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By acquiring Marcus Johansson, the New Jersey Devils took care of a major need up front. He puts up points and has previously played any one of the forward positions. That being said, Johansson says he’s most comfortable playing left wing. If that’s where he’ll probably find himself to start the season, leaving the Devils with a glaring lack of scoring depth on the right side (outside of Kyle Palmieri). There are a few options in free agency and within the organization available to Ray Shero that could help the Devils bolster the right side up front, so let’s take a look.
Thomas Vanek: He’s one of the top remaining free agents. His shot metrics weren’t great this past season, however he did average 2.61 points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 last season, the 5th-best mark for forwards with more than 750 minutes played. Vanek still has something to offer offensively, but the Devils would have to be careful with his deployment because he is a defensive liability. He’ll likely come on a deal similar to the one-year, $2.5 million contract he signed with Detroit last summer, and would provide short-term scoring help the Devils need on the right side.
Jaromir Jagr: At 45-years old, he still has something left in the tank. Jagr finished this past season with 46 points in 82 games, averaging 1.75 points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. While his point totals were down from the previous season, he still had great shot metrics. Of 262 forwards to play more than 750 minutes at 5-on-5 on last season, Jagr finished 21st with a 54.9% possession line. He also averaged 58.9 shot attempts per 60 minutes as opposed to 48.4 shot attempts against per 60 minutes. He clearly can still play, but he’s also not the skater he used to be, which may hinder him on a younger, faster Devils team.
P.A. Parenteau: Just like Jagr, Devils fans will be familiar with Parenteau. He came into New Jersey as a waiver pickup before the start of last season and put up 27 points in 59 games for the Devils- good for a 38-point pace over 82 games. He still has some offensive ability, averaging 1.50 points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 last season, which was the same as Kris Versteeg, who recently signed for 1 year, $1.75 million in Calgary. Parenteau will likely come in for much less than that and would provide the Devils with some more scoring depth. He’d be another short-term fill, can play in any role, and most of all Ray Shero, John Hynes, and his staff are familiar with him.
In-House Candidates: The first forward the Devils could look to is the newly acquired Marcus Johansson. He’s played all three forward positions and although he says he’s more comfortable on the left, New Jersey could look to start him out on the right wing. After Johansson, the options are a little thinner. Stefan Noesen showed some flashes after coming to New Jersey as a waiver pickup. Nick Lappin posted seven points in 43 games for the Devils before being sent back to Albany, where he finished the season with 29 points in 35 games. Blake Speers just finished his junior career with Sault Ste. Marie in the OHL, and will get a long look during the preseason.
Trade Market: The Devils could look to the trade market, but at what cost? If a Marcus Johansson-like trade comes about, it’d be hard to pass up, but those trades are few and far between. Any highly-touted forward that’s available will come at a high price, and the Devils still need to address their abysmal group of defensemen. Shero would be better off using their trade chips on defense instead of adding another forward on an expensive trade.
Summary: The Devils have enough young wings that can help fill out the right side in their bottom-six. What they need most is another top-six right winger. Although the three free agents mentioned above are on the wrong of side of 30, they’d all come on short-term deals, which helps for a rebuilding Devils team. Of those three, Thomas Vanek makes the most sense for the Devils. He still produces at a high rate, and fills that need for another top-six winger. He won’t cost much to sign and if he produces at the rate he did this past season, he could become a nice trade chip for the Devils if they’re out of contention by the trade deadline. I can see an argument for Jagr also but given his age, I think it’s more than likely he signs with a team poised for a deep playoff run.
The most likely scenario, as of this moment, seems to be trying Johansson out on the right, then filling the spots below him with Noesen, Speers, or Lappin. If Johansson works out on the right wing, there shouldn’t be much of an issue. If not, then New Jersey will be lacking scoring depth from their right side and will need to find a solution going forward.
Advanced stats are from Hockey Analysis