New Jersey Devils: Recent Depth Additions Starting to Backfire

Devils prospect Tyce Thompson celebrates a goal against the Flyers. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Devils prospect Tyce Thompson celebrates a goal against the Flyers. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The New Jersey Devils are off to a perfect 4-0 start in their 2023 preseason campaign, and most of their roster battles had been settled prior to training camp. Even depth positions, such as the fourth line left wing left vacant by Miles Wood, appeared to be filled – or so we thought.

With Wood off to Colorado, it was widely assumed that Devils prospect Nolan Foote would get the first crack at making the roster after scoring at least one goal in each of his brief cameos with New Jersey over the last three years. Instead, the Devils signed veteran forward Tomas Nosek to a one-year, $1 million contract. Foote is no longer waivers-exempt, so if he can’t make the NHL roster, another team will be able to claim him for free.

Back on March 3, when the Devils traded a 2024 fourth-round pick to the Vancouver Canucks for Curtis Lazar, they created another similar unforced error. The team already had Nathan Bastian before adding Lazar, and then they signed center Chris Tierney this offseason – who has a history of being a productive, 40-point player.

This time, the issue is that two of those three will presumably force Tyce Thompson to miss out, even though it’s possible Nathan Bastian will start the year on injured reserve nursing a shoulder injury that bedeviled him throughout the 2022-23 season. Thompson, 24, actually made the Devils’ opening night roster in 2021 (albeit on IR) before injuries of his own limited him to just 18 games in total between New Jersey and Utica.

Thompson, like Foote, is no longer waivers-exempt, and at the moment, it seems the Devils are willing to give up on two of their more seasoned prospects in favor of older, more expensive, and one-dimensional vets. Nosek and Lazar are both defense-first, penalty-killing forwards who are black holes in the offensive zone. The former has never scored 20 points in an NHL season, while the latter hasn’t done so since his second season in the league way back in 2015-16.

Tierney scored 40 and 48 points in back-to-back seasons in 2017-18 and 2018-19, but his production has dipped drastically in direct correlation to his reduced role since then. The 29-year-old subsequently found himself playing in the AHL last season for the first time in eight years.

Effectively, the only way the Devils can keep both Foote and Thompson is if Bastian indeed starts the year on IR and Tierney is sent to Utica. As a result, Simon Nemec and Cal Foote will be joining Tierney on the Comets, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise anyway.

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Whichever route GM Tom Fitzgerald and the Devils decide to go, they have to get it right. Foote and Thompson have both had excellent training camps to this point and cannot be given away for free. Their upsides are simply too great to ignore at the behest of experience and special teams play.