The New Jersey Devils had one of the most active offseasons of any NHL team. They acquired defenseman P.K. Subban from the Nashville Predators, and Nikita Gusev — the KHL’s top forward — from the Vegas Golden Knights. They also drafted center Jack Hughes with the first overall pick and signed right wing Wayne Simmonds as an unrestricted free agent (UFA).
There isn’t much work left to do for general manager Ray Shero. But as training camp inches closer, there is a roster spot or two available. Those won’t be given away, and one way to help fill them out is through a professional tryout (PTO). Here are three veteran NHLers who can help create healthy competition to earn an opening on the Devils’ 2019-20 roster.
Jaskin spent last season with the Washington Capitals, where he finished with eight points in 38 games. He played mostly a depth role, which has been the case for most of his career as he’s never finished with more than 18 points in a season.
Though he may not score a lot, Jaskin has value as a defensive forward. He’s one of the best shot suppressors in the league, averaging 49.9 shot attempts against per 60 minutes when on the ice since 2016-17. And he has an expected goals against per 60 minutes (xGA/60) of 1.92 over that stretch. As you may have guessed, he has a significant positive impact on defensive shot attempts and expected goals.
Surprisingly, Jaskin only has logged 14 minutes on the penalty kill over the last three seasons. But given his defensive numbers and ability to prevent shots and chances against, he’d be a good candidate to get some minutes there. And the Devils have a group of forwards who could help him adjust.
While they were not a great defensive team in 2018-19, the Devils had one of the better penalty kills in the league. And it was thanks to forwards like Travis Zajac, Blake Coleman, and Pavel Zacha. Jaskin’s offense will be limited no matter where he plays in the lineup. But he could thrive in a defensive, fourth-line role while playing alongside those three on the penalty kill.
Sheahan’s had an up and down career since the Detroit Red Wings made him a first-round pick in 2010. He had 24 points over 46 games in 2013-14 — his first NHL season — and followed it up with 36 points in 2014-15. It looked like he was on his way to being a formidable middle-six forward, but he hasn’t managed to top his 2014-15 production.
Sheahan’s five-on-five shot rates don’t inspire a ton of confidence, either. Since the 2016-17 season, he has a Corsi for percentage (CF%) of 46.91% and expected goals for percentage (xGF%) of 48.37%. He’s averaged 1.13 points per 60 minutes (P/60), and there was his infamous goal drought, where he nearly went a full season without scoring a goal (he coincidentally snapped it against the Devils).
It may not seem like there’s much incentive to bring him in on a PTO. But Sheahan has shown the ability to add a little depth to a team, with 32 points as recently as 2017-18, and he’s a decent defensive forward. He may be past the developmental stage of his career. But he’s still 27 years old, so it wouldn’t be fair to say he’s washed up yet.
Related: Jack Hughes: The Next Patrick Kane
The issue Sheahan may have in Devils’ camp is that he’s a center, and the team is in great shape down the middle, especially after drafting Hughes. With that said, it doesn’t hurt to have some extra competition during training camp. At worst, he could give head coach John Hynes and his staff a tough decision to make once the preseason concludes.
Lindberg is one of the more interesting PTO options available. He was a second-round pick of the Phoenix Coyotes in 2010. However, he never played for them as the New York Rangers acquired him in exchange for Ethan Werek on May 8, 2011. His first full NHL season came in 2015-16 as a 24-year-old, where he finished with 28 points in 68 games for the Rangers.
Since then, he’s bounced around a bit. He played for the Golden Knights from 2017-18 up until this season’s trade deadline, where the Ottawa Senators acquired him as part of the Mark Stone deal. He finished 2018-19 with 20 points in 55 games, which comes out to a 29-point pace over 82 games. Between Jaskin and Sheahan, Lindberg has the most offensive upside. He averaged 1.88 P/60 last season and has averaged between 1.65 and 1.90 since 2015-16, with 2017-18 being the exception.
Not only can Lindberg score, but he some decent shot rates as well. He has a 50.1 CF% and 50.09 xGF% over the last three seasons, and he’s a decent shot and chance suppressor. His shot contributions are also pretty impressive as he shoots (shots/60) and passes the puck (shotassists/60) at a high rate. And that can’t be said of every forward in a bottom-six role.
It’s a bit of a surprise to see Lindberg still available as an unrestricted free agent. He’s the ideal fourth-line forward who can score a bit and hold his own on defense. Teams should be willing to sign him to a one-year deal, so getting him in camp on a PTO could be a sneaky, good move for any team that does so.
PTOs Worth the Low Risk
You probably noticed that the three players mentioned here are forwards, and it’s not a coincidence. The Devils already have seven NHL defensemen on their roster, and that doesn’t include top prospect, Ty Smith. Even if they wanted to sign a defenseman to a PTO, the chances of him making the team are quite slim.
Things aren’t as set in stone up front, however. There’ll be one spot up for grabs, maybe two. Jesper Boqvist, who was one of the top U-21 scorers in the SHL (Sweden) will be a frontrunner to make the team. But it’d be a mistake to say he’s a lock before he experiences NHL action, especially if a middle-six role isn’t available.
Lindberg or Jaskin makes the most sense for the Devils since they’re both wingers. There isn’t any risk in bringing them in on PTOs since they’re not official NHL deals. And if either player shows well enough to make the team, they wouldn’t cost much on a one-year contract. Every team needs depth to be successful, and if a PTO can help provide it, then it’s worth the minimal investment.
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Alex Chauvancy is a New Jersey Devils writer for The Hockey Writers who has a penchant for advanced stats, prospects, signings and trades. He previously wrote for Devils Army Blog, a New Jersey Devils fan blog, from 2015-2017