(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).