Evaluating the New Jersey Devils’ Depth at Right Wing

(This is part two in a five-part series this week where I evaluate the Devils’ organizational depth at each position and what that could potentially mean for the 2017 NHL Entry-Level Draft! Here’s part one on defensemen: Evaluating the New Jersey Devils’ Depth at Defenseman)

I won’t beat around the bush. The Devils severely lack depth at right wing and it’s not a joke. It’s catastrophically bad. If there’s any position that they really have to address this offseason whether it be through free agency or the draft, it’s right wing.

They currently have Kyle Palmieri, Beau Bennett, Stefan Noesen, Nick Lappin, and Devante Smith-Pelly. Palmieri is definitely their best right winger even though he had a down year compared to the season before. It might not be realistic to assume he can score 30 goals every season but he’s capable of getting pretty close. His line alongside Taylor Hall and Travis Zajac was good. They had chemistry and put up a decent number of points; they were the top three scoring leaders for the Devils (Palmieri and Hall had 53 points, Zajac had 45).

Bennett is also a good right winger; yes, he’s injury-prone but he didn’t miss as much time this year as some people seemed to think he would. If he can stay completely healthy next season, he might put up a fair number of points too. There are also his puck possession numbers (spoiler alert: they’re good). I’d like him to get a new contract this summer and stick around for a bit.

Noesen was a waiver pick-up from the Ducks and after scoring in his Devils debut, he cooled down. He had an up-and-down season but he wasn’t bad by any means. He’s also a restricted free agent this offseason. Lappin, another young right wing, had just 7 points (four goals, three assists) and 17 penalty minutes in 43 games played this season. I won’t even talk about how bad of a year Smith-Pelly had even before he got injured and missed the rest of the season. Binghamton (Albany) (AHL) doesn’t really have anyone else.

So there’s essentially no right wing depth, however you want to word it. The Devils’ drafting history doesn’t get any better. They drafted just one last year, Joey Anderson (201 lbs, 5′ 11″). He played for the University of Minnesota-Duluth in the NCAA this past season and participated in the World Juniors tournament. He tallied 12 goals and 25 assists (37 points) in 39 games played for Minnesota, and had just two assists in seven games at World Juniors. In the World Juniors tournament the year prior, he tallied nine points (seven goals, two assists) in seven games. He’s won every medal possible at World Juniors (2016: gold, 2015: bronze, 2014: silver), and he was on the NCAA All-Rookie team this past season. He’s someone who could come up and make an impact.

New Jersey drafted 21 year-old Connor Chatham (225 lbs, 6′ 2″) in 2014. He played for the Idaho Steelheads (ECHL) this past season, tallying 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) and 33 penalty minutes in 49 games played. He spent the prior three years in the OHL, playing for the Plymouth Whalers, Flint Firebirds, and Windsor Spitfires; his career OHL numbers are 47 goals, 62 assists (109 points), and 188 penalty minutes in 166 games (he was a -28). He averaged 0.66 points per game in the OHL and has never averaged more than that in his career.

You have to go all the way back to 2010 to find the last time the Devils drafted a RW, which was Mauro Jörg that year. He’s never played in the Devils organization; he’s spent most of his career playing for Switzerland’s National League A and has represented the country at the international level. And then you have to go back to 2007, when the Devils drafted Nick Palmieri (no relation to Kyle) and Matt Halischuk.

Overall, the Devils have drafted just eight ring wings in the last 14 drafts. Eight. They only drafted more than one just once in that span. Before 2003? New Jersey didn’t draft a right wing in a draft only twice; every other draft had at least one right wing dating back to 1982. You don’t need to be a mathematical genius to figure out how bad the last 14 years have been for right wing depth.

So the Devils really don’t have any right wing depth. Which sucks. A lot. So what do they need to do? Resign Bennett and possibly Noesen. Bring up Anderson. Draft more than one right wing. Please, Ray Shero, for the love of all things good in the world, draft more than one right wing. Two would be nice, three would be even nicer. And yes, I know the draft prospects as a whole aren’t as “good” as year’s priors according to analysts but they can still become good NHL players. Give them a chance. They won’t all pan out but the more you draft, odds are that at least one of them will.

Bottom line: the Devils have a few right wings but need a few more, especially for their AHL-affiliate (sorry, saying Binghamton instead of Albany still feels weird).


Evaluating the New Jersey Devils’ Depth at Defenseman

I’m going to do a series this week, where I essentially dive into each position and take a look at the Devils’ depth (or lack thereof) at that position, and a super brief history of drafting that position. We’ll start with a short overview today along with a look at defensemen. After the NHL Scouting Combine wraps up, I’ll take a closer look at draft prospects and who the Devils might consider drafting to add more depth and skill to the organization.

The Devils are still in a rebuild and have plenty of holes to fill come draft day. While none of their selected prospects are expected to make a big splash right out of the gates (with their first overall pick being the lone exception), these prospects can still be developed and trained in order to prepare for the inevitable future.

New Jersey is in pretty decent shape when it comes to a rebuild that’s just two years in. They have 20 picks between this year’s and next year’s drafts, and they have a ton of cap space. They still have a few contracts to dish out (i.e. Kinkaid (possibly), Severson, etc.) but none that would make a serious dent in their cap space. They can sign a few free agents to big contracts if they wanted to (and probably should) as long as the contract (and by extension, the player) is worth it; don’t dish out big bucks just for the sake of spending big money.

They also won’t have all of those draft picks come draft day; the Devils will likely make some trades before the expansion draft deadline and the free agent deadline. Teams will be looking to move players that they can’t protect before June 18 and that’s where the Devils can come in and do a Palmieri-type trade, especially with teams like Minnesota, Anaheim, Pittsburgh, or even Washington. I wouldn’t rule out another trade with Edmonton either.

Arguably the Devils’ biggest need is a puck-moving defenseman and let’s not pretend that acquiring just one would completely turn around New Jersey’s blue line (it doesn’t work like that). They’ll probably trade for one and/or sign a free agent to be a top liner (or the team’s #1 defenseman) but it wouldn’t hurt to draft defensive prospects as well. The Devils don’t have a ton in the system but they’re getting there.

They’ve drafted two in each of the last three drafts: Yegor Rykov and Jeremy Davies in 2016, Colton White and Brent Seney in 2015, and Joshua Jacobs and Ryan Rehill in 2014. The year before that? Steven Santini. And the year before that? Damon Severson. So their defensive prospects have played out pretty well. Jon Merrill (drafted 38th overall in 2010) and Seth Helgeson (drafted 114th overall in 2009) are both still in the Devils’ system as well, and both saw time up in New Jersey this past season (Merrill more so than Helgeson). Merrill took a step forward this year and looked better than he has in seasons prior, which could be a good sign of things to come. Both Merrill and Helgeson are still young (but could have more potential as trade chips, if a team was interested in trading for them).

Other than that, there haven’t been a whole lot of standouts, draft wise. Adam Larsson was drafted 4th overall in 2011 (but we all know how that story ends). Reece Scarlett, drafted in the same year, was traded at the deadline this past season. Eric Gelinas, drafted in 2009, was also traded not too long ago. Mark Fraser, drafted in 2005, is probably the last notable name. New Jersey hasn’t really done a great job (overall) of drafting defensemen; of course, we overlook that because of the (Scott) Niedermayer’s and (Ken) Daneyko’s that have become Devils legends. But if the last four drafts are any indication, the organization’s crop of defensemen is improving, slowly but surely.

Devils prospect Rykov (216 lbs, 6′ 2″).had a good World Juniors tournament, tallying a goal and six assists in seven games played; he won a bronze medal with Team Russia and also tallied the most assists by a defenseman (6) in the tournament. He also won the Gagarin Cup with SKA Saint Petersburg this past season.

Davies (181 lbs, 5′ 11″) has also played well. He spent this past season playing for Northeastern University in the NCAA, and tallied 8 goals and 15 points (23 points) in 38 games played. He spent the two years prior in the USHL, playing for the Waterloo Black Hawks and Bloomington Thunder. He’s tallied 17 goals and 56 assists (73 points) in 114 regular season games, and six assists in eight playoff games. In 2015-16, he had the most points and most assists by a defenseman in the USHL, and was named to the First All-Star Team.

White (192 lbs, 6′ 1″) has had a good junior career too; he’s played four seasons with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, and has 21 goals and 72 assists (93 points, 86 PIM). He’ll likely play for the Binghamton (Albany) Devils (AHL) this upcoming season and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get some playing time in New Jersey.

Seney (170 lbs, 5′ 9″) has spent the last three years playing for Merrimack College (NCAA) and has 29 goals, 54 assists (83 points) in 102 games played (about 0.81 points/game) and has a whopping 127 penalty minutes. He spent two years prior to that in the OJHL, playing for the Kingston Voyageurs; he tallied 29-50-79 (also 0.81 PPG) in 98 regular season games, and 7-7-14 in 26 playoff games (0.54 PPG).

But the defensive prospects have worked out for the most part as of late and New Jersey should definitely draft more defensemen in this year’s draft. I don’t see any reason not to. While they won’t get a (Miro) Heiskanen or a (Timothy) Liljegren, they could still potentially get good defensemen with their draft picks. (I’ll have more on this after the NHL Scouting Combine ends!)

Right now, the Devils’ “main” defensemen are Captain Andy Greene (who’s hitting a decline), Ben Lovejoy (who is a defensive liability), Dalton Prout (who is also a defensive liability), John Moore (who actually had a good offensive year but not a great defensive one), Merrill (who was actually not bad!!!), Severson (who was great despite his plus/minus), and Santini (who has a long way to go but also looks good). The Devils are probably planning to lose a defenseman in the expansion draft (either Lovejoy or Prout, or Vegas can take both, I won’t protest) but they desperately need to redo and revamp their blue line. If there was a version of Extreme Home Makeover for a team’s blue line, I wouldn’t hesitate to put the Devils on that show.

Bottom line: the Devils’ defense needs a lot of work, I mean a lot of work. Signing or trading for a single defenseman won’t do much. Drafting defensemen won’t transform the blue line overnight but it’ll help in the not-so-distant future. It’s a process and will continue to be a process. Baby steps.

So should the Devils draft defensemen? How many? Anyone who’s caught your eye yet?

2017 Stanley Cup Final Preview and Predictions

We’re just going to ignore how badly my bracket got destroyed before the first round ended.

The Nashville Predators and defending Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins will battle it out in their first postseason meeting in league history in order to win arguably the most prized possession in all of professional hockey, the Stanley Cup. This is Nashville’s first trip to the Stanley Cup Final in franchise history, while Pittsburgh has been to the Final six times overall (and now two straight). Pittsburgh is looking to win back-to-back Stanley Cups for the first time since the Detroit Red Wings won in ’97 and ’98; they will also have home-ice advantage.

The Penguins are a more offensive team, with household names like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and newcomers like Jake Guentzel, while the Predators are stronger defensively, with workhorses in P.K. Subban and Roman Josi. The Pens have 58 goals for and 574 shots for, while the Preds have 47 goals for and 479 shots for. The Pens lead in goals/game with 3.08 (league postseason average: 2.37) while the Preds have the best goals against/game at 1.81 (league postseason average: 2.68).

Malkin and Crosby, the two-headed monster, are the postseason’s leading scorers with 24 points (7 goals, 17 assists) and 20 points (7 goals, 13 assists), respectively. Guentzel leads all scorers with nine goals; Filip Forsberg has eight (he has 15 points). Ryan Johansen has 10 assists to lead Nashville; Malkin leads Pittsburgh with 17.

The two teams met just twice during the regular season, splitting the series 1-1-0.

Game 1: Monday, May 29 8:00PM @ PPG Paints Arena
Game 2: Wednesday, May 31 8:00PM @ PPG Paints Arena
Game 3: Saturday, June 3 8:00PM @ Bridgestone Arena
Game 4: Monday, June 5 8:00PM @ Bridgestone Arena
Game 5*: Thursday, June 8 8:00PM @ PPG Paints Arena
Game 6*: Sunday, June 11 8:00PM @ Bridgestone Arena
Game 7*: Wednesday, June 14 8:00PM @ PPG Paints Arena
*if necessary

All games will be televised on NBC, except for Games 2 and 3, which will be broadcast on NBCSN. All seven games will also be broadcast on CBC, Sportsnet, and TVA Sports.

Nashville’s road to the Final: the Preds entered the postseason as a wildcard and very few people expected them to get past Chicago (I was one of them!) so what did they do? They swept the Hawks, limiting them to just three goals in four games. Sweeping the powerhouse that is Chicago should have been the first sign of big things for Nashville. They then defeated both the Blues and the Ducks, four games to two. The Predators have not yet faced an elimination game this postseason and they have had much more rest than the Penguins.

Pittsburgh’s road to the Final: the Pens entered as one of the top seeds in the Eastern Conference, expected to go far. They have also had the tougher road to the Final. Their first series against the Blue Jackets went to six games, and both series after, against the Capitals and the Senators, went to seven games each. They might not show it but they’re tired.

Nashville injuries: the Preds are already missing Ryan Johansen and Kevin Fiala indefinitely, but they hope to have Captain Mike Fisher back from a head injury for Game 1 on Monday. Johansen is arguably Nashville’s biggest injury because he is their #1 center.

Pittsburgh injuries: Pittsburgh’s biggest injury is Kris Letang, who suffered a neck injury and has been out for a while (and won’t be returning any time soon). Tom Kuhnhackl and Chad Ruhwedel both remain out for the Pens, but Patric Hornqvist might return soon. Justin Schultz is playing through an upper body injury.

Scoping the goaltenders: Pekka Rinne has been nothing but phenomenal for the Predators this postseason. He’s gone 12-4 so far with a 1.70 GAA and .941 save percentage, and he’s posted a pair of shutouts (over the Hawks, no less). Rinne went 7-7 last postseason with a 2.63 GAA and .906 save percentage, but has taken his game to several new levels. He’s looked almost unbeatable over the last few weeks.

Matt Murray led the Pens to a Stanley Cup win last season and he just might do it again. He’s played just four games since returning from an injury suffered before Game 1 against Columbus but he’s gone 3-1 with a 1.35 GAA and a .946 save percentage. His sample size is a bit smaller for this year but he went 15-6 last postseason with a 2.08 GAA and .923 save percentage. He’s looked really, really good in the few games he’s played so far but we know what he’s capable of.

Let’s not forget Marc-Andre Fleury either, who carried the team until Murray was okay to play. He’s had a good postseason too, in what might be his last postseason as a Penguin. He went 9-6, and had a 2.56 GAA and a .924 save % with a pair of shutouts. He’s also played really well for his team and the Pens shouldn’t forget about him.

Home-ice advantage? Maybe. The Penguins will play four (of seven) games at home and they’ve gone 6-3 this postseason at the PPG Paints Arena, while the Predators have gone 7-1 at Bridgestone Arena. Both arenas should be difficult to play in for their opponents, especially with the Stanley Cup on the line.

Playoff experience: the Penguins have a combined 156 games of Stanley Cup Final experience while the Preds have 5 games total (all Mike Fisher), according to ESPN. The Pens hold the edge here, especially because they won it all last season.

Stats: the Predators have yet to lose a game after leading at the end of the second period (7-0). If Nashville wins, they would be the first team ranked No.16 to win the Cup. Two American coaches (Pittsburgh’s Mike Sullivan and Nashville’s Peter Laviolette) will also be facing in the Cup Finals for the first time. There have been 27 overtime games this postseason, just 1 game shy of the single-postseason record (1993). If Murray starts Game 1, he’ll become the second goalie in NHL history to play in multiple Stanley Cup Finals as a rookie. The other? Jacques Plante. Crosby is the 7th different player to captain a team to at least four Stanley Cup Finals appearances since 1967-68. The Pens are the fourth team since 1998-99 to reach the Stanley Cup Finals a year after winning the whole thing; the other three lost (Dallas in 2000, New Jersey in 2001, and Detroit in 2009).

Predictions: this is going to be one of the best Stanley Cup Finals we’ve seen in a while. A powerful offense against a formidable defense? Sign me up. Expect to see a few goaltending duels as well. At least four games are decided by one goal and at least two of them will go to OT (and set the single postseason record in the process). Guentzel will finally score again (since not scoring at all during the Senators series). Crosby might not have a spectacular series (he hasn’t looked exactly the same since before his concussion) but Malkin will. Subban will break out (more than he already has) and score at least three goals; he’ll have some help from Roman Josi and James Neal.

I’m not partial to either team but I’m hoping for a Cinderella story: Predators in 7. Nashville wins their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Pekka Rinne wins the Conn Smythe.

A Look at The New Jersey Devils’ Draft History

GM Ray Shero has only been with the Devils organization for a few years and the 2017 Entry-Level Draft will be his third in New Jersey. He’s had two good drafts already and has had more in Pittsburgh with the Penguins organization.

Here are his draft selections from last year (2016):
1 – 12th – Michael McLeod
2 – 41st – Nathan Bastian
3 – 73rd – Joey Anderson
3 – 80th – Brandon Gignac
4 – 102nd – Mikhail Maitsev
4 – 105th – Evan Cormier
5 – 132nd – Yegor Rykov
6 – 162nd – Jesper Bratt
7 – 192nd – Jeremy Davies

And his picks from the year before (2015):
1 – 6th – Pavel Zacha
2 – 42nd – MacKenzie Blackwood
3 – 67th – Blake Speers
4 – 97th – Colton White
6 – 157th – Brent Seney

He has made 14 picks since becoming New Jersey’s new GM. He’s selected five centers, four defensemen, two goaltenders, two left wings, and a single right wing.

The organization and prospect system has an abundance of centers. Whoever the Devils decide to select first overall (be it Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick), will be a center. They picked Michael McLeod, Nathan Bastian, and Brandon Gignac last year. McLeod may be ready for the NHL next season if he has a strong offseason and training camp. Bastian and Gignac both look like they need more time in juniors. The year prior, the Devils selected centers Pavel Zacha and Blake Speers. Zacha spent most of the season up in New Jersey and while he got off to a slow start, he picked up the pace as the season went on. Speers might make the jump to the NHL as well. But the Devils also have Travis Zajac, Adam Henrique, and John Quenneville (I don’t see them bringing back Jacob Josefson) but the Devils have more than enough centermen and should focus on other positions in this draft (after selecting a center first overall, of course).

New Jersey has used their first pick in each of the last three drafts to select a center: McLeod in 2016, Zacha in 2015, and Quenneville in 2014. They’ve also picked a center first in 2009 (Josefson), 2004 (Zajac), 2003 (Zach Parise), 2001 (Adrian Foster), 1998 (Mike Van Ryn), 1995 (Petr Sykora), 1993 (Denis Pederson), 1986 (Neil Brady), 1984 (Kirk Muller), and 1982 (Rocky Trottier). So even though they have other needs, there’s no way they won’t select a center first overall.

The Devils also have a fair number of left wings even though they selected Mikhail Maitsev and Jesper Bratt last year, and none the year prior. They signed Bratt to a three-year, entry-level contract about a week ago. They also have Joseph Blandisi (who needs a new contract), Michael Cammalleri (who the Devils might lose), Miles Wood, and oh yeah, Taylor Hall. They have a few more in Binghamton (Albany) (AHL) but they could definitely use a couple more. I can see them drafting maybe two left wings in this draft or a combination (LW/C, LW/RW, etc).

Let’s round out the forward group. The Devils have a severe lack of right wings. They selected just one last year, Joey Anderson, and none the year before. They selected Connor Chatham in 2014 but didn’t draft another one until all the way back in 2010. They have drafted just eight right wings over the last 15 years. 15 years! Drafting a right wing or two (or three) would be nice. They do have Kyle Palmieri, Beau Bennett (who needs a new contract!!), Stefan Noesen (who’s going to be a restricted free agent), Nick Lappin, and Devante Smith-Pelly. They might lose Smith-Pelly to Vegas but even if they don’t, the Devils have a severe lack of depth at right wing and need to draft a few this year.

The Devils also need defensemen. They have drafted two each in the last three years: Yegor Rykov and Jeremy Davies in 2016, Colton White and Brent Seney in 2015, and Joshua Jacobs and Ryan Rehill in 2014. They drafted Steven Santini in 2013 (who spent a significant amount of time up in New Jersey this season and looks like he’s here to stay) and Damon Severson the year before (who needs a new contract and is also here to stay). Santini and Severson are going to be top defensemen soon enough (you could argue that Severson already is) and are going to be mainstays on the blue line for a while.

The Devils have a fair number of defensemen but the D-corps needs a lot of work. They were pretty bad this year and didn’t give their goaltenders much help; they were more of a liability than anything but drafting good defensive prospects now could go a long way. They have drafted at least one defenseman in every draft in Devils’ history; they drafted eight defensemen alone in the 1996 entry-level draft (they did have 14 picks). I wouldn’t draft eight d-men this year but drafting more than one should be a given.

Moving on to the goaltenders. The Devils have also now selected goalies in three of the last four drafts: Evan Cormier (2016), MacKenzie Blackwood (2015), and Anthony Brodeur (2013). Blackwood saw a significant amount of playing time in Albany (AHL) this year along with Ken Appleby because Scott Wedgewood was out for most of the season with a shoulder injury. Wedgewood did play four NHL games last season (2015-16) and Appleby backed up Cory Schneider for a game this season. Right now, the Devils’ two main goalies, Schneider and Keith Kinkaid, are here to stay. Kinkaid needs a new contract. Schneider is going to be protected. Vegas won’t select the goaltender that the Devils decide to expose. There’s more on that here: The New Jersey Devils’ Goaltending Situation but the Devils shouldn’t draft a goaltender unless there’s one that they really, really, really like.

Shero has done a good job of addressing the Devils’ needs in the past two years and will continue to do so. With 11 picks in this year’s draft, there’s no limit to what he could do. He’ll probably trade a few of those away but he’ll still have plenty to work with.  The Devils will pick a center first overall (duh) but I hope they choose to go wing after. A few right (!) and left wings will go a long way as will a defenseman or two. I don’t see the Devils picking a goaltender this year.

The draft should be a fun one; don’t forget to tune in on June 23rd and 24th for the 2017 NHL Entry-Level Draft out of the United Center in Chicago.

2017 NHL Entry-Level Draft: One Month To Go

(This is a scheduled post; I am currently flying back from Los Angeles!)

There is just about one month to go until the 2017 NHL Entry-Level Draft, where the New Jersey Devils have the first overall selection. The Draft will take place from June 23-24 at the United Center in Chicago, IL. There will be 31 picks in the first round with the addition of the Vegas Golden Knights. The Devils have just one first-round pick, but it’s arguably the most important one. There’s a post here about the draft lottery: THE NEW JERSEY DEVILS WIN THE 2017 DRAFT LOTTERY

This is how the first round plays out in terms of draft pick selection:
1) New Jersey Devils
2) Philadelphia Flyers
3) Dallas Stars
4) Colorado Avalanche
5) Vancouver Canucks
6) Vegas Golden Knights
7) Arizona Coyotes
8) Buffalo Sabres
9) Detroit Red Wings
10) Florida Panthers
11) Los Angeles Kings
12) Carolina Hurricanes
13) Winnipeg Jets
14) Tampa Bay Lightning
15) New York Islanders
16) Calgary Flames
17) Toronto Maple Leafs
18) Boston Bruins
19) San Jose Sharks
20) St. Louis Blues
21) New York Rangers
22) Edmonton Oilers
23) Arizona Coyotes (from the Minnesota Wild)
24) Columbus Blue Jackets
25) Montreal Canadiens
26) Chicago Blackhawks
27) St. Louis Blues (from the Washington Capitals)

Arizona’s second first-round pick from Minnesota comes as a result of the Martin Hanzal trade back in February. The Blues’ second first-round pick from Washington comes as a result of the Kevin Shattenkirk trade in February. The Stars’ second first-round pick from Anaheim comes as a result of the Patrick Eaves trade in February, provided that the Ducks make the 2017 Western Conference Final (which they did). Their pick position has yet to be determined but the Ducks did lose last night to the Predators and are officially eliminated from the postseason. The Stars will likely pick 28th overall.

As of today, May 23rd, the Devils have 11 draft picks in this year’s draft: one first-rounder, two second-rounders (one from Boston), two third-rounders (from Colorado and San Jose), two fourth-rounders (one from Nashville), one fifth-rounder, two sixth-rounders (one from Nashville), and one seventh-rounder (from Philly).

Screen Shot 2017-04-28 at 11.16.19 AM

More likely than not, the Devils won’t have all 11 picks come draft day. Because they have an abundance of picks this year (11) and next year (9), GM Ray Shero will try to use them as trade chips, especially in trying to trade for players on cap-strapped teams or players who won’t/can’t be protected by their teams for the Vegas expansion draft.

The biggest draft question they face is who they’ll decide to take 1st overall: either Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick (or someone else entirely). The Devils also have some other draft needs. There are an abundance of centers in the Devils system but there aren’t enough right wings or even defensemen. I’ll have more posts up soon about the Devils’ draft history and a more in-depth analysis of the Devils’ needs.

This draft is going to be crucial going forward. Shero will trade a few of the picks away but they’ll still have plenty and they’ll be able to draft good pieces for the organization. Even though critics and analysts say that this year’s draft is a “weak” one and that there isn’t any “generational” talent, the draft still holds plenty of good talent and players who could break out for their teams in the future. The Devils will look to really build their prospect system this year.

Don’t forget to tune in to the draft on June 23 to see who the Devils select!

NHL: Vegas Expansion Draft: One Month To Go

I know we’re all dreading it. Every team loses a player to the Vegas Golden Knights in their upcoming expansion draft. It’s the nature of life. An NHL expansion team was rumored for a while but a Vegas expansion team was made official last June. GM George McPhee and Head Coach Gerard Gallant will choose their players from June 18-20, 2017 and the results will be announced on June 21st during the NHL Awards at T-Mobile Arena. Whoever they pick will join current Golden Knights Reid Duke and Vadim Shipachyov.

The Expansion Draft rules themselves are a little stickier and more confusing but not difficult to understand once you figure them out. The Knights will be the 15th team in the Western Conference and will play in the Pacific Division.

The 30 “existing” NHL teams have two options they can choose from when they decide who to protect. They can protect either seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender, or eight skaters and one goaltender. What teams do is entirely up to them and will have to make strategic decisions based on salary cap space, players with no-movement clauses, who they can afford to expose, etc. There are a ton of others rules somewhere and we’ll get to them too.

All players who are currently playing and have no-movement clauses in their contracts must be protected, unless the player chooses to waive the clause, and they will count towards the team’s protected list limit. This rule does not apply to no-trade clauses.

All “first- and second-year professionals” (essentially players who were rookies this past season or the season before) and any unsigned draft selections are automatically protected and Vegas cannot choose them.

In addition to these requirements, each club has to expose a certain number of players who meet a certain number of specific requirements: 1) one defenseman who is under contract for the 2017-18 season and played in 40 or more NHL games this past season OR played in 70 or more NHL games in the past two seasons, 2) two forwards who are under contract for the 2017-18 seasons and played in 40 or more NHL games this past season OR played in 70 or more NHL games the past two seasons, and 3) one goaltender who is under contract for the 2017-18 season OR will be a restricted free agent at the expiration of their current contract immediately prior to the 2017-18 season.

So these rules are a little trickier but not too bad. Teams have certain requirements to meet when deciding who they want to protect and who they want to expose but they have to expose a defenseman, a goaltender, and a pair of forwards that meet these requirements, and they can protect anywhere between nine and 11 players (depending on which way they decide to go).

There are several players who are officially exempt from having to be protected (mostly because they’re on long-term injured reserve and haven’t played in the league for some time): Dave Bolland (ARI) , Craig Cunningham (ARI), Chris Pronger (ARI), Cody McCormick (BUF), David Clarkson (CBJ), Johan Franzen (DET), Joe Vitale (DET), Ryane Clowe (NJD), Mikhail Grabovski (NYI), Pascal Dupuis (PIT), Nathan Horton (TOR), and Stephane Robidas (TOR). Arizona must be relieved that they don’t have to protect those three players.

Every team has to submit their protection lists by June 17, 2017 at 5PM EST. The lists will be made public so the world can see who other teams value (and fans can decide whether or not to be angry at their team’s management).

If you want to play around and see if you can figure out who Vegas might choose from each team, CapFriendly has a really good tool here: https://www.capfriendly.com/expansion-draft. You can also look up different salaries and how much cap space each team has in order to figure out what kinds of deals might be made during the next month.

The team’s selections will be revealed during the NHL Awards on June 21, 2017. This decision doesn’t make any season to me; imagine being at the Awards and finding out there that you’re going to Vegas and you’ll be playing for an expansion team in their first season? Ouch.

The New Jersey Devils are in pretty decent shape when it comes to who they’re going to protect and who they might lose. More likely than not, they’ll choose to protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender. There’s no chance that they won’t choose to protect Cory Schneider. They’ll definitely protect their main forwards but the remaining ones and the defensemen are slightly less set in stone but figuring out who they might protect is going to be fun.

Don’t forget to tune in to the NHL Awards to find out who your favorite team is going to lose!

The New Jersey Devils’ Goaltending Situation

The Devils have always had good goaltenders (Martin Brodeur is an outlier and should not be counted) but they’re going to have to make a few goaltending decisions this summer.

Their biggest goaltending question right now is: are they going to resign Keith Kinkaid? He was signed to a 2-year, $1,450,000 contract and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. This ultimately comes down to what both sides want. Kinkaid is a good backup goaltender and the Devils might want to keep him to continue playing as such but if Kinkaid wants to become a starting goaltender, he may want to test free agency and sign elsewhere. There are plenty of teams looking for consistent starters but if he’s just going to backup someone somewhere else, he might as well stay in Jersey. He’ll get a decent contract too and he’s only 27.

Kinkaid has spent his entire NHL career with the Devils. He looked a little shaky this season (as did Cory Schneider) but he is a solid backup. He went 8-13-3 this season with a 2.64 GAA and .916 save percentage. His career numbers? 23-27-8 with a 2.68 GAA and a .912 save percentage. He’s played 69 (nice) career NHL games and played the most this season of any year prior (26). But he’s always been the backup. He backed up Brodeur, and now Schneider. He won’t be starting for the Devils any time soon (with Schneider and eventually Scott Wedgewood thrown into the mix) so if he wants to be a starter, he’ll have to go somewhere else.

Which brings us to point number two. Schneider isn’t getting any younger. He’s 35 now and is arguably in his prime. He had a down year (20-27-11, 2.82 GAA, .908 save %) but he has been one of the best goaltenders in the NHL for years and will have to be the All-Star goaltender that Devils fans know he is if the team has any hope of making the playoffs next season. He wants to stay in New Jersey and be a part of the solution. He wants to carry the team to the playoffs (and he’ll do it kicking and screaming). He’s been nothing but a leader on this team and constantly takes blame for losses (that usually aren’t his fault). He deserves a Cup.

Schneider’s career numbers are pretty amazing. He has an overall 144-124-46 record with a 2.28 GAA and a .922 save percentage (23 shutouts) in 330 games played. His numbers this season are partially also the way they are because of the lack of a defense in front of him. Get him a good defense and he will thrive. He’s currently signed to a 7-year, $42 million contract through 2021-22 and he does have a no-trade clause.

Some people have brought up the possibility of trading Schneider, especially during the season by fans when Schneider had his human moments. There’s nothing wrong with entertaining offers from other teams about possible trades but trading Schneider at all really shouldn’t be a possibility. He’s one of the best goaltenders in the league. Do you know how hard it is to find a goalie of his caliber? It’s almost impossible and teams suffer without a good goaltender. The trade speculation was further perpetuated by this article from The Hockey News earlier this month: STARS SHOULD OFFER THE NO. 3 PICK… TO THE DEVILS FOR CORY SCHNEIDER. It’s not a bad idea but it’s not going to happen. The very notion of a trade like this is ludicrous to me. Yeah, the Devils could use another pick, especially a third overall pick (the Devils drafted Scott Niedermayer third overall back in 1991 and look at how that turned out), but is the pick worth trading Schneider? No.

We also have the Vegas expansion draft this summer (damn it, Vegas). The Devils have to protect a goaltender and they have to expose one. There’s absolutely no way they wouldn’t protect Schneider. In order to expose Kinkaid, they’d have to resign him to a new contract. Or they could just choose to expose Wedgewood. No matter who they decide to expose, there won’t be a ton of fear of losing them because Vegas is going to have much better options.

On to point number three: Scott Wedgewood. This isn’t as much of a question as it is speculation. Wedgewood has played just four games in the NHL, all last season when Schneider was injured, and he looked pretty good. He went 2-1-1 with a 1.25 GAA and a .957 save percentage, but this is a really, really small sample size. He missed the entirety of this season with a shoulder injury but should be good to go in the fall. He’s a viable backup option and will probably, eventually take on that role (or sooner if Kinkaid leaves). He’s only 24 and will continue to grow and develop into an NHL-caliber goaltender. He’s already shown glimpses of it and if he makes the jump up, Albany (AHL) will still be in good hands.

Which now brings us to point number four: the prospects. The Devils have decent goaltending prospects in their system. MacKenzie Blackwood and Ken Appleby have split time in net for the Albany Devils, both of whom were rookies this season. Appleby was even called up for a game this season to back up Schneider. Blackwood went 17-14-4 during the regular season (2.55 GAA, .907 save %, 3 shutouts) while Appleby went 17-14-1 (2.63 GAA, .903 save %, no shutouts). Blackwood played just four more games during the regular season and played all four during the postseason, going 1-3 with a 2.13 GAA and a .928 save percentage; his lone win was a shutout. Both have looked really good at times and still need development but they could be possibilities down the road too. The Devils also have Evan Cormier, who they selected in last year’s draft. He went 23-19-2(ties) in the OHL this past season with a 3.23 GAA, a .899 save percentage, and a pair of shutouts. He had a better season than years past and is also an option in the future.

The Devils have drafted three goalies in the last four drafts, two in the last two drafts under GM Ray Shero. They selected Cormier last year 105th overall (4th round), Blackwood the year before that at 42nd overall (2nd round), and Anthony Brodeur (the last name should look familiar) in 2013, 208th overall (7th round). The last time before that was in 2010 when the Devils selected Wedgewood (84th overall, 3rd round) and Maxime Clemont (204th overall, 7th round). The Devils haven’t drafted goaltenders that often but they’ve drafted one every year under Shero. Will they draft another one this year? Or do they have enough in the system for now?

So there’s a lot to do. Should the Devils resign Kinkaid and expose him? Will he go somewhere else? If yes, where do you think he’ll go? Do you think trading Schneider is a realistic idea? Would you rather have Kinkaid or Wedgewood as a backup? Will the Vegas expansion draft ever stop giving me anxiety? We’ll find out in a month.

Kovalchuk’s NHL Return

Happy Tuesday. Ilya Kovalchuk’s officially returning to the NHL. New Jersey Devils’ GM Ray Shero confirmed this morning that Kovalchuk does indeed want to return to the NHL after “retiring” from the league back in 2013.

Screen Shot 2017-05-09 at 4.18.58 PM

Kovalchuk will have to sign and trade. The Devils still hold his rights so the ball is in their court. The only way Kovalchuk would be able to sign with another team right out of the gate is if every single NHL GM approved (which realistically isn’t happening). He’ll have to sign a contract with New Jersey, who will then proceed to entertain trade proposals from other teams who may want Kovalchuk’s services. Shero also went on to say that Grossman, Kovalchuk’s agent, could start talking to other teams as well:

Screen Shot 2017-05-09 at 4.19.11 PM

Kovalchuk has stated that he would be interested in playing in New York or Florida. I don’t see the Devils trading him to the Rangers but the Islanders and Panthers are all possibilities. Tampa Bay is there too but I don’t think they’d have much use for him.

However, he would have to sign a tentative contract with New Jersey before he can officially “sign” with another team. He won’t be able to “sign” a contract until July 1.

Screen Shot 2017-05-09 at 4.19.21 PM

Kovalchuk could also wait this out and become an unrestricted free agent next summer so he can sign with whomever he wants without going through the Devils first but he’ll be 36. Not a lot of teams would want a player at that age who hasn’t played in the NHL in five years. The Devils would be smart to sign him now and start shopping him around because he has plenty of trade value. Theoretically, his return would be a draft pick and possibly a Top 4 defenseman, who the Devils desperately need.

There is also the slight possibility that the Devils keep him around, at least for a little bit. Yes, New Jersey could use his offensive capabilities but he’s 35. Here’s more about his NHL and KHL stats over the course of his career, posted when the original return rumors began: The Return of Ilya Kovalchuk? However, his intentions in coming back to the NHL are to win a Stanley Cup and this Devils team is still a few years out.

If the Devils do decide to let him stay in New Jersey, I could see them trading him before the trade deadline next season. If Kovalchuk has a decent start to his season, any number of teams who are buying at the deadline might be willing to take him on. However, there’s no way he would stick around for the long term, as nice as it would be to see him on a line with Taylor Hall and whoever the Devils draft in June.

Speaking of which, both the NHL entry-level draft and Vegas expansion drafts will occur before July 1 so this Devils team will look slightly different. They’ll lose someone to Vegas but they’ll acquire a ton of prospects, including whoever they pick first overall (THE NEW JERSEY DEVILS WIN THE 2017 DRAFT LOTTERY). The Devils are primed to become a playoff team soon enough and their rebuild is going well, but Kovalchuk may not want to stick around (which is completely fine by me).

My dream sign-and-trade scenario would be trading him to the Flyers for their second overall pick in this year’s draft for Kovalchuk (so the Devils can draft both Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick) but because that won’t happen, who knows where he’ll end up? Or if he’ll even be the same player he used to be? Will Devils fans boo him when he returns to The Rock for the first time? Will he sign a 17-year contract extension with another team just to leave them behind too? No matter what happens, the Devils hold all the cards and can do with them what they please. This is gonna be fun.

Exploring The Devils’ Free Agents

The New Jersey Devils have a ton of both restricted and unrestricted free agents and with the amount of cap space they have, they have plenty of work to do before the July 1 deadline.

Their most notable unrestricted free agent is goaltender Keith Kinkaid. He played for a new contract this year and went 8-13-3 with a 2.64 goals against average, a .916 save percentage, and a single shutout. His career numbers? His overall record is 23-27-8 with a 2.68 GAA, .912 save percentage, and three career shutouts. He has spent his entire NHL career with the Devils, dating back to the 2012-13 season, where he backed up Martin Brodeur and plays the same role now behind Cory Schneider. But this decision comes down to what both sides want and if they can come to some sort of agreement. If Kinkaid decides that he wants to continue to play the backup role in New Jersey, I’m sure the Devils would love to resign him but the Devils do have goaltenders in the system, namely Scott Wedgewood (who had some NHL time last year with Schneider’s injury), who are going to take on that role soon enough. If Kinkaid decides that he wants to be a starting goaltender (and why wouldn’t he?), he might test free agency and find a better fit elsewhere. There are several teams in need of goaltenders (I’m looking at you, Dallas) so Kinkaid might play somewhere other than New Jersey next season.

There is a long list of restricted free agents and defenseman Damon Severson is at the very top. The Devils have to resign him as soon as possible. He had a solid year, albeit posting a team-worst -31 +/- rating. His 3-year, $2,850,000 entry-level contract came to an end and the Devils don’t have a whole lot of depth in the system when it comes to defensemen. Severson had a decent offensive year, tallying three goals and 28 assists (led defensemen in assists by 18). He is one of their best d-men; he’s young and has a lot to learn but with the organization trading Adam Larsson last year, the Devils need a player like Severson on the team. This is a no-brainer.

I’d also like to see the Devils resign a few other restricted free agents, namely Joseph Blandisi, Beau Bennett, Stefan Noesen, and Scott Wedgewood. Blandisi was on a 3-year, $2,365,000 entry-level contract. He tallied just three goals and six assists in 27 games this year; he got off to a slow start and was sent back down to Albany (AHL) to “overcook” and he looked much better when he came back up. The organization does have an abundance of centermen but Blandisi is an important piece for the future, and he looked good with both Bennett and Adam Henrique.

Which brings us to Beau Bennett. He signed a 1-year, $750K contract last summer and also had a pretty decent season. He has really good puck possession numbers and that’s something the Devils could really use going forward. He had eight goals and 11 assists in 65 games, and was relatively healthy this year. His biggest problem is injuries but he played 65 games for the first time in his NHL career (which is a huge improvement) and if he can stay healthy next year, he’s an asset the Devils can really use. I would hope for at least another 1-year contract, or a 2-year contract if he wants to stay in Jersey, which he just might.

Stefan Noesen, buddies with fellow (former) rookie Pavel Zacha, could also use a new contract. The Devils claimed him off of waivers from the Anaheim Ducks, and he got off to a fast start (two goals in two games) but he tallied six goals (eight points) overall this season (32 games). He hit a slump but got better as the season went on and he has chemistry with the team, on and off the ice. He was on a 1-year, $600K contract with the Ducks and will have to be signed to a new contract, possibly another short-term one.

Scott Wedgewood suffered a shoulder injury at the beginning of the season that sidelined him the entire regular season and the first half of the postseason for Albany (AHL). He did dress for the final two games, which is a promising sign for the future. He played four games for the Devils last season (when Schneider was sidelined with an injury), going 2-1-1 with a 1.24 GAA and a .957 save %. This isn’t a huge sample size but it’s a promising one. If Kinkaid decides to test free agency and ultimately does not return to New Jersey, Wedgewood will serve as a backup and he looks ready to play at the NHL level. Either he or Kinkaid will have to be exposed in the upcoming Vegas expansion draft but with the abundance of options available at goaltender, they will remain with the organization.

There are a host of other RFAs, all of them spent a significant amount of time in Albany this year. The Devils will have a lot of work to do this summer between resigning players, signing free agents from other teams, signing (and trading) Ilya Kovalchuk, and participating in the upcoming entry-level and expansion drafts. The Devils do get to pick first overall in the entry-level draft on June 23rd, and there’s a post about it here: THE NEW JERSEY DEVILS WIN THE 2017 DRAFT LOTTERY

There’s also a post about Kovalchuk here: The Return of Ilya Kovalchuk? but expect there to be plenty more during the rest of the offseason about everything the Devils are up to. There’s a complete offseason preview here: New Jersey Devils: Offseason Expectations and it will be a busy one.