Free agent frenzy has come and gone, and players like Johnny Gaudreau are no longer on the market. With all of their cap space, the New Jersey Devils only managed to bring in two new players from the free agent market: Ondrej Palat and Brendan Smith. At the beginning of August, there are still some remaining players who could represent upgrades for the Devils.
During Tom Fitzgerald’s tenure with the New Jersey Devils, which began in 2015 as the understudy to Ray Shero, the Devils haven’t been afraid to be aggressive and make moves. With Fitzgerald at the wheel, that narrative has flipped. This offseason represented an opportunity to build a competitive team and nurture some of the young stars. Ondrej Palat‘s signing was a good start, but he hasn’t reached 50 points in a regular season in six years. Brendan Smith adds a physical veteran presence with some penalty kill chops, but provides zero offence and plays very limited minutes.
Yes, the team missed out on Johnny Gaudreau and yes, they didn’t acquire Matthew Tkachuk, but the top-six is already crowded enough as it is. The team can use more talent and skill in other areas, like the bottom-six and defense. It’s been three years now, but the Devils sorely miss a guy like Blake Coleman, for example, who scored 34 goals in his final two seasons as a Devil and received some Selke votes at the end of the 2019-20 season. Jonathan Bernier’s future hangs in the balance and a move to LTIR is possible, which could end up affording the Devils more room to make moves to round out the holes in their roster.
Zach Aston-Reese, LW, Pittsburgh Penguins
The first of two Penguins on the list, Zach Aston-Reese is a 4th line defensive buzzsaw who can play tough minutes at a fairly high level by using his body to forecheck, lay hits and deny offensive zone entries to the opposition. Despite only scoring 5 times this past regular season, Aston-Reese could establish a role in the team if Michael McLeod fails to impress again, among other things. He contributes very little offense, and plays a solid but unspectacular game in transition. Aston-Reese would probably come at an affordable cost if he is to leave Pittsburgh and reunite with former teammate John Marino. In addition, Aston-Reese was spotted skating at the Prudential Center last week, which is because he plays in the Jersey Pro League during the summer. He also played in New Jersey at the youth level a decade ago. The local guy is one to keep an eye on.