You can follow me on Twitter @MiikeLuci
One of the newer admins on Devils Army Blog, Mike Michalski, was kind enough to take some time to answer a few questions I had for my third Q&A installment. We talked about some of the Devils’ upcoming unrestricted free agents we could see back next year, where key roster players stand with the team going into the offseason, upcoming prospects from the AHL, the draft lottery outcome, and how trade deadline acquisitions have panned out for the teams in playoff contention.
On the Devils…
Three players that breathed some form of life into the Devils’ offense this year were Scott Gomez, Jordin Tootoo, and Steve Bernier. The turnaround seasons all three of them had, reaffirmed these players have what it takes to stay in the NHL, and if a deal can be made, there will certainly be a place for each of these players on next year’s team. If it came down to just one of these players, whose return next season will be the most beneficial for the team?
I would have to say that out of Gomez, Tootoo and Bernier, Tootoo was probably the most impactful player last season. He brings a physicality and his presence is always felt while he’s on the ice. Tootoo has also shown ability to put the puck in the net and was a key component of the Devils power play last season. As much as I like Tootoo however, he will be turning 33 half way through next season and will likely be looking to sign a multi-year deal as he nears the backend of his career. Several forwards are waiting in the wings down in Albany and the bottom line is that while I would love to see Tootoo come back, he doesn’t represent the Devils long term future and I would rather see some of the younger guys getting more ice time next season. For those reasons, he would not be my choice. I won’t get that far into detail with Scott Gomez other than to say that I enjoyed watching him play last season and he clearly benefited from being back in the Devils system. I could see offering him a one year contract at minimum money, but if only given the ability to sign one of the three, I would let Gomez walk.
Finally, my choice would be Steve Bernier. Bernier is only 30 years old and firmly in the prime of his career. His birthday is also at the tail end of next season, so he’s a young 30. A first round pick (16th overall) by the San Jose Sharks in 2003, Bernier has experienced many ups and downs, including receiving a five minute major for boarding during the deciding game of the 2012 Stanley Cup finals in which the LA Kings scored three times. Bernier also started last season down in Albany after being a regular fixture in the Devils lineup as a fourth liner playing mostly alongside Stephen Gionta and now former Devil, Ryan Carter. Bernier battled back and ended up playing 67 games for the big club scoring a career high sixteen goals, four of which were on the PP and sixteen assists, which matched his career high. Was last season just a fluke or can we expect more of the same from Bernier next season? While I don’t expect Bernier to suddenly start producing 45 points a season, he earned the league minimum last year and the Devils could likely ink him up long term for under one million per season. The bottom line is that Bernier offers you the best bang for your buck, and at only 30 years old still has the greatest long term potential of the three.
It’s been speculated that Travis Zajac has piggybacked from playing with talents like Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Patrik Elias throughout his time in New Jersey. After what we’ve seen from him the past two seasons, he’s given plenty of reason to doubt his capabilities of being the type of center he was projected to become earlier in his career. If this season (following up from his 2013-2014 season) is any indication of Zajac’s true colors, where would you say he stands on the team’s depth chart?
Travis Zajac to me is a solid second or third line center and his most valuable asset is his ability to win face-offs. His faceoff percentage is consistently over fifty percent and was over seventy percent several times last season. The question is, is he worth the roughly 5.75 million dollars per season that the Devils have been paying him when he has only managed 29 goals and 44 assists in 154 games over the last two seasons? A lot of Devils had a rough season last year and Zajac was no exception, however he’s going to be turning thirty in a few weeks and will still be well entrenched in the prime of his career. Zajac is also only one year removed from a 48 point season and I think the jury is still out on whether or not the Devils overpaid when they gave him the huge 8 year extension a few years back.
New Jersey’s AHL counterpart (Albany Devils) missed the postseason by a hair, but displayed some formidable offensive assets throughout the season. Injuries on the Devils’ defense prompted call-ups from Albany that reiterated how deep New Jersey’s defensive prospect pool truly is as well. The popularly mentioned players (Boucher, Matteau, Helgeson) aside, who’s a dark horse prospect you could see making the Devils’ 2015 opening night roster?
I would personally be very surprised if Reid Boucher was not on the NJ Devils opening night roster next season. With a lot of the Devils dead weight leaving as UFA this offseason I fully expect the team to make the turn towards the future and give a lot of the younger forwards in the system a chance to blossom. Boucher looked so much more comfortable to me when he was called up at the end of last year. I believe that if given a chance with a true spot on the roster, without fear of being scratched or sent down his confidence will greatly improve and with that the rest of his natural skill sets should quickly blossom. Boucher undoubtedly still has some growing up to do but his stock is very high and we saw how much a regular roster spot boosted Adam Larsson’s confidence and play last season.
Around the league…
Another year, another draft where the Edmonton Oilers will pick first overall. It’s a situation that is just as convenient as it is inconvenient for the Oilers, who simply can’t pass on the opportunity to draft Connor McDavid, but were projected to draft a defenseman in the first round, since the past few seasons have shown this is one spot where they need the most help. After they select McDavid first overall, how do you think the Oilers will try to get immediate help for their defense this offseason?
I think in most any other draft the Oilers in this situation would be looking to trade down, however when you have a player like McDavid on the board, passing up on him could be the teams biggest mistake since trading away Wayne Gretzky. The team reminds me a lot of the NY Islanders. A lot of talent up front but lack of veteran leadership on defense. They might have to consider moving some of that talent up front or go after someone on the free agent market. Christian Ehrhoff is someone that I think would fit the Oilers well. He will be 32 years old next season and missed most of the second half with concussion problems but he still has a large upside to his game. Ehrhoff is a +59 in his career and will undoubtedly be a bargain as he seeks to prove that he can still play in the NHL.
Most of the 16 teams trying to avoid an early postseason dismissal wouldn’t be where they are without the contributions the players they acquired from the trade deadline have made. Which playoff team has gotten the most significant contributions from the players they brought in at the deadline thus far? Which team is getting the most out of their trade deadline acquisitions in the playoffs?
Out of all 16 teams that made the post season this year I would have to say that the moves that the Minnesota Wild have made have been the most significant. The Wild acquired Ryan Suter and former Devils Captain during the 2012 offseason. Since signing with the Wild, Parise has 80 goals and 156 points in 189 games. Suter on defense has also been a solid offensive contributor with 113 points and is a +24 since signing with the Wild. What really pushed Minnesota over the edge however was the trade they made to acquire goaltender Devan Dubnyk in January. Minnesota sent a third round draft pick to Phoenix in exchange for Dubnyk who went an astounding 27-9-2 with a 1.78 GAA. Before that trade, Minnesota was out of playoff spot but thanks to great play by Dubnyk down the stretch, the Wild made a push and now find themselves in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs behind a 4-2 performance thus far by Dubnyk who put up a 2.32 GAA in the first round.