Twitter (writer of article): @MiikeLuci
Since our last edition of Writers Roundtable, the New Jersey Devils haven’t left us with a lack of topics to discuss. As of writing this, the Devils are coming off a three-game winning streak and occupy the third spot in the Metropolitan Division. Between injuries and the unprecedented breakout play of their call-ups, Coach Hynes has recently found a winning formula. With the trade deadline a few weeks away, nobody in the hockey world gave the Devils the slightest glimmer of hope to be hanging around this point in the season. While the organization is essentially still in a rebuilding phase, their success has led to a lot of speculation on how Ray Shero will operate come deadline day. Devils Army Blog staff writers Alex Chauvancy, Brett Minieri, and Nick Papadimas share their thoughts on the recent handling of Stefan Matteau, what individual attributes forwards Reid Boucher and Joe Blandisi bring to the lineup, and the moves Shero could make if decides to make a playoff push.
Before suffering his upper-body injury that sidelined him in Sunday’s matchup, there’s been a lot of talk about forward Stefan Matteau’s recent inability to crack the lineup. Devils media outlets have written about the matter, and it’s been a growing conversation topic amongst fans. What do you think about the certainty of Matteau’s future with the organization?
AC: I think the Devils plan on parting ways with Matteau at the trade deadline or after the season is over. In the few games he’s played, he hasn’t done much of anything to sustain his spot. He’s had trouble cracking the lineup over players like Tyler Kennedy and Sergey Kalinin, both of whom have had their ups and downs this season. Shero may shop him, as I’m sure he doesn’t want to let a former 1st round pick walk away for nothing and risk waivers. I doubt there’ll be many takers and even if he found a suitable trade partner, I don’t see much of a return coming back.
BM: Clearly, John Hynes and his staff aren’t pleased with Matteau’s development. He’s played in just seven of New Jersey’s last 25 games and has been a healthy scratch in 10 straight. Clearly this isn’t going well for either team or player and I wouldn’t be surprised if some kind of resolution happens soon, with either a release or trade. It’s in neither parties’ best interest to have the player sit (in Stefan’s case) or hold a dead roster spot (Devils).
NP: Unless another injury occurs in the second half of this season, I do not see Stefan Matteau returning to the lineup. The current roster is filled with talent – especially with the emergence of rookies Reid Boucher and Joseph Blandisi from Albany. Unlike Boucher and Blandisi, Matteau has not been a strong player this season due to not yet being fully developed. Power forwards, like Matteau, take a while to develop as NHL regulars. In a few seasons down the road, I expect Stefan Matteau to be fully capable as a third or fourth line NHL player, but now is not his time and John Hynes and the New Jersey Devils coaching staff have made that extremely evident.
Forwards Joe Blandisi and Reid Boucher have made strong cases to stick with the team for the remainder of the regular season. Both are highly touted prospects in the organization known for their scoring prowess. What individual assets to each of these players have that positively impact this roster?
AC: Right now, Blandisi is the leading creator for the Devils on offense with Mike Cammalleri out of the lineup. Blandisi is generating 24.2 scoring chances per 60 minutes on the ice (via War-On-Ice). Even though it’s only been in 17 games, he’s been one of the Devils best offensive players since he was called up. Boucher has done the most with limited ice time. Playing on a line with Josefson and Kennedy won’t generate a lot of points, but he’s getting time on the power play and has been effective there. If he continues to produce, it’s possible he could (and should) see more time with Zajac and Palmieri going forward.
BM: And let’s hope they do stick, because that, more than any rental or UFA, is what the Devils need. The Devils haven’t exactly hit home runs over the last several drafts—partially because they draft so high (which is generally a good thing) and partially, well, because they swung and missed. It happens. But in this league of speed, youth and a hard-cap, you need a better batting average than the Devils have had to remain competitive in the long term. Boucher, after lighting up the OHL, has had a slower time acclimating to the NHL (as many prospects do) but has begun to string some impressive games together. His biggest asset is his shot—hard, quick and accurate. The Devils have finally begun to be the benefactors of it. Blandisi has been pleasant surprise (much to the Avs chagrin) and his speed, puck handling and enthusiasm is a breath of fresh air. He’s a solid skater with some deft hands and his fancy stick work has shown up on a few highlight reels already. Let’s hope it continues.
NP: Joe Blandisi and Reid Boucher are similar players in regard to both playing the same positions. However, they each have different playing styles. Blandisi and Boucher scored a high amount of points in juniors and in the AHL, but only one of the two (Blandisi) has shown signs of panning out to be a special player in the NHL. Overall, to compare the two, Boucher has totaled fewer points in New Jersey than Blandisi this season with 5 while Blandisi has 10.
We ran a recent poll, asking fans what they’d like to see Ray Shero do at the trade deadline. Between buying, standing pat, or selling, the majority of voters want to see Shero take a more aggressive approach and gear up for a playoff run. If this were to wind up being the case, who are some players you could see Shero targeting?
AC: This is a tough one. Kyle Okposo would be awesome, but no way the Isles trade him to a division rival fighting for a playoff spot. Plus, Okposo is on an expiring contract, so there’s no guarantee he’d re-sign with the Devils for 2016-17. Shero would probably look to make a trade similar to Kyle Palmieri’s. If he can find a young player, who’s cost controlled and has RFA years ahead of him, he’d probably make the trade. I’m sure there are players like him available, it’s just a matter of finding out who’s available.
BM: This is a hard question to answer for a few reasons. One, I don’t believe the Devils will (or should) be buyers at the deadline. This season, by all accounts, has been a nice success so far. If they make the playoffs, it will be a testament to the coaching staff, players and a reward (along with valuable experience) in itself. There are a LOT of teams looking for scoring, therefore prices will be steep. I wrote in my last article that for that reason they should actually look to deal someone like Lee Stempniak and get picks in return to help with the rebuild. If the Devils did make a move, it would have to be a “hockey trade”, which are even harder to engineer. It might be a different story if Gelinas, Merrill and Severson were playing lights out—we’d have some significant assets to deal for a Drouin or Eberle-type. Sadly, their value isn’t where it needs to be to warrant that significant a return and we simply don’t have (or can’t afford) to give up picks. There’s also the possibility (albeit slimming by the day) that we get a solid winger for the push—his name is Patrik Elias. Further, for spits and giggles, the type of player the Devils would seek to acquire that fits into Shero’s plan is a younger top-6 forward with upside. (He’s already done this. See: Kyle Palmieri). But these are guys everyone wants. While Andrew Ladd is a nice player, he’s going on 31 and is seeking over $6MM per. If I had my druthers, I’d want to acquire a player in the mold of: Eberle, Valeri Nichushkin, Drouin, Hertl, Alex Galchenyuk …but again, that’s just wishful thinking, because we simply don’t have the assets at the point. (Trade Lee Stempniak, and we might get closer).
NP: I can see Shero potentially going after Kris Versteeg of the Carolina Hurricanes before the trade deadline. A top line player this season in Carolina with veteran Eric Staal, Versteeg has paid dividends for the Hurricanes scoring 31 points in 54 games (10G-21A) and would be an outstanding addition to this year’s team in New Jersey.