Top Remaining Unrestricted Free Agent The New Jersey Devils Should Target

Introduction

After a few early moves, general manager Tom Fitzgerald has been eerily quiet. The market as a whole has settled down as well. However, despite this, there still remains quality unrestricted free agents on the market. Additionally, the Devils still have a few glaring holes the team must address.

Projected Devils’ Depth Chart

Forwards

  • Bratt/Hischier/Gusev
  • Johnsson*/Hughes/Palmieri
  • Boqvist/Zajac/X
  • Wood/Zacha/X

Defenseman

  • Murray*/Severson
  • Butcher/Subban
  • Smith/X

Goalies

Per the projected New Jersey Devils’ depth chart above, it seems it would be in general manager Tom Fitzgerald’s best interest if he signed at least one bottom-pairing defenseman and a depth forward, or two. Specifically, one(s) that can play the right side. With this in mind, let’s look at what options still litter the free-agent market. 

Dominik Kahun is an extremely intriguing unrestricted free agent. (Photo via the AP)

Dominik Kahun

Dominik Kahun is someone that I mentioned in my original New Jersey Devils’ free-agent preview here. He was a surprise non-tender by the Buffalo Sabres. So, he hit the open market younger than most unrestricted free agents at age 25. This alone fits what general manager Tom Fitzgerald is looking for. 

Further analysis into Kahun’s statistics paints an even more confusing picture as to why he was not qualified. In his first two NHL season’s Kahun registered 37 points and a plus-10 rating in 82 games on a bad Chicago Blackhawks team. This while only playing 14 minutes a night. This season, Kahun played only 56 games split between Pittsburgh and Buffalo. He tallied 31 points while only playing 13 minutes a night. Over an 82-game season, this is a 45-point pace while playing an extremely limited amount of ice time.

Kahun’s points per 60 of 2.5 ranked 78th in the NHL, among those with a total of 50 minutes or more of ice time last season. This number was greater than the likes of Gabriel Landeskog, Claude Giroux, and Kyle Palmieri. 

Additionally, Kahun is no slouch defensively. His underlying Expected Goals Against per 60 (xGA/60) and Corsi Against per 60 (CA/60) are both above league average. Each are great measures of how Kahun’s team does when he is on the ice in suppressing opponents’ attempts, both the quantity and quality. This is something other young, former restricted free agents in Anthony Duclair and Andreas Athanasiou struggle with. And the main reason those two are not on this list.

A depth point-producer, with the age/potential of Kahun fits what the Devils are looking for perfectly. Although a presumed hot commodity, Dominik Kahun should be at the top of general manager Tom Fitzgerald’s list.

Josh Levio has played for two different teams over his career. (Photo via RICH LAM/Getty Images)

Josh Leivo

Josh Leivo is a name I have also had my eyes on since the beginning of the free-agency period. He is not a household or flashy name, but he gets the job done whenever he gets the chance.

The 27-year old, right-shot has spent his career split between Toronto and Vancouver. He has never really played a regular role as the most games he played in a season was 76 back in 2018-19. However, as mentioned, when he does play, he does well.

During that 76 games season, Leivo registered 24 points (14 goals, 10 assists) while only playing 14 minutes a night. He split that season between Toronto and Vancouver after being dealt midway through the season. This season, despite only playing 36 games, Leivo improved by totaling 19 points. Over an 82-game season, this is a 43-point pace. For reference, only Kyle Palmieri, Nikita Gusev, and Nico Hischier had a higher scoring rate than that for the Devils this season.

This chart is courtesy of Evolving-Hockey.com.

Analytically, Leivo is strong. Per the Regularized Adjusted Plus-Minus (RAPM) chart above, Leivo is well above league average in the two main Corsi statistic areas. As well as above average in each Expected Goals statistics. In simpler terms, when on the ice, Leivo’s teams are generating quality and quantity of chances, and also doing a good job of suppressing their opponents in this area. 

Tim Heed has played his whole career in San Jose. (Photo via Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports)

Tim Heed

Tim Heed, like Leivo, has not been given established ice time. However, when he has played, he has shown to be a formidable borderline defense-first, bottom-pairing asset. The 29-year old is right-handed and has yet to play more than 38 games in a season. His point production has been surprisingly decent. Over an 82-game pace, Heed is a career 23-point scorer and was on pace to score 30-plus points in two previous seasons. 

This chart is courtesy of Evolving-Hockey.com.

Analytically, Heed’s defensive game checks out well. Per the RAPM above, Heed’s above league average when it comes to xGA/60 and CA/60. He is not over-reliant on hits or shot-blocking but seems to be a puck-mover that can tally the occasional point while being sound in his own end. 

This chart is courtesy of @CJTDevil on Twitter. Data is courtesy of @ShutdownLine on Twitter.

The other above chart I included demonstrates Heed’s ability to exit the zone successfully. He ranks in the 88th percentile of the NHL in the number of exits per 60 and in the 87th percentile of the NHL in the successfulness of his exits. He is also a stout defender when it comes to defending opponent entry. As you can see above.

Given Heed is a right-handed defenseman it seems he would be a solid complement to Ty Smith in what will most likely be the other half of the Devils’ third defensive pairing come next season. Heed would also only require the league minimum in being signed.

Worth mentioning, Tim Heed signed a contract with the HC Lugano of the Swiss NLA. The deal is reportedly set to expire on November 15th, so a return to the NHL is likely.

Jan Rutta has played for both Tampa Bay and Chicago in his career. (Photo via Jim McIssac/AP)

Jan Rutta

Jan Rutta is another player that has yet to get his fair shot with ice time. In his three-year career, he has played 127 games between the Blackhawks and Lightning. The right-handed defenseman has size as he is listed at six-foot-three, 200 pounds.

This chart is courtesy Evolving-Hockey.com.

Rutta’s point production throughout his career is not all that impressive. Other traditional statistics such as hits and blocked shots are also underwhelming. What caught my eye about Rutta is his analytics. The above RAPM chart shows why I make this claim. He contributes offensively in terms of shot attempts nad quality and seems to suppress them well defensively. 

The impressive thing about Rutta is he was one of the few bright spots on an extremely underwhelming Blackhawks’ defensive core for parts of two seasons. To the surprise of nobody, this type of play continued once with Tampa Bay. The 29-year old would be a solid depth signing for New Jersey and like Heed, would cost next to nothing.

Slater Koekkoek was a restricted free agent but he was not qualified by Chicago. (Photo via Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Slater Koekkoek

Slater Koekkoek was another casualty of the unique financial situation surrounding the NHL. As he was not qualified by the Chicago Blackhawks. The left-handed defenseman brings size, as he is listed at six-foot-two and 193 pounds. He also checks off the “age box,” as he is only 26-years old. 

Over his six-year NHL career, Koekkoek has played 149 games with the Lightning and Blackhawks. His point production is nothing worth mentioning, but it seems he does do a decent job shot-blocking. As a few times in his career, he was on pace to block well over 100 shots. 

This chart is courtesy of Evolving-Hockey.com.

Koekkoek takes the designation “analytic darling” to a whole different level. The RAPM above shows exactly what I mean. Again, what this chart is showing is that Koekkoek’s team, when he is on the ice excels at generating both high quality and quantity of shot attempts and also does this at the other end of the ice.

Koekkoek gives the Devils’ both the youth and size the team is looking for in adding talent. He also gives the team the option to allow Ty Smith to play the left-side which he did in juniors. He is certainly someone that general manager Tom Fitzgerald may want to keep his eyes on.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Connor Sheary – 28-year old, LW, Pittsburgh
  • Michael Frolik – 32-year old, RW, Buffalo
  • Ben Hutton – 27-year old, LHD, Vancouver
  • Mark Pysyk – 28-year old, RHD, Florida
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1 comment on “Top Remaining Unrestricted Free Agent The New Jersey Devils Should Target”

  1. Nick Reply

    Very insightful article. It would have been helpful to list the height/weight statistics for all featured players but I guess we can look that up. 👍🏻

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