Friday, March 3rd is a day that lives in infamy.
One may ask why that is so. Is it because March 3rd is the day the United States adopted the Star-Spangled Banner as its National Anthem in 1931 or for opera lovers perhaps March 3rd marks a celebration of the Paris Opera opening in 1671? For the more meme-inclined, maybe the true essence of March 3rd can be summed up in the observance of What if Dogs and Cats had Opposable Thumbs Day? Everyone has their preferences.
Whatever your preferred remembrance of March 3rd is you’d be wrong — as least how it relates to this blog. It’s the NHL trade deadline.
For the first time in years, the Devils will be buyers and not sellers at the deadline. Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald has repeatedly stated that he prefers to build his team in the summer than at the deadline, so don’t expect too many rentals. [NJ.Com] That said, the Devils GM has not been shy about suggesting a long-term add if a deal makes sense for the team and a top six forward seems to be a potential target. One such player the Devils seem to covet is San Jose Shark Timo Meier, but others have also been rumored.
So, in the spirit of the season, the New Jersey Devils Prospect Update will not ponder the question of what my labradane Hanna would do if she could open the refrigerator by herself, but rather what Devils prospects could be on the move before the deadline. For more information on Devils potential trade targets I suggest you read Jared W. Moore’s series of excellent articles on this site and for rankings of other Devils trade assets I suggest reading John Fischer’s well-thought out article here.
This list will only focus on prospects likely to be moved, so I am excluding from this list players who suit up regularly for the Devils who are no longer prospects but may be included as part of a trade such as Kevin Bahl, Fabian Zetterlund and Jesper Boqvist and also top shelf prospects unlikely to be parted with, namely Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec. As James Nichols reports:
Maybe this is or isn’t obvious but I’ve been asked a few times so I’ll say it.— James Nichols (@JamesNicholsNHL) February 13, 2023
I’m told both Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec are absolutely off the table in any trade talks. Non-starter. #NJDevils
While no player is ever completely off the table (even Gretzky was traded), the chances of the Devils moving Simon Nemec or Luke Hughes before the deadline are extraordinarily slim. So, let’s delve in to the other prospects more likely to be dealt.
The Top Tier — Alexander Holtz
Alexander Holtz deserves a tier by himself as the former 7th overall pick is the only prospect not named Luke Hughes or Simon Nemec, who could be the centerpiece of a very significant trade at the deadline. After last year’s nearly point per game rookie campaign in the AHL, Holtz has struggled to gain any traction this season in the NHL under Lindy Ruff.
The way he has been treated by the Devils this season is so baffling it has generated two AATJ articles. [One and Two] Holtz, who only turned 21 in January, is too young to need the proverbial “change in scenery” but the strange handling of the young sniper, who has only suited up for 19 games this season, seems to have left Holtz stuck in a state of arrested development. The Devils have tried to remedy this by sending Holtz down to Utica this past week, but it still feels like a wasted year of Holtz’s development.
If the Devils trade for a top six winger that would also make Holtz more expendable as hewill either succeed or fail in the NHL in a similar role. The smart money is still on Holtz succeeding, but the young sniper is not the untouchable prospect in the Devils system that he once was.
The Second Tier — Shakir Mukhamadullin, Seamus Casey, and Arseni Gritsyuk
This silver tier of prospects consists of players the Devils could make available as significant assets in part of a major trade package. Per Elliotte Friedman several teams have inquired about Shakir Mukhamadullin, who is set to come over to North America after his season ends in the KHL. [NJ.Com $] A former first round pick, Mukhamadullin has developed well in recent years and currently has 24 points in 63 games for Salavat.
Another Russian player who could be on the move is winger Arseni Gritsyuk. It’s unclear what the Devils long term plans are for the KHL rookie of the year last season, but they do not seem likely to bring him over at the end of the season. Gritsyuk is playing well for Avangard with 38 points in 63 games.
Lastly, Seamus Casey has been a bit of a revelation after being selected by the Devils in the 2nd round last year. The 19-year-old right-handed defenseman has seen his stock rise after putting up 19 points in his first 26 games for the University of Michigan. With Nemec in the system ahead of him and Marino and Hamilton locked up long term on the right side, Casey could be a player the Devils dangle at the deadline.
The Third Tier — Nikita Okhotiuk, Chase Stillman, Graeme Clarke and Nolan Foote
The bronze tier of prospects have value but would probably need to be packaged together with several other assets in any significant move. Of the group, Okhotiuk, in particular, has garnered some interest per Elliotte Friedman. The bruising blueliner has suited up for ten games for the Devils this season in a depth role and seems poised to become a third pairing NHL defenseman whether on the Devils or somewhere else.
Also included in this tier is a trio of wingers who could garner some interest. Chase Stillman still has the cache of a former first round pick, but hasn’t lived up to that billing in the OHL since his draft year. Nolan Foote, who is tied for the Comets lead in goals with 16, does not seem to have enough speed for the Devils fast-attacking playstyle and might be a better fit in another system. Clarke, who has broken out this season with a team-leading 36 points in 47 games for the Utica Comets also deserves some consideration.
The Fourth Tier — Reilly Walsh and Topias Vilen
Per Elliotte Friedman, teams have also called on Reilly Walsh, who I list just below the bronze tier. At 23 years-old, Walsh is a player who should be moved as he has slipped down the Devils depth chart and his path to the Devils is all but blocked barring a series of injuries. If Friedman’s reports are correct, I hope Tom Fitzgerald is listening. Walsh is a player who could carve out a niche NHL role as a sheltered third-pairing defenseman and power play specialist. It’s a tough role, but Will Butcher played 275 NHL games so anything is possible. However, it is not a role the Devils need at the NHL level with Dougie Hamilton as a power play mainstay on the right side, So, Walsh is unlikely to get an opportunity in New Jersey. Though Walsh’s trade value is at an all-time low, if teams are calling as Elliotte Friedman reports, then Fitz should make a move, whether as part of a bigger package or just to recoup some picks and give Walsh a chance to live out his dreams somewhere that needs a player like him.
Also in this tier, Topias Vilen has had a breakout year in the Liiga this season. Though Vilen has cooled down of late, he still has a respectable points 11 points in 33 games to go along with a strong defensive game. There is a lot to like in the 19 year-old left-handed defenseman, who is set to come over to North America after his season ends. It’s hard to gauge exactly what Vilen’s trade value would be, but it’s likely a shade below the more established prospects. With the logjam on defense building in the Devils system, someone will have to be moved and Vilen could be an attractive add for a rebuilding team.
Honorable Mention: Ethan Edwards
Ethan Edwards gets an honorable mention as the Devils are heading towards a trade him or likely lose him situation with the left-handed blueliner. Unlikely to be signed this off-season, Edwards will be heading into his junior season in the NCAA next year. After that, a decision will have to be made with Edwards before he starts his senior season.
Although it’s often pointed out that it is rare that teams lose unsigned players after graduation, it does happen (as Alex Kerfoot and Will Butcher can attest) and Edwards and his agent must see the logjam of young defensemen ahead of him on the depth chart in New Jersey. So, if Edwards is not signed soon, he seems like a prime candidate to wait until after his senior year in order to sign with another team that will give him a better chance of making the NHL. Moving Edwards while he still has some value makes sense for the Devils from an asset management perspective. While the Devils could wait until the off-season to trade Edwards or dangle him before next year’s trade deadline as a sweetener, the clock starts ticking pretty fast after that. Edwards may not garner much value, but he is a legitimate prospect and the Devils would be wise not to let that asset go to waste.
Now is the time to tell us what you think. Who do you think the Devils trade before the deadline? Who do you not want them to trade? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
Next week the Devils Prospect Update cycles back to Europe. As the trade deadline is nearing, I won’t announce a spotlight just yet. Stay tuned.