New Jersey Devils Could Look Much Different Next Season

OTTAWA, ON - NOVEMBER 06: New Jersey Devils Center Nico Hischier (13) prepares for a face-off during first period National Hockey League action between the New Jersey Devils and Ottawa Senators on November 6, 2018, at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, ON, Canada. (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
OTTAWA, ON - NOVEMBER 06: New Jersey Devils Center Nico Hischier (13) prepares for a face-off during first period National Hockey League action between the New Jersey Devils and Ottawa Senators on November 6, 2018, at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, ON, Canada. (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

The New Jersey Devils are going through a very large rough patch, so let’s look at something positive. The way some of the Devils prospects have been progressing, they will be NHL ready next season.

Things are going about as bad as possible for the New Jersey Devils to start the season. They are literally last in the Eastern Conference. After never seeing themselves outside of the playoffs during any point of last season, the Devils are further away from the playoffs than any team in the East.

It’s very early, way too early to give up on this season. However, with the way some of the Devils prospects are playing around the world, let’s take a look ahead at what could be.

First off, let’s take a look at how the forwards will look. There are five players with one-way deals in the forward group on the roster right now. Travis Zajac, Taylor Hall, Blake Coleman, Kyle Palmieri and Miles Wood are all guaranteed their roster spots, barring a trade.

Jesper Bratt, Nico Hischier, Brett Seney, Joey Anderson, Nick Lappin, Pavel Zacha, Kevin Rooney and John Quenneville are on entry level deals, but have experience with the NHL club. One would have to assume that most of them will be on the NHL roster next season.

Then, there are a handful of prospects that are on the cusp of being NHL ready. After a slow start, Michael McLeod has been tearing it up in Binghamton. He has seven points in his last seven games. There were serious worries with the 2016 first-round pick, but those have subsided for now. Jesper Boqvist has been amazing for Brynas IF. He has 11 points in 15 games for his first full professional season. If I was predicting today, I’d say both of them at least get a shot for a spot to start next training camp.

Then there is Aarne Talvitie. He’s currently enrolled in Penn State, and has 11 points in 10 games. I could really see him pulling the same move as Anderson, and ending his college career early to take a shot at the NHL. It may happen after his sophomore season like Anderson, but if he keeps this up he may be inclined to do it now.

The Devils have decisions to make on the forward lines, so after a ton of shuffling this is what I foresee happening:

Taylor Hall-Nico Hischier-Jesper Bratt
Jesper Boqvist-Pavel Zacha-Kyle Palmieri
Miles Wood-Travis Zajac-John Quenneville
Blake Coleman-Brett Seney-Joey Anderson/Mikey McLeod
Extra: Nick Lappin

This roster shows the Devils moving on from Brian Boyle, Marcus Johansson and Stefan Noesen. All of them are free agents, even if Noesen is restricted. The Devils could have good reason to bring them all back, but with so many prospects needing a place to go, the Devils could look to go with the younger lineup.

I want to give that Wood-Zajac-Quenneville line a real shot. They had great chemistry, and seemed to be on the verge of great things.

Palmieri will eventually move to the second line for Bratt. He’s eventually going to have to take that spot, and this year could be the time to do it.

If Boqvist beats out so many players for a spot on the roster, it won’t be to play on the fourth line. He will be there to replace Johansson’s production as second line left wing.

Mikey McLeod, Brett Seney, Nick Lappin and Joey Anderson will likely fight for playing time. Kevin Rooney was given a one-way deal next year for some reason, but there’s just better players ahead of him. I don’t want Rooney playing over any of these players at this point. Hopefully he continues to grow, but all of these players are young and getting better. It will be hard for him to secure a spot.

As for the defense, help is also on the way. Obviously, Ty Smith is the Devils top prospect. He’s been out of his mind in Spokane. He has 25 points in 16 games. He could have made it work in the NHL this season, but he’ll be even better next year.

The Devils will lose the contract of Ben Lovejoy in the offseason. They could also lose Egor Yakovlev, the Russian defenseman that played his first NHL game on Sunday. The Devils could lose him to waivers if they try to send him down. However, if they don’t they could look to re-sign him in the offseason.

Mirco Mueller and Will Butcher are both restricted free agents. Butcher will no doubt get re-signed. Mueller is more up in the air. In fact, if things continue to go sideways for the Devils, I could see Mueller being a trade deadline dump.

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There is one wild card here, Reilly Walsh. The Harvard University product has been very good to start this season, despite it being very early. He has four goals in five games. As a defenseman. That’s insane. It’s not likely he can keep this up, but if he does then the Devils have to look into bringing him in early.

So, here’s what the defense could look like next season:

Ty Smith-Sami Vatanen
Andy Greene Damon Severson
Will Butcher-Steve Santini
Extra: Egor Yakovlev, Colton White

Santini and Butcher seem like the right match. Greene and Severson have been working well together, despite the defensive performances as of late. Yakovlev may decide to move on to a team that will give him playing time, but maybe he’s happy just being on the NHL roster and slotting in after an injury. If he leaves, then plug in one of the AHL defenseman as the extra.

Keith Kinkaid‘s contract is up at the end of the season. The Devils may bring him back again, as there are less and less starting jobs available, but they may decide to part ways. MacKenzie Blackwood has been doing much better to start this season, posting a .917 save percentage. He’s vastly outperforming Eddie Lack and Cam Johnson. The Devils desperately want him to backup Cory Schneider.

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There’s one major problem with this plan, the salary cap, more importantly the salary floor. The floor this season sits at $58.8 million. It is bound to go up, so let’s make it an even $60 million. Under this plan, the Devils would be about $10 million away from the floor. That’s not even the salary cap, which will be about $80 million next season. This is $10 million from the floor.

Obviously, the Devils can’t afford to stay quiet this offseason. Literally. However, adding pieces to this team pushes down prospects that are NHL ready. Either way, even with this season going south, there’s something very good on the horizon. Gone are the days where Lou Lamoriello had to wade in the free agency waters because there were no prospects on the horizon. Now, we all have something to look forward to.