Today officially began training camp on the ice for the New Jersey Devils. Players are skating. News will come out for many things. First and foremost, a roster has been announced by the team. 57 players are in Newark. This group will eventually be pared down to an active roster of no more than 23 after preseason games.
Per the team, the 57 consists of eight goalies, 17 defensemen, and 32 forwards. They are as follows:
Goalies (8): Vitek Vanecek, Akira Schmid, Keith Kinkaid, Erik Källgren, Tyler Brennan, Nico Daws, Jeremy Brodeur, and Isaac Poulter.
Among this group, Daws is expected to be still recovering until December while Brodeur and Poulter are on AHL deals. This means only five of these goalies are really in the mix. Let us be real: This is Vanecek’s and Schmid’s crease. If there is any competition, then it is for who will be the third-stringer. At least until Daws returns and gets back into things.
Defensemen (17): Dougie Hamilton, Jonas Siegenthaler, John Marino, Kevin Bahl, Luke Hughes, Colin Miller, Brendan Smith, Simon Nemec, Cal Foote, Santeri Hatakka, Daniil Misyul, Topias Vilén, Michael Vukojevic, Tyler Wotherspoon, Robbie Russo, Colin Felix, Will MacKinnon
In this group, Felix, Russo, and MacKinnon (who was not in the original announcement online but is definitely there) are on AHL contracts so six to eight spots will be determined among the 14. Most are accounted for; the top of the blueline is set with Hamilton, Siegenthaler, and Marino returning. The questions for New Jersey will be where Luke Hughes fits and who ends up as the third pairing. For the latter, Miller and Smith are veterans, Bahl took Smith’s spot during last season, and there is a ton of promise in Nemec. Gerard will have more later today on Nemec’s prospects.
There is also going to be a lot of competition for depth and future call-ups since pretty much all of Utica’s blueline is here. Vilén did not do so well as the Prospects Challenge, Misyul garnered attention, and Foote and Hatakka at least have experience. All may be behind Nemec if he does start in Utica for 2023-24.
Forwards (32): Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, Timo Meier (now wearing 28), Dawson Mercer, Tyler Toffoli (wearing 73), Ondrej Palat, Tomes Nosek (wearing 92), Michael McLeod, Nathan Bastian, Erik Haula, Curtis Lazar, Max Willman (PTO), Alexander Holtz, Nolan Foote, Graeme Clarke, Josh Filmon, Chase Stillman, Tyce Thompson, Chris Tierney, Kyle Criscuolo, Justin Dowling, Shane Bowers, Brian Halonen, Joe Gambardella, Cam Squires, Cole Brown, Xavier Parent, T.J. Friedmann, Filip Engaras, Ryan Schmelzer, Timur Ibragimov
A good number of this group cannot play for New Jersey at this time. Squires and Brown are unsigned draft picks, so they would need an ELC first. Parent, Engaras, Schmelzer, Ibragimov, Gambardella and Friedmann are on AHL only contracts. They would need NHL contracts in order to be eligible to play in the NHL. Lastly, Max Willman was brought in on a PTO basis. Willman played 50 games for Philly between the last two seasons. He played three years and change at Brown, transferred to BU in 2018-19, signed with Lehigh Valley for 2019-20 and split time with Reading, and has been a tweener between the NHL and AHL since then. I think he is here just to help fill out a roster - maybe for the split-squad night? - but we will see what he can do soon enough. He would need a contract of course. This means, as of now, 23 of these forwards can actually play in the NHL.
Obviously, 23 cannot actually play at once. We know for a fact that most of the NHL roster is spoken for. The Big Deal, Hischier, Bratt, Meier, Mercer, Toffoli, Palat, McLeod, Bastian, Haula, and Nosek are mortal locks to make the roster. Lazar may end up as an extra but it will be a surprise if he is not on the NHL team. The questions in camp for that group will be how they will be lined up. Head coach Lindy Ruff was and is not afraid to mix up his lines. Truth be told, a NHL coach needs to do that for match-up, performance, and availability reasons. Knowing who can play well with who is important for roster flexibility. Preseason is a perfect time to experiment. This also means that you should not get too attached to a line you see in scrimmages, practice sessions, and even preseason games. I’m looking at those who wanted Hughes, Hischier, Palat to be a Thing after last year’s camp.
In terms of making the team, this is going to be a pretty big camp for the likes of Holtz, Nolan Foote, Thompson, Clarke, and Halonen. They are at the point of their careers where they really need to demonstrate whether they belong in the NHL or not. Holtz may have a little more time than the others. Yet, proving it now would be much better than needing to do so next season. Plus, he does have a heavier weight of expectations what with being a top-ten draft pick and General Manager Tom Fitzgerald talking him up not that long ago. Clarke, Thompson, Foote (whom the GM also talked up prior to the Summer), and Halonen are up for new contracts after this season. If they can show they warrant some NHL time during next season, then that can only improve their odds at a better second contract (or third in the case of Thompson).
Center depth was a concern going into the offseason and GM Fitzgerald addressed it by signing Nosek, Criscuolo, Dowling, and Tierney while trading Reilly Walsh for Bowers. Needless to say, there is a lot of quantity. I think Nosek is a safe bet for being in the NHL but it may be at left wing while McLeod is at center. Should injuries arise, then knowing who is performing best among Criscuolo, Tierney, Dowling, and Bowers is going to be crucial. It is a depth fight but depth matters for an 82+ game season.
Lastly, Stillman and Filmon are on ELCs. They have everything to gain and nothing to lose at this point. If I understand this right, Stillman is expected to join Utica while Filmon may be heading back to the WHL for another season as he is 19. They both can surprise in camp and preseason games to force the Devils to decide something else. I think future camps will be more important for their future. For now, establishing themselves for a potentially brighter future would be fine.
So that is the roster. 57 players are there. Based on contract status, 43 of them can play for New Jersey. Up to 23 of them will be on the roster by opening night. While it is not as open-ended as in previous years, there will be difficult decisions for the coaching staff and management to make. Decisions that can be made harder (or easier) based on the next two weeks of preseason games. They begin soon. The first preseason game is a split-squad game on Monday, September 25. About half of this group will go up to Montreal. About half of them will stay in New Jersey and play Philadelphia. I would pay less attention to who wins that game and pay more attention to who goes, how certain players perform, and who keeps getting minutes in future preseason games. And the competition is not just for New Jersey but also for Utica and, to an extent, Adirondack given the number of AHL-signed players in this year’s camp.
Now that the roster is released, I would like to know your take. Who do you expect to have a good camp among players who are not established NHLers? What would you like to see out of camp and preseason? Do you think the Devils should have brought in more or different players on PTO deals? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the training camp roster in the comments. Thank you for reading.