Click HERE to see Part One of our New Jersey Devils Free Agency Report.
Devante Smith-Pelly…The play of Devante Smith-Pelly was one of the few things that made the offseason worth watching. Ray Shero acquired DSP at the trade deadline from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for forward Stefan Matteau. It turned out to be a lopsided trade for the Devils, who saw Smith-Pelly get eight goals and 13 points in 18 contests. The 24-year old right wing had seasonal totals of 14 goals and 25 points in 64 games between the Devils and Canadiens. Concerns initially skyrocketed when Smith-Pelly didn’t receive a qualifying offer from general manager Ray Shero to keep him a restricted free agent going into July 1st. DSP was eventually brought back on a two-year $2.6 million contract that can be largely viewed as a well-bargained bridge contract for a player with tons of top-end potential.
Smith-Pelly addresses an integral need for right wing depth on the Devils roster, where he joins the likes of Kyle Palmieri and Beau Bennett (who was also re-signed on July 1st). Although seven of Smith-Pelly’s eight goals came in his first nine games with New Jersey, he responded very positively to Coach Hynes’ style of play. It’s worth noting DSP maintained a shooting percentage of 23.5 in his 18 games with the Devils and averaged 1.9 shots on a gamely basis, which partly explains his initial goal streak. Depending on how the Devils fill their extra right wing slot, DSP is likely to go into the 2016-2017 season as an established top-nine forward.
Jon Merrill…Despite appearing in only 165 games over the past three seasons, it didn’t take long for Merrill to fall out of favor amongst the fan base with his faulty and inconsistent play. One of our previous articles pondered the possibility of Merrill not receiving a qualifying offer, making him an unrestricted free agent. Despite that being the case, he was ultimately brought back on a two-year $2.275 million deal. In 47 contests, Merrill registered one goal and five points, adding to his career totals of five goals and 30 points. At 24 years of age, Ray Shero clearly thinks Merrill has greater untapped skill, which I’m sure is what largely factored in the decision to bring him back.
Merrill hasn’t given any indication (based on play) as to what kind of defenseman he’s going to pan out to be. Among Devils defensemen with at least 30 games played in 2015-2016, Merrill was in the middle of the pack among hits, blocked shots, and shot percentage. Although he appeared in a little more than half of New Jersey’s regular seaosn schedule, he also averaged the lowest average of shots per game (.7) amongst Devils defensemen. The departures of Adam Larsson, David Schlemko, and the pre-ripened developmental state of the organizations top defensive prospects clearly gives Merrill a golden opportunity to establish himself going into next season.
Low Profile Signings
Beau Bennett…Amidst the hype that Ray Shero would make a second Kyle Palmieri-type trade at the NHL Entry Draft, the outcome was partially correct. Shero did acquire another young right wing in Beau Bennett, from his former employer the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for a third round pick. Naturally, some Devils fans raised a few eyebrows when he didn’t receive a qualifying offer from the Devils and entered July 1st an unrestricted free agent. Bennett was later signed to a one-year deal with a $725K AAV. The former 2010 first round pick had an injury-riddled season with Pittsburgh in 2015-2016, where he appeared in just 33 contests, registering totals of six goals and 12 points. Bennett played his first 25 games of the season between October and January, during which he had five goals and as many assists. Upon returning to the Pittsburgh Lineup, Bennett registered one goal and two points in the last eight games of the season. The 24-year old is expected of fill the right wing slot in the Devil’s bottom-six, where he adds considerable size (6’2), which was sorely lacking in this past season’s lineup. It’s worth noting his .18 goals per game last season would have put him on pace to out-score all but five players that were on the Devils at some point last season, giving the bottom-six a potential boost in complimentary scoring.
Carter Camper, Andrew MacWilliam, Karl Stollery…This group of signings will more than likely cater solely to supplementing the roster depth on the Albany Devils going into next season. With a combined total of 27 NHL games among the forward and two defensemen, all three players have spent the majority of their professional careers in the AHL. One commonality among these three players is their mutual experience playing college hockey before debuting in the minors. After four years playing for Miami University of Ohio (Andy Greene’s college), Camper spent parts of four seasons in the Boston Bruins organizations before having playing stints with the Springfield Falcons, Binghamton Senators, and Hershey Bears. Stollery played four years at Merrimack College before signing with the Colorado Avalanche. He played parts of five seasons in their organization before being dealt to the San Jose Sharks, where he split time between the NHL and their AHL affiliate in Worcester. MacWilliam was a former seventh round pick by the Toronto Maple Leafs from the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. He played four years at the University of North Dakota and spent parts of four seasons in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization.