The New Jersey Devils have done a masterful job building this defense for the long term. They’ve spent incredibly high picks on Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec, giving them two pillars on the blue line for the foreseeable future. Tom Fitzgerald spent particular attention on the right side of the defense.
After he watched his predecessor at GM Ray Shero make the right side of the defense a priority, adding Sami Vatanen, P.K. Subban, and Will Butcher through trade and undrafted free agency. With Damon Severson already on the roster, the Devils were trying to bolster what is usually a weakness for most teams.
Under Shero, the Devils struggled to find the right formula. They wanted young and veteran right-handed defensemen to come together. Outside of the great season from Vatanen in 2017-18 (which ended with a head injury at the hands of Nikita Kucherov), nothing from this era worked at this position in imparticular. Severson always ended up being the top right-handed defenseman, putting the Devils behind on the blue line as a whole.
Under Tom Fitzgerald, the Devils have taken a different approach for right-handed defensemen. Dougie Hamilton was the top free agent in 2021, and the Devils went all in on signing him. It worked out wonderfully last season. On top of that, the Devils traded for John Marino, who ended up being one of the best defensive defensemen in the league. Now, they added Colin Miller to the fold, giving the Devils three veteran right handers who all have great underlying numbers.
Looking ahead, the Devils are in great shape. When players like Hamilton get older, Nemec will be hitting his prime. Even if he fails, there are multiple defensemen behind him. Charlie Leddy is a fun prospect who could grow into something special. Case McCarthy is getting better in each college season.
There are some fliers on the right side, but the best backup plan is Seamus Casey. The right-handed dynamo is looking to get a top-line role with the University of Michigan this season. He’s playing without Luke Hughes, who will have a full-time role with the Devils. If Casey makes a similar jump as Hughes did in his sophomore season, playing more of a two-way game to add to his offensive performance, could the Devils justify sending him back to college for his junior year?
They don’t really have a choice. Hamilton is signed through 2028. Marino is signed through 2027. Nemec is going to join the league sooner rather than later. So, the Devils don’t technically have an opening on the right side of the defense for four more seasons. How will that impact Casey and his development?
The Devils don’t want to play games with a prospect as good as Casey. They want to get the most value out of every asset. Casey either has to play on his offhand, or he might be best suited as a trade chip. The Devils found themselves in a similar situation with Reilly Walsh, but he was traded for a depth forward in Shane Bowers. Is that where the Devils want to be with Casey? Walsh is now a breakout possibility with the Boston Bruins.
The Devils don’t want to become a development factory for other teams unless it turns into stars in New Jersey. It’s fine that Shakir Mukhamadullin developed into a better player because he was sent to San Jose for Timo Meier. However, Walsh is a good example of waiting too long to figure out a player’s value. The Devils should not do that with Casey, but they might not have another choice.