The New Jersey Devils are getting the semblance of a really good top six. Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier both took steps offensively, and now the Devils know they can officially build their offense around them. With those two locked in, now the Devils can focus on building wingers to fit their strengths.
The Devils already have Yegor Sharangovich who’s been amazing on Jack Hughes’ wing. Jesper Bratt has been great no matter who he is paired with, but it appears the best pairing so far has been with Hischier. Outside of them, the Devils have struggled to find the right pairings next to their two top centers.
So far, they’ve tried Tomas Tatar, Pavel Zacha, Andreas Johnsson, Alex Holtz, Dawson Mercer, and even Jimmy Vesey got some play when he was going offensively. None of those players are considered locks to get back into their old spots next season. In fact, we’d consider it a long shot if anyone not named Mercer or Holtz was even considered.
The Devils need to make a signing or a trade to add to the top six. In theory, the Devils could draft Juraj Slafkovsky with the second-overall pick and hope he can make that jump. That’s a really risky play when there’s so much on the line this offseason. If the Devils fail to make the playoffs again or at least fail to show progress next season, Lindy Ruff is absolutely fired and Tom Fitzgerald is likely out the door behind him. Then, the Devils get a reputation as a team of instability.
That leads us to Vladimir Tarasenko. The Devils were reportedly in on Tarasenko the last offseason, but they couldn’t get a deal done with the St. Loius Blues. In fact, nobody could get a deal done with the Blues. Tarasenko remained with the Blues, and they just had their season end at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche. He had more than a point per game this season, including his sixth 30-goal season of his career.
After two injury-plagued seasons, Tarasenko proved he was still an elite player in this league. It was an insane year in terms of total offense, but it was still really good to see Tarasenko play at that level again.
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Now, Tarasenko has one more year left on his contract before he becomes a free agent. That does two things to his value. For one, whichever team trades for him is eligible to give him an extension right away. Also, the Blues will likely have to think hard about what kind of value they will accept for Tarasenko. They could ride it out like they did this past season and risk losing him for nothing, or will they trade him to the highest bidder.
The Devils have an interesting band of assets to offer the Blues. They will want something huge, but that just doesn’t feel like its in the cards. What the Devils can offer is a quantity of really good prospects for the Blues to choose from. While players like Mercer and Holtz are off the table (as they would be for every team looking to make a trade), the Devils would make players like Nolan Foote, Fabian Zetterlund, Graeme Clarke, and maybe even Arseni Gritsyuk available in deals.
Tarasenko would be a phenomenal addition to the Devils’ top line. They would have to figure out if they want to break the bank to also give him an extension right away. They have pretty much all of their pieces locked up long term, and their cap number drops pretty significantly next offseason. They can afford Tarasenko now, but they can really afford him down the line.
This move still makes sense. The Devils could use their second-overall pick on Slafkovsky, trade prospects for Tarasenko, and then build around that for the rest of the offseason. Then, all they need is a goalie and they’ll be ready to get back into the competition.