New Jersey Devils: Is Nolan Foote Really A Lock To Make Lineup?

New Jersey Devils left wing Nolan Foote (25): Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
New Jersey Devils left wing Nolan Foote (25): Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports /

The New Jersey Devils seem like they could be done fixing their lineup. Maybe they make a move addressing the goalie situation, but the 13 forwards and seven defensemen seem pretty set in stone. Two spots in the forward lineup are up for grabs, but it seems like the Devils know who goes where.

Take a look at the projected lineup of only the secured spots:

Timo Meier – Nico Hischier – Dawson Mercer
Jesper Bratt – Jack Hughes – Tyler Toffoli
Ondrej Palat – Erik Haula – (???)
(???) – Michael McLeod – Nathan Bastian

Now, this isn’t our prediction for an opening night lineup. This is a rough estimate based on the data we hold today. The two open spots are both in the bottom six, assuming Dawson Mercer is playing wing next to Nico Hischier or Jack Hughes. One is on the third line, right wing playing alongside Erik Haula. The other is on the fourth line, taking the spot left vacant by Miles Wood when he signed a wild six-year deal in Colorado.

The large majority of fans assume Nolan Foote is going to take that spot. There are a few reasons for this. The front office has been glowing about him since the season ended, showing they have high hopes for him moving forward. They also can’t send him to the AHL without getting him through waivers first. There’s a good chance a dozen teams would find a spot on their NHL roster for Nolan Foote. He has an NHL-caliber shot with a nose for the puck.

His stats with the Utica Comets aren’t insanely impressive. He had 32 points in 55 games in 2021-22 and upped it to 37 points last season. He did break the 20-goal plateau last year, which is significant for what the Devils will ask him to do.

The Devils aren’t even going to attempt to send Foote through waivers, but there is a chance he starts the year as a healthy scratch. Tyce Thompson is a player who the Devils once had high hopes for. Injuries have really put a damper on the start of his career, but he’s still just 24 years old. He’s also no longer waiver exempt, so the Devils might have to either hold two extra forwards to keep Thompson and Foote (meaning it takes away any chance for Simon Nemec to make the roster), or they likely lose one through the waiver process.

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The large assumption is that Alexander Holtz will hold the other forward spot, but that’s hardly a guarantee. The Devils just signed Tomas Nosek, which gives the Devils 11 one-way forward contracts. This signing likely doesn’t impact Holtz directly since Nosek is a center, but it does put the Devils in a position to have to choose between Holtz and Curtis Lazar. Obviously, they couldn’t have more different play styles, but the Devils need NHL players on the roster. Holtz must prove that.

Meanwhile, Foote seems to have the favor of the Devils’ decision-makers, something Holtz can’t claim. He seems like a lock to make the roster today, but he still must show up in training camp and the preseason to solidify his spot. He will be given the benefit of the doubt, but that only goes so far.