It was a long offseason for the Devils. One that came with many changes the franchise has not seen in decades. Gone are long-time executives Lou Lamoriello and David Conte as well as seasoned veterans Dainius Zubrus and Steve Bernier. With the offseason now over and the first preseason game right around the corner, it’s time to take a look at the Devils revamped roster which features some familiar faces and some new ones too.
Up front, the Devils have gone through a number of changes in an effort to make the team younger this offseason. Gone are Scott Gomez, Dainius Zubrus, and Steve Bernier. Even though the Devils are rebuilding and looking to get younger up front, they still return some key veterans who will remain an important of the Devils plans in 2015-16.
One of those players would be Mike Cammalleri, who led the team last season with 27 goals. Cammalleri was one of the few bright spots up front for New Jersey last season. He’ll look to build upon last year with a strong camp and preseason while most likely playing on the Devils top line.
Career Devil, Patrik Elias, returns for his 19th season in a Devils uniform. The 39 year-old is in the final year of his contract. Elias, like many other Devils, is looking to bounce back from a rough season where he only tallied 34 points; his lowest total since 1997-98, where he scored 37 points in what was his 1st full season in the NHL.
Another Devil looking to rebound from a tremendously disappointing season is Travis Zajac where he set career lows for points (0.337 per game). He hasn’t had a lot of help the past couple seasons, especially since the loss of Zach Parise. Zajac will have an opportunity to find his offensive touch again, as early line combos seem to indicate he’ll be playing with Mike Cammalleri and Jiri Tlusty on the Devils top line.
The Devils welcome two new, young forwards to the roster, Jiri Tlusty and Kyle Palmieri. Palmieri, a NJ native, is beginning his 1st training camp with the Devils this season. Palmieri was a 51% possession player for Anaheim last season and was on pace for a 20 goal, 40 point season if it weren’t for an injury that sidelined him for extended time. Considering the log jam at forward in Anaheim, Palmieri will have the opportunity to have a larger role in New Jersey and increase his point totals.
Tlusty, the newest addition to the Devils, signed a one year deal worth $800k this past week. Per Travis Yost, Tlusty’s goals for per 60 over the least four seasons tops the likes of players such as Matt Beleskey, Artem Anisimov, and Jaden Schwartz, all of whom have higher cap hits than Tlusty. The Devils made off great with this deal and he’ll be a much welcomed addition to the Devils up front.
Players such as the ones mentioned above have their roster spots locked up. However, Ray Shero made sure to bring in some competition for camp by inviting seasoned veterans, Lee Stempniak and Tyler Kennedy, into camp on PTOs. Shero is familiar with the two from his time in Pittsburgh. It’s no guarantee that either one makes the team out of camp, but if one or both of them do, it could mean that Stephen Gionta or Tuomo Ruutu could be on their way out to make room for Stempniak or Kennedy on the roster.
If I had to guess who makes the team between Kennedy and Stempniak, I would lean towards the latter right now. Despite struggling for the Rangers last season, Stempniak was a productive acquisition for Winnipeg at the deadline. He scored 10 points in 18 games for Winnipeg and was a 50.9% possession player between his time in New York and Winnipeg last season.
There’s also more of an opening for Stempniak at right wing than there is for Tyler Kennedy at center. The Devils already have Travis Zajac, Adam Henrique, Jacob Josefson, and Patrik Elias, all of whom are capable of playing center. Throw in the likes of Pavel Zacha and it seems that Kennedy may be facing an uphill climb. That’s not to say he doesn’t have a chance. If Kennedy has a good camp and preseason, he may make the team. It also helps that Shero is familiar with him from his time in Pittsburgh. Kennedy is a quality bottom 6 forward, so look for him to at least give the younger players some stern competition during camp.
On defense, the Devils are returning a young group of defensemen. They’ll be led by Andy Greene, who returns for his 9th season as a Devil. Greene has the most experience along the blueline and will be instrumental in leading a relatively young group of defensemen that has only one player above the age of 30 (Greene).
The Devils feature two new faces on defense, John Moore and David Schlemko. Moore was the Devils lone transaction on July 1st, signing a three year deal with New Jersey. Moore is looking for a regular spot along the blueline as a possible bottom pair defenseman. There’s going to be plenty of competition for regular spots in the bottom half of the Devils defense pairs. Along with Schlemko, rookies such as Seth Helgeson will be looking to earn regular time with NHL club coming out of camp.
On July 3rd, the Devils added defense Marc-Andre Gragnani. After a year playing for SC Bern in Switzerland, Gragnani returns to the NHL after signing a one year, two-way deal with New Jersey on July 3rd. In 2014-15, he put up 37 points in 49 games in Switzerland. Gragnani will be fighting for a spot as the Devils 7th defenseman, but faces an uphill battle. With David Schlemko, as well as rookies like Seth Helgeson and Vojtech Mozik, Gragnani is on the lower end of the totem pole for earning a spot in New Jersey. He’ll likely start the season in Albany and will serve as a potential call-up in case New Jersey ever needed one.
The position where there is virtually no competition camp this season is in net. Cory Schneider returns for his 3rd season in New Jersey and his 2nd season as a full-time starter in red and black. In 69 games, he posted a 92.5% save percentage, which was 5th best in the NHL last season. He also had a 93.4% save percentage at even strength, good for 4th best for goalies who played 60+ games. He and Keith Kinkaid will anchor the strongest aspect of this Devils team. Last season, Schneider and Kinkaid finished the season with a combined 93.4% save percentage at 5v5, good for 3rd best in the NHL.
Schneider and Kinkaid won’t be the only veteran goalies at camp this season. Journeyman goaltender and former Devil, Yann Danis, returns to New Jersey for his 2nd stint with the team. Danis signed a one year, two-way deal with the Devils on July 3rd. With Schneider and Kinkaid firmly securing the net in New Jersey, Danis will provide depth in Albany and will give the Devils a solid backup who can fill a spot in New Jersey in case one of Schneider or Kinkaid gets injured.