs and prospects. The Devils are no different with the 56 players currently in camp. Here’s the list by position. I will include my “brief,” at-a-glance thoughts for each position in terms of who can make the team, who cannot (read: prospects and AHL-only signed players), and everyone else.
Goaltenders (7): Mackenzie Blackwood, Vitek Vanecek, Nico Daws, Akira Schmid, Tyler Brennan (Prospect), Jonathan Bernier, Isaac Poulter (AHL)
Poulter is on an AHL contract so he cannot make the team. He was one of two players on the Rookie Camp roster that did not play in the 2022 Prospects Challenge too. He’s here to make up the numbers. While Bernier is listed, it is expected he will be on long term injured reserve and will not play. Brennan is a hold-over from the rookie camp. He did do well in his one Prospects Challenge game and the Devils needed another goalie in camp, so it makes sense to keep him on for another week or so. He will likely return to Prince George in the WHL after then. If only because he does not yet have an entry level contract.
This position is the one with the least amount of competition in New Jersey. Despite all of the everything of 2021-22. Blackwood and Vanecek are the NHL goalies. Daws, Schmid, and Poulter will jockey for appearances in Utica along with Marek Mitens.
Defensemen (18): Kevin Bahl, Filip Bratt (AHL), Jarrod Gourley (AHL), Ryan Graves, Jeremy Groleau, Dougie Hamilton, Thomas Hickey (PTO), John Marino, Simon Nemec, Nikita Okhotiuk, Robbie Russo, Damon Severson, Jonas Siegenthaler, Brendan Smith, Topias Vilen, Michael Vukojevic, Reilly Walsh, Tyler Wotherspoon
Out of these 18, we can rule out Bratt and Gourley making the team as they have AHL deals. Both come over from the rookie camp and, again, are here to help make an even three sets of six defenders. Hickey is with the Devils on a PTO so he will need to be signed should the Devils want him in New Jersey or in Utica.
Some of these names are dead-set to make the roster: Hamilton, Severson, Graves, Siegenthaler, and Marino. That’s five already. Smith was signed to be a depth defender; he could be the sixth man but he may end up being more of a seventh man. What this means is that, on paper, there is at least one spot open in camp for New Jersey’s blueline. Some we can rule out immediately based on a lack of call-ups and upside such as Groleau, Vukojevic, Wotherspoon, and Russo. Vilen may end up being loaned back to Pelicans in the Liiga short of an outstanding preseason.
There could be five people fighitng for one spot. They will be of key interest over the seven preseason games in the next two weeks. Does second overall pick Simon Nemec command a NHL spot right away? Bahl and Walsh have been seasoned in the minors and their ELCs end after this season; so this camp is critical to show that they have a future beyond Utica. The same applies to Okhotiuk except he is a bit younger, has another year left on his deal, and may have the physical edge some think the defense needs. Does Hickey surprise as a PTO and the veteran takes the spot? We shall see.
Forwards (31): Nathan Bastian, Jesper Boqvist, Jesper Bratt, Graeme Clarke, Jack Dugan, Josh Filmon (Prospect), Nolan Foote, Joe Gambardella, Mason Geertsen, Brian Halonen, Erik Haula, Nico Hischier, Alexander Holtz, Jack Hughes, Andreas Johnsson, Sam Laberge (AHL), Michael McLeod, Dawson Mercer, Ondrej Palat, Xavier Parent (AHL), Brian Pinho, Zach Senyshyn (PTO), Yegor Sharangovich, Nolan Stevens (AHL), Chase Stillman, Aarne Talvitie, Tomas Tatar, Tyce Thompson, Garrett Van Wyhe (AHL), Miles Wood, Fabian Zetterlund
Van Wyhe, Parent, and Filmon all come from the rookie camp roster to this one. Filmon, like Brennan, is a prospect from the WHL who basically “earned” additional time in camp as well as help fill out the forward group. He did well at the Prospects Challenge. However, like Brennan, he will likely be returned to his WHL team in Swift Current in the near future. After all, he is not yet signed with New Jersey. Parent, Van Wyhe, Stevens, and Laberge are all on AHL deals, so they cannot make the NHL roster either. That leaves 26 forwards fighting for somewhere between 12 to 14 spots.
Again, we can fill in most, if not all, of those spots right away. Hughes, Hischier, Bratt, Mercer, Palat, Sharangovich, Wood, Haula, Bastian, Tatar, Johnsson, Boqvist, and McLeod are New Jersey Devils for the time being. That’s 13 players right there. And, as with the defensemen, we can rule out those signed to NHL deals but largely play in the AHL already. I would consider Talvitie, Dugan, Clarke (who was the other player to not play at the Prospects Challenge), Pinho, and Gambardella to that group - another five already sorted. Chase Stillman is on an ELC but short of an amazing camp, he will likely go back to junior for another season as he is 19. This leaves 7 forwards remaining.
However, the Devils would be wise to carry a second extra forward if/when injuries happen. This is where the hope lies for Holtz, Zetterlund, and Thompson - who would be the ones I think most of the People Who Matter want to see fight for a spot. This is also where Geertsen may slot in if/when he makes the team for reasons I still do not understand. (Aside: He sucks at the thing you think he’s good at.) Foote, Brian Halonen, and try-out Senyshyn are long shots at this spot. That there could be seven players fighting to be the 13th or 14th forward on the team speaks to the amount of players developed.
It also speaks to the idea that perhaps the Devils should move a forward soon. I can get behind that. It does not have to be anything significant, such as moving one or both of Tatar and Johnsson. Or trading another NHL player away. Just someone moved off New Jersey to make a little more room. It could even be a demotion to Utica, even with the risk of waivers. I want to see some room made because, pending preseason games, I would like to see both Holtz and Zetterlund be able to make the Devils roster along with seven defensemen carried.
The 2022-23 season will begin for the Devils on October 13. The competition to secure roster spots begins today and will continue through October 8 - the date of the Devils’ final preseason game. Next week features two back-to-back sets of preseason games and a weekend off. I would anticipate some significant cuts to take place after those four preseason games. Pay attention to who is and is not in those games as well as how they play - not so much if they produce, but how they work on and off the puck. That will go a long way towards keeping or taking a roster spot.
Who are you excited to see in camp? Who has the best chances of making the roster right now that is not already an established NHL player? Please leave your answers and other thoughts in the comments. Thank you for reading.