Lost in all the talk about Steven Stamkos, Milan Lucic, and Loui Erickson are some real hidden gems in this year’s free agent class. One of those players is right wing Jiri Hudler, who’s coming off another solid season split between playing for the Calgary Flames and Florida Panthers. After posting career numbers of 31 goals and 76 points in 2014-2015, Hudler simmered down considerably this season, at least with the Flames where he had just 10 goals and 35 points over 53 contests. After being traded to the Panthers, Hudler finished out the season with six goals and 11 points in 19 games. For comparison, Hudler would have had 16 goals in 53 games at the pace he was scoring in Florida.
Hudler’s career season in 2014-2015 was understandably a byproduct of the overachievement that swept the entire Flames organization by storm. Hudler naturally fell back to Earth with the rest of the Flames team, but his performance with the Panthers is a testament to how the 32-year old forward can thrive in a winning situation if he’s utilized properly- He will deliver if he’s given a shoot-first role. Hudler has proved this in the three separate seasons where he scored 20+ goals. In all three instances (2008-2009, 2011-2012, 2013-2014) Hudler registered three of his four highest shot totals in a single season, exceeding 120 shots each year.
While his offensive output has been relatively volatile throughout his career, there’s a lot to Hudler’s game that makes him appeal to teams with a need for scoring wingers. In addition to showing flashes of having a knack for the net, this was Hudler’s third consecutive season where he finished with at least 30 assists, evidence that he can play a well-balanced offensive game. He’s also a good power play option, where he was awarded a considerable amount of time this season with Calgary. Having said that, Hudler only had three goals and ten points on the power play this year, attaining the majority of his offensive output in five-on-five situations. Teams like the Devils who struggled mightily in that category will certainly take these aspects of Hudler’s game into consideration. One of Hudler’s biggest appeals is the playoff experience he brings. He has 16 goals and 42 points in 83 playoff games, and won a Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings in 2008. One of the biggest takeaways from his time in Calgary was how well he fit in the organization’s rebuilding plans. He was a complimentary asset on a line with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, able to match the young duo’s speed and helped make their line a menacing force in the opponent’s zone, and led the team in scoring in 2014-2015.
Seeing how well Hudler worked out in Calgary and the role he played in their 2014-2015 campaign is more than enough reason for me to believe he would be a good fit in New Jersey. The Devils have an abundance of young up and comers like Reid Boucher, Joseph Blandisi, along with players like Pavel Zacha in the pipeline. If Hudler would emulate the role he played with youngsters Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, he could help the Devils tap into an internal source of scoring that they’ve been seeking for the past few seasons. One playing scenario I can see Hudler in is a line with Jacob Josefson or rookie Pavel Zacha as his center, and someone like Reid Boucher or Joseph Blandisi on the left side. It’s worth reiterating that Hudler is a right wing, a department where the Devils are severely lacking depth in. Hudler becoming part of a right wing cast that already features Kyle Palmieri and Devante Smith-Pelley will help round out the Devil’s top-six, and give Coach Hynes a few more options for line combinations throughout the coming season.
Hudler also spent two seasons as Mike Cammalleri’s teammate in Calgary, so it’s possible these two can rekindle any old chemistry they previously had together. If not put on a youth-oriented line like in Calgary, I could envision him playing alongside Cammalleri and Henrique, where Hudler could wind up becoming next year’s rendition of Lee Stempniak. Term and price don’t seem like much of a factor when looking at a player like Hudler. I’m sure he’ll be looking for a similar amount of years like he had in his previous contract with a pay raise of at least $500K-$1 million a year. If he can be had for under $4.5 million, I wouldn’t be opposed to the Devils taking a stab at Hudler.