Entering his second season with the New Jersey Devils, hopes were high that right wing Jordin Tootoo would have a strong follow up year to his tremendous second-half in 2014-2015. He earned a second contract with the Devils after making the team as a tryout last year, where he registered ten goals (one shy of tying his career-high) and 15 points. After scoring just two goals in his first 27 games in 2014-2015, Tootoo would rally in the latter-half of that season, tallying eight goals and 13 points in 39 contests. He would never have the anticipated follow up year the Devils had hoped for, even with a larger role when he started the 2015-2016 season as right wing on the third line. In an injury-shortened 66 games this season, Tootoo had just four goals and nine points, while going a whopping minus 26. Tootoo played his last game of the season on March 10th, when the Devils defeated the San Jose Sharks. A Nagging wrist injury that factored into his playing status and ice time over the past few games would reach its breaking point, and require season-ending surgery to properly correct.
Last year, Tootoo’s game contained one major component the rest of the team lacked: Speed. This could partly explain his numbers in 2014-2015, considering how he was among the fastest skaters on the Devil’s slow veteran-ridden roster. This made his transition to Coach Hynes’ playing system and maintaining his regular lineup spot easy for Tootoo at the beginning of this season. Speed is Tootoo’s secondary playing attribute that he’s largely known for. His grit and physicality has always been his main draw, and he failed to disappoint in that regard. This year, Tootoo had 99 hits in 66 games, averaging to 1.5 hits per game. He also averaged 1.4 shots per game, which was the highest gamely average amongst the Devil’s bottom-six forwards. His 102 penalty minutes were the 15th-most in the league. 50 of those penalty minutes were attributed to fighting majors, 20 were misconducts, and 32 were minors. Let’s keep in mind Tootoo accumulated these stats playing considerably less than he did in the latter-half of 2014-2015, when Tootoo averaged roughly 13-15 minutes per game. This year, he only averaged 11:31 of ice time per game. Could he have done more if the coaching staff awarded Tootoo with a few extra minutes of playing time?
As previously noted, Tootoo was expected to be a catalyst for the team’s bottom-six scoring, which clearly didn’t work out. Tootoo wound up becoming part of the lackluster scoring that plagued the Devil’s 6th-12th forwards all season. While scoring four times all year, Tootoo experienced three goal droughts of 10-19 games, and one exceeding 20 games in between each of his four goals. Like I’ve mentioned in previous free agent profiles, a player like Tootoo could have made a huge difference if he netted a few more goals, considering all of the one-goal games the Devils lost by. Another issue Tootoo had that was characteristic of the team was his subpar size (5’9’’), being one of eight Devils smaller than six feet. Despite his stature and physical prowess, there were multiple cases where Tootoo was simply outsized and outmatched when he was battling along the boards, corners, in front of the net, or rushing into the opponent’s zone. Tootoo’s minus 26 was the worst on the team, and while he led in categories amongst bottom-six forwards like shots per game, his 16 minor penalties led the Devil’s 7th-12th forwards.
It’s really hard to talk bad about a person like Tootoo. He’s hard to not like off the ice, and I have nothing but admiration for everything he’s had to overcome in his personal life. Tootoo has always been a fan favorite in Newark for his gritty physical style of play, but failed to embrace a larger role this year. Considering the major factors like his size and struggles to produce in the Devil’s bottom-six, there’s a strong chance the 33-year old right wing won’t be back next season. Keep in mind that Tootoo was re-signed before Ray Shero was hired last offseason, which technically makes him a player from the old Lou Lamoriello regime. Could he actually return to New Jersey? I don’t think it’s entirely out of the question, but there are certainly better options out there. While he may have played his last game in New Jersey, I don’t think Tootoo is done in the NHL. He fits the mold of what the game’s modern day grinder or enforcer, possessing a balanced compromise of speed and physicality. There will definitely be interest in his services this offseason, even if he has to wait for a tryout invite by a team looking to supplement their preseason roster depth.