The Ultimate Guide For The New Jersey Devils’ Impending, Vital Offseason

Tom Fitzgerald was promoted to the position of general manager. (Photo via NHL.com)

Introduction

The New Jersey Devils have the biggest offseason in franchise history ahead of them. With the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic, things will be even more interesting given the salary cap will remain the same. The Devils and newly named general manager Tom Fitzgerald will certainly have their work cut out for them.

Entering the offseason, the Devils will have arguably the most assets of any team in the league to work with. New Jersey has nine total draft picks, three of which are first-rounders. A full breakdown of these picks can be seen below. The Devils are also working with roughly $20-plus million in cap space. This number will be one of the highest in the league, especially given the fact the salary cap is remaining the same

Photo via of capfriendly.com.

The Devils do not have a lot to worry about in terms of retaining talent either. The team only has nine pending restricted free agents and seven pending unrestricted free agents. Per the list below, you can see – specifically in terms of unrestricted free agents — there is no one extremely major. I also bolded the players whom the Devils should bring back.

Restricted Free Agents (RFA):Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA):
Joey Anderson, FBrandon Baddock, F
Jesper Bratt, FKevin Rooney, F
John Hayden, FBen Street, F
Nick Merkley, FFredrik Claesson, D
Brett Seney, FJulian Melchiori, D (signed in KHL)
Josh Jacobs, DDakota Mermis, D
Mirco Mueller, DZane McIntyre, G
Colton White, D
Mackenzie Blackwood, G
Note, bolded players are those who the Devils should bring back.

This guide will give you a full layout of what to expect, what the Devils need to do, who the Devils need to target, and much more. Following this guide will be individual free agent profiles of players as well as supplemental draft materials once we get closer to that ever so important date. 

The Draft

I have already done extensive research into the draft. Examples being the 30 individual profiles I posted or a couple of articles I wrote depicting how the Devils should approach this year’s NHL Entry Draft. If you missed those, do not worry, as I will provide a brief recap below:

As for how the Devils should approach this draft, I’m offering some simple, yet insightful analysis.

This upcoming draft is well regarded by many as extremely strong and lined with game-changing talent, especially at the forward position. Plus, the Devils have a plethora of defensive prospects in the team’s system and have lacked that elite forward prospect in the past. Therefore, the team must target forwards with at least two of the team’s first three first-round picks. 

The team cannot make the mistake of drafting more than one defenseman or selecting Yaroslav Askarov – Russian goaltending prospect – in the first round. This is because there is simply too much top-end forward talent at the top of the board.

Russian goaltending prospect Yaroslav Askarov is slated to be a star at the next level. (Photo via Russia Hockey/FHR.RU)

As of right now, the Devils hold picks seven, 18, and 20 in the first round. Note, the 18th pick is all but set in stone, but if Vancouver pulls off the upset over St. Louis, the third first-round pick can move back between picks 25 and 27. However, for the sake of this article let’s say the Devils’ own picks seven, 18, and 20.

Note, something the Devils can look into doing is trading one of the team’s three first-round picks. By doing so, New Jersey can either acquire an NHL-ready talent to fill one of the many holes in the team’s depth chart (see below) or possibly load up on more draft pick assets. Either would be a wise way to spend one of the team’s later first-round selections.

Below you can find prospects the Devils should go after at each projected pick. The selections follow my recommended method of selecting at least two forwards, possibly one defenseman, and avoiding taking any netminders. The prospects are in order of my preference and my full top-30 list can be found here.

Note, next to each prospect will be the word: “not likely”, “probably”, “likely”, or “very likely”. These adjectives will indicate the chance I think these prospects will be available at this spot.

Draft Targets

7th Pick

18th Pick

Defenseman Kaiden Guhle played his junior hockey in the WHL. (Photo via Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

20th Pick

Roster Overview

Before diving into free agency, it is necessary to understand what the Devils need, and this can be completed by conducting a roster overview. Below you can see my projected depth chart, with voids, for the upcoming season. Also, at the bottom is depth players that will be fighting in training camp for one of these spots.

Depth Chart

Forwards:

Left Wing:Center:Right Wing:
XNico HischierKyle Palmieri
Jesper BrattJack HughesNikita Gusev
Jesper BoqvistTravis ZajacX
Miles WoodPavel ZachaX

Defense:

Left-Handed Defenseman:Right-Handed Defenseman:
XDamon Severson
Will ButcherP.K. Subban
Ty SmithX

Goaltending:

 Goalies
StarterMackenzie Blackwood
BackupX

Depth/Possible Fill-Ins:

Position:Player:
CenterMichael McLeod
Left WingJanne Kuokkanen
Right WingNick Merkley
Right WingJoey Anderson
Right-Handed DefensemanConnor Carrick
GoaltenderCory Schneider
GoaltenderGilles Senn

The depth chart is pretty self-explanatory. The individuals in the lineup above, barring a trade, are all but locked into a roster spot come December. The list of players below the depth chart are guys that will be in a fierce battle for a spot and may very well be in that lineup. More on that below.

Forward Pavel Zacha played both the wing and center during the season. (Photo via Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)

Some other notes regarding the depth chart: Pavel Zacha can play left wing, Jack Hughes played some left-wing last year, but probably shouldn’t again this year.

The Needs

After review of the depth chart, it becomes apparent the Devils have their work cut out for them. Several positions need to be addressed and, unfortunately, the draft will not fill any right away. Thus, the team needs to focus on free agency and possibly a trade or two. 

The holes are as followed:

  • Top-six left wing
  • Two bottom-six right wings
  • Top-four, left-handed defenseman 
  • Bottom-pairing, right-handed defenseman
  • Backup goaltender

Now, an argument can be made about a couple of these positions. First off, the right-wing depth does not particularly need to be addressed via free agency. This, if the Devils award the spot(s) to Nick Merkley or Joey Anderson out of camp.

Additionally, although it would be a terrible mistake, the Devils can holistically re-sign Mirco Mueller and slot him on the left side on defense or run out Connor Carrick in the bottom-pair on the right-side. I strongly believe the team should avoid doing this, as neither are top six NHL defenseman. This claim is confirmed by the two charts below.

This is a comparison of both Connor Carrick and Mirco Mueller in several important performance metrics. (Graph via evolving hockey.com)

Goaltending-wise you can make the case for Cory Schneider serving that role, but Schneider has shown again, and again he is no longer a viable NHL-option. Even if it is just in a backup role. Additionally, Gilles Senn will need another year of seasoning in the AHL. So, he is not quite ready to serve that backup role either.

Free Agency

As was mentioned previously, the draft will not be able to plug these voids right away. Thus, the Devils will need to turn to free agency. Below is my top-20 best unrestricted free agents available in this free agency class.

Last year’s Stanley Cup winner, Alex Pietrangelo, is set to become an unrestricted free agent after the conclusion of the playoffs. (Photo via Jeff Roberson/Associated Press)

Top-20 Unrestricted Free Agents

PlayerPositionTeamAgeExpiring SalaryStatistics
Alex PietrangeloRHDSTL30$7,500,00016G, 36A, 52 PTS
Taylor HallLWARZ28$3,000,00016G, 36A, 52 PTS
Torey KrugLHDBOS29$5,000,0009G, 40A, 49 PTS
Tyson BarrieRHDTOR29$3,000,0005G, 34A, 39 PTS
Braden HoltbyGWSH30$5,000,0003.11 GAA & .897 SV%
Evgenii DadonovRWFLA31$4,000,00025G, 22 A, 47 PTS
Robin LehnerGVGK29$1,400,0002.72 GAA & .918 SV%
Mike HoffmanLWFLA30$5,650,00029G, 30A, 59 PTS
Tyler ToffoliRWVAN28$4,800,00024G, 20A, 44PTS
Jacob MarkstromGVAN30$4,000,0002.80 GAA & .911 SV%
T.J, BrodieLHDCGY30$4,500,0004G, 15A, 19 PTS
Sami VatanenRHDCAR29$2,500,0005G, 18A, 23 PTS
Mikael GranlundCNSH28$6,500,00017G, 13A, 30 PTS
Erik HaulaC/LWCAR29$2,750,00012G, 12A, 24 PTS
Brenden DillonLHDWSH29$1,950,0001G, 13A, 14 PTS
Justin SchultzRHDPIT29$5,500,0003G, 9A, 12 PTS
Erik GustafssonLHDCGY28$1,400,0006G, 23A, 29 PTS
Kevin ShattenkirkRHDTBL31$1,750,0008G, 26A, 34 PTS
Corey CrawfordGCHI35$5,000,0002.45 GAA & .918 SV%

Who to Target?

Using the needs pointed out above, the following players, specific positionally, are who the Devils should target:

Forwards:

Left Wing:Right Wing:
Taylor HallTyler Toffoli
Mike HoffmanMichael Frolik
Evgenii DadonovJesper Fast
Matt Nieto
Josh Leivo 
Calgary Flames’ defense T.J. Brodie is slated to be an unrestricted free agent when the playoffs conclude. (Photo via: Derek Leung/Getty Images)

Defenseman:

Left-Handed Defenseman:Right-Handed Defenseman:
Torey KrugRadko Gudas
T.J. BrodieMark Pysyk
Brendan DillonTrevor Van Reimsdyk
Derek ForbotKevin Shattenkrik
Jon MerrillJan Rutta

Goaltenders:

Goalies:
Corey Crawford
Jacob Markstrom
Thomas Greiss
Cameron Talbot
Anton Khudobin
Laurent Brossoit

Of course, several other free agents will be finding new homes come this offseason. However, the ones listed above are the individuals – whether it be due to age, statistics, or analytics – that the Devils should put at the forefront of their list in filling the holes pointed out above. 

Further analysis of each player will be available in the coming months. Be on the lookout for individual profiles breaking down each player greater in-depth. 

General Manager James

This is the “fun part” of this article. Below is my ideal lineup come December for the New Jersey Devils. This including some moves I believe the team should make.

Unfortunately, with the recent hiring of general manager Tom Fitzgerald, my audition for the general manager position may be mute. Nonetheless, it is fun to speculate what the Devils’ roster and depth chart can look like come next season.

Depth Chart

Forwards:

Left Wing:Center:Right Wing:
Alex Killorn (Trade w/TB)Nico HischierKyle Palmieri
Evgenii Dadonov (UFA)Jack HughesNikita Gusev
Jesper BrattTravis ZajacValeri Nichushkin (RFA)
Jesper BoqvistPavel ZachaJoey Anderson

Defense:

Left-Handed Defenseman:Right-Handed Defenseman:
Will ButcherDamon Severson
TJ Brodie (UFA)P.K. Subban
Ty SmithConnor Murphy (Trade w/CHI)

Goaltending:

 Goalies:
Starter:Mackenzie Blackwood
Backup:Anton Khudobin (UFA)

Extras:

  • Miles Wood, LW
  • Nick Merley, RW
  • Connor Carrick, D

As you can see I had quite a bit of fun with this. One can dream, right? 

In all seriousness, cap-strapped teams such as Tampa Bay, Chicago, Toronto, and St. Louis are all going to have to make moves to stay under the ceiling. Thus, the two trades I included above are moves that are very realistic and ones general manager Tom Fitzgerald can make with three first-round picks at his disposal. 

Note, you can expect an article from me, at some point, going more in depth about some players that may be used as trade bait for teams trying to defeat the salary cap.

Conclusion

The Devils are positioned perfectly to continue rebuilding and creating a roster that can contend. So, buckle up Devils’ fans, this offseason has the potential to be as extremely exciting.

Whether it be taking advantage of teams who are strapped by the salary cap remaining constant or making a splash with the $20-plus million the team will have to spend in free agency, general manager Tom Fitzgerald will be busy. Additionally, the Devils have nine draft picks to work with – three of which are first-round picks. 

As mentioned, stay tuned to our social media pages for full offseason coverage. Free agency profiles, further in-depth draft pieces, and more will be churned out by myself and other writers.

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2 comments on “The Ultimate Guide For The New Jersey Devils’ Impending, Vital Offseason”

  1. eugene j massaro Reply

    the holes start with a number 1 center and defense … why is zajac the 3rd center ,, when everybody complains about his obvious decline ? 4th line center …zacha is used by the staff in all situations as well as his line with bratt/gusev was the best line the last few weeks …why would you not let them start together and see where it goes ? all these picks/prospects that are in the system should be given a shot and see what shakes out or why bother ? are they gonna go at it with the idea it’s gonna take another 4/5/6 years to get somewhere or do they look at it as a 2/3 yr project ? draft picks/prospects could get you something younger and decent …

  2. Mac Reply

    Nice analysis. Good job. Hope the Devils can fill some holes on D and on the Wings.

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