As was the case with draft day, the New Jersey Devils weren’t involved in any high-profile transactions, but kept in the right direction with the moves they did make yesterday. As expected forwards Blake Coleman and Paul Thompson were signed to entry-level deals at two years apiece. General Manager Ray Shero signed defenseman John Moore to a three-year deal, and brought in center Jim O’Brien.
Coleman (23), was drafted 75th overall by the Devils in 2011. He will turn pro this fall after spending the past four years playing with the University of Miami (Ohio). He had 20 goals and 37 points as a senior, putting his college totals to 60 goals and 107 points in 143 total games played.
Thompson (26) had a breakout season in Albany that turned a lot of heads. He had 33 goals and 55 points in 73 games during his first season with the Devils. The 6’1, 200lbs right wing previously played in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for parts of the past 3 ½ seasons (and for new Devils head coach John Hynes), before he was traded to the Springfield Falcons in 2014. In 171 games for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, Thompson had 35 goals and 64 points, totals he almost eclipsed this past season alone. Thompson will be given a long look in training camp, especially with the team’s quantitative lack of wingers to play on the right side.
Ray Shero’s first acquisition of the day was 24-year old defenseman John Moore. He was signed to a three-year $5 million deal, after the Arizona Coyotes initially opted not to give him a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent. Moore was dealt to the Arizona in the trade that sent Keith Yandle to the Rangers back in February. In 38 games with New York, Moore had one goal and six points, while registering one goal and five points in 19 games with Arizona. Moore becomes the only Devils defenseman besides Andy Greene to appear in more than 200 NHL contests (230).
In what was likely a depth signing, the Devils inked right-shooting center Jim O’Brien, a former Senators first round pick (29th overall, 2007). He appeared in 63 NHL contests over parts of three seasons, registering eight goals and 12 points. He’s played in 266 AHL games over parts of six seasons. Although he hasn’t played in the NHL since the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season, he had a brief KHL stint with Novokuznetsk Metallurg, getting two goals and 12 points in 22 games. Similarly to Paul Thompson (but to a lesser extent), O’Brien had a productive stint with the Hershey Bears this past season, scoring ten goals with 29 points in 32 games.
The signings of Jim O’Brien and Blake Coleman should provide enough offense to replace Paul Thompson in Albany, should be make the Devils out of training camp. With the possibility of O’Brien brought in, to audition for the team’s fourth-line center (primarily occupied by Stephen Gionta and Jacob Josefson), the signing further reiterates Ray Shero’s intention of instilling youth throughout the roster, and not fully committing to the remaining Devils with ties to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final run. While it’s unlikely the Devils aren’t done making moves, Shero is making it clear that other potential offensive outlets within the organization that were previously overlooked (Thompson, Josefson), will be given a better chance to attain a regular roster spot than in previous years.
At 24, John Moore is still in the early stages of his NHL career. He was one of countless former first round picks that didn’t bode well for the Blue Jackets, and for the most part, has primarily been known as “that guy” who was part of a package deal with a star-quality player going the other way. He was initially traded to the Rangers in 2013 when they shipped Marian Gaborik to Columbus, before his involvement in the Yandle deal (as previously mentioned above).
If Moore was signed with the guarantee of being on the opening night roster, his acquisition established the parameters of the Devils’ defensive depth. Although he’s capable of playing as a third or fourth defenseman, Moore has commonly been penciled in as a third-pairing defenseman. With Andy Greene and Adam Larsson set as the Devils’ top pair, it makes it easier for Hynes and Shero to identify who their third-fifth defensemen will be from a depth perspective, and minimize the need to habitually rely on plugins like Peter Harold and Mark Fraser.
For a player his size (6’3), Moore’s physical game is lacking, but he’s exhibited flashes of consistency while playing for three different teams over the past four seasons. He’s a good skater that gets the puck out of his own zone. Production-wise, he hasn’t shown much; however considering his limited ice time while playing for three different teams (being dealt midseason twice) in four seasons, there’s definitely room for potential growth.
The two charts below compare Moore’s point production, shots and shifts per game, and average ice time over his past four seasons to the Devils defensemen slated to return next season that appeared in more than 50 games in 2014-2015…
Moore Career Stats
Devils 2014-2015 Defensemen
Moore has, for the most part, been consistent in production and shots per game over the past four seasons, despite the two instances where he’s changed teams. He hasn’t averaged more than 15 minutes of ice time until this past season (split between New York and Arizona), and his average shots per game has increased slightly since his rookie campaign.
When compared to the five Devils defensemen above, he falls in the middle in average shots per game, while getting considerable less ice time (outside of Eric Gelinas), and playing in fewer games except for Severson (who was injured for a portion of last season). Overall, Moore has the opportunity to escalate his game in New Jersey, but will likely do so by working his way up the team’s depth chart. Considering how the Devils has the second-least shots per game this past season (24.5), Moore can help the Devils in that category, especially if he sees an increase in ice time compared to what he’s gotten in his previous seasons.
For the most part, Ray Shero continued committing to the youth movement, but is being a little more selective in the players he’s offering opportunities to in the fall. As I said in the beginning of the article, Shero is likely far from finished but is slowly and quietly forming a solid youth-laden foundation in place for him to build on.