With training camp set to begin next week, speculation will intensify on what the final roster looks like for the New Jersey Devils. While this year’s group is going to be vastly different than last season’s, management brought back a decent number of players from the 2015-2016 squad that they’re still hoping become building blocks for the team’s future. Granted the Devils are agreeably still in a rebuilding state and these players are relatively young, their windows of opportunity to establish themselves as roster players are closing with the Devils. Now that the organization’s prospect pool is finally replenishing and the team is becoming a more desirable destination to play for, general manager Ray Shero won’t be as hesitant to sever ties with these players moving forward.
Jacob Josefson…Although he was an integral part of the power play last season, his offensive numbers don’t make it seem that way. In his second full season with the Devils, Josefson only tallied four goals and 14 points in 58 contests. One of our most recent articles on Josefson noted how the Devils went 22.5% on the power play in games Josefson played and 11.2% in games without him. In addition to 11 of his points last season coming on the power play, the value and potential in what Josefson can truly offer is easily recognizable. While his presence on the power play was certainly a factor in the decision to bring him back, the Devils certainly aren’t expecting him to merely eclipse his totals last season. Even if Josefson continues to produce on the power play, the Devils have prospects in the pipeline like Pavel Zacha, John Quenneville, and Mike McLeod that can do more with Josefson’s opportunity if he has another counterproductive year scoring-wise.
Jon Merrill…Once touted as the organization’s top up and coming prospects, Merrill’s first few NHL seasons haven’t gone as one would have hoped. In 165 career games, Merrill only has five goals and 30 points while not particularly excelling in any offensive or defensive department of the game. Merrill didn’t even prove to be a steady defenseman either, having gone minus 15 this season and spending the vast majority of playing time in his own zone. Merrill’s impact in the lineup is personified by the team’s winning percentage with and without him playing. New Jersey’s 2015-2016 winning percentage was .46 (38-36-8), which is a vast contrast from the team’s winning percentage (.40) in the 47 games Merrill dressed (19-24-4). In Merrill’s case however, his lack of NHL experience along with his age (24) works in his favor, enough to warrant him one more full season to show he can be a building block for this team moving forward. Especially with the void Adam Larsson’s departure left on the blue line and possibility prospects like Steve Santini and Josh Jacobs might not be ready for full-time NHL action, Merrill has a prime opportunity to rebound and establish himself, but is probably on his last leg.
Keith Kinkaid…Currently slated as the No. 2 goalie on New Jersey’s depth chart, the 27-year old New York native had a very volatile first two NHL seasons. Considering the quality of the rosters the Devils have had at their disposal in recent seasons, Kinkaid’s inaugural season seemed promising. In 19 games played (13 started), Kinkaid went 6-5-4 with a 2.59 GAA and .915 SV%. He failed to build on those totals in 2015-2016, despite getting more playing time (a portion of which came at the expense of Cory Schneider’s midseason injury). In 23 games (20 started), Kinkaid went 9-9-1 while managing a 2.81 GAA and .904 SV%. Although Kinkaid attained his first two career NHL shutouts, he gave up three or more goals in 12 of those games last season, 11 of which he started. Granted Kinkaid hasn’t played in front of a playoff-caliber defense during his time with the Devils, he has to show some degree of reliability in backing up Schneider. Although the Devils defense is comparatively worse than last year’s, Kinkaid is in a contract year. If he proves incapable of improving especially with Scott Wedgewood coming up the pipeline, Kinkaid might prove expendable, especially if he has a slow start in the chances he gets this coming season.