The free agency frenzy is long gone, and most of the big names have been signed. The Devils addressed most of their needs via free agency and the trade market. However, there is still one glaring hole left on this team that Ray Shero will need to address before the season starts. The Devils traded Adam Larsson for Taylor Hall on June 29th, which opened up a spot along their blue line. They signed Ben Lovejoy and are hoping some of their younger players such as Steve Santini and Damon Severson can fill in and step up in place of Larsson. Even if that’s the case, it couldn’t hurt to bring in another defenseman.
All the big names have been signed, but there are still a couple of interesting, potentially good value signings available. One of those would be James Wisniewski, who missed all but 47 seconds of the 2015-16 season with a torn ACL he suffered on his first shift of the season.
Over the last three seasons Wisniewski has played in, he’s been one of the more productive offensive defenseman in the league. From 2012-15, he scored at a rate of 0.89 points per 60 minutes, which is just a bit less than Keith Yandle and slightly better than defensemen such as Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Jacob Trouba. He also had an assist rate of 0.78 assists per 60 minutes, which was in the top twenty in the league over that time span.
During that three year time frame, Wisniewski totaled 99 points in 174 games, which would easily make him the biggest offensive threat the Devils have on defense. Most of that has been on the playmaking side where he had 51 even-strength assists. Andy Greene’s 37 even-strength assists is the best total for a Devils defenseman from 2012-15. Wisniewski also tied a career high for points with 51 in 2013-14 while playing for Columbus.
While Wisniewski may be more of an offensive defenseman, his defensive numbers aren’t too bad either. He averages about three more shot attempts for than against and his shot suppression numbers are about middle-of-the-pack for defenders with 1000+ minutes from 2012-15. He also tends to drive better possession than his teammates when he’s on the ice compared to when he’s off the ice. His numbers aren’t eye-popping, but he tends to get the job done.
The big question about Wisniewski is his health. He’s coming off a significant knee injury and is the major reason why he’s still unsigned to this point. The Devils shouldn’t give him a contract right now, but bringing him into camp on a PTO would be a smart decision. They could use another right-handed, puck-moving defenseman and would also strengthen competition among some of their young defenseman who are looking for full-time gigs in the NHL.
The Devils blue line is nothing to boast about. Aside from Andy Greene and Damon Severson, there are a lot of unknowns. Ben Lovejoy is a solid third-pair guy, but asking him to log the minutes Larsson did would be too much. Steven Santini will get a good shot to make the team, but again, asking him to play Larsson’s minutes would be too much, especially as a rookie. Guys like Vojtech Mozik and Seth Helgeson will also be in the fray, but they’re third-pair guys at best.
Wisniewski may not be able to play 20-25 minutes a night, but he would definitely give the Devils a much needed boost in their top-six defense pairs. He could also be an effective quarterback for the power play and would be one of the Devils better offensive defenseman. If his health checks out, he should definitely be in Devils camp come September. He’d certainly be an upgrade for a blue line that could be shored up a bit. There’s nothing to lose by bringing him and it could turn out to be a great value signing for the Devils if he plays to the level that he has in the past.