After making the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012 the New Jersey Devils had a season to forget. It all started on July 4th when it was announced that prized free agent, and team captain Zach Parise signed a huge contract with the Minnesota Wild. Losing big named free agents is something that Devil’s fans have been used to over the years, however they are not used to suffering much from it, as was the case in 2013.
To turn the misfortunes around won’t be an easy one, especially given the circumstances that lie ahead. It was announced by GM Lou Lamoriello that the team will keep it’s 2013 draft pick and forfeit it’s 2014 1st round draft pick instead due to the Kovalchuk penalty. That fact alone makes this draft crucial. The Devils did not win the draft lottery like they did in 2011, so they retained the ninth overall pick.
While the prospects the Devils have aren’t world class, they have a solid group of youngsters in the minors or still playing junior hockey, most on the blueline. The Devils have options on defense with Eric Gelinas, Alexander Urbom and Jon Merrill on the AHL affiliate Albany Devils. They also have two defensive prospects playing in the WHL that had very good years as well in Damon Severson and Reece Scarlett.
With the Amnesty buyouts each team has it’s very safe to say one, or two of those five will get a very good shot at cracking the NHL club next September. If I was a betting man I would say Anton Volchencov is the man on the chopping block for at least on of the buyouts. That along with the contract status of Marek Zidlicky and Peter Harold will certainly open up some spots. The front runners are Alexander Urbom and Eric Gelinas. Jon Merrill might have to most upside out of them all, but coming off a neck injury the Devils will want to develop him themselves before calling him up.
Next comes the real weakness in the organization and that is the forward depth. Despite having Reid Boucher in the system, who broke Steven Stamkos’ OHL’s Sarnia Sting goal record after him it becomes pretty bleak. Mattias Tedenby has not lived up to expectations so far and Jacob Josefson has shown flashes of brillance, but can’t seem to find his scoring touch at the NHL level. Another prospect is Stephan Mattaeu the team’s 2012 first round pick, who started the year in New Jersey. During his time he looked pretty good for an 18-year old, but still has some work to do. I expect the Devils to use the 9th overall pick on a forward like Elias Lindholm or Sean Monahan.
The Devils have about half of their long term top six in order with Ilya Kovalchuk (RW,LW), Travis Zajac (C) and Adam Henrique (C). They can look to add some right wing depth this off season with resigning free agent to be David Clarkson. Clarkson is coming off a 30 and 15 (in 1/2 a season) goal season the past two years. While at times Clarkson has shown he can be a capable 2nd line winger, there are other times he disappears for games. Needless to say he is a player that teams would love to have, gritty 30 goal scorers aren’t found on trees. Lou will look to bring him back if the price is right.
That and of course they can get help in the short term with signing the franchise’s leading point getter and goal scorer in Patrik Elias. For what it’s worth Patrik has probably been the most underrated player in the NHL the past 10 years. Despite being a top defensive forward in the league and finishing in the top ten in scoring last year Elias gets seemingly no love from media outlets. I look for Lou to bring him back on a 2 or 3 year deal, as he has dealt based on loyalty in the past.
The team could also help it’s 2nd or 3rd line by bringing back Danius Zubrus and Steve Sullivan. Zubrus has been the Devils’ unsung hero during his tenure with the team going into the dirty areas and rarely losing a battle in the corner with his big body. Danius has played on the top line to the 3rd line during his career in the red and black. Steve Sullivan is an interesting piece of the puzzle, despite being an aging vet he looked pretty good with the team since they acquired him at the trade deadline from Phoenix.
The goalie situation will likely remain unchanged as both Brodeur and Hedburg are signed for one more year and Lou has said he is very confident moving forward with the goalie duo. In the Minors I suspect Jeff Frazee will be left unsigned making room for Scott Wedgewood to move up to the AHL full time and split time with Keith Kinkaid. The team also has Maxime Clermont in the ECHL.
GM Lou Lamorello has many tough decisions this upcoming off season to fix what was the 2013 New Jersey Devils and it starts with the draft, which conveniently is being held at the Rock. Of course the team could also look into other free agents, but at this point it’s too early to tell who will make sense or who will get bought out at the end of the season.