Rolling into training camp with new additions and potential rookies making the roster calls for an exciting time for the New Jersey Devils and their fans. While the previous season was disappointing in terms of standings, there was a lot to look forward to moving ahead. Now, as the NHL returns to a regular 82-game schedule with the Metropolitan, Atlantic, Central, and Pacific divisions returning to normal, the Devils will look to take a massive step.
Year after year, all Devils fans wanted to make a big splash during the offseason to add big-time names to the roster. However, general managers such as Ray Shero and Tom Fitzgerald waited to pull the trigger for the perfect moment to spend money. After finally spending money for better players, the line combinations will surely be mixed up throughout the season. As the season approaches, more questions will be answered in the next few weeks. On October 15, a 20-player roster with three extras will take the ice to face-off against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Possible Prospects to Make the Roster
The Devils finished their 2021 prospects challenge with a record of 1-1-0 after games against the Sabres prospects and Boston Bruins prospects. For New Jersey, a few players stood out amongst fans that watched for both games. 2020 18th overall pick, Dawson Mercer, was the clear best player through both games. The prospects that participated were:
In their first game, the Devils were left scoreless after a harsh 3-0 defeat against the Sabres prospects. During the game, the lines looked messy and lacked chemistry. However, against the Bruins prospects, the Devils prospects put on a show and won the game 4-3. The leading scorer for the team through the tournament was Mercer, who finished with one goal and two assists. After his impressive performance, he is favorite to make the opening night roster. Therefore, here are who has the best chances of making a splash during training camp to battle for a spot on the roster.
Similar to his two prospect challenge games, Mercer has impressed in the Québec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). According to EliteProspects, in the QMJHL, he totaled 194 games played with the Drummondville Voltigeurs and Chicoutimi Sagunéens. Through those games played, he has scored 84 goals and 121 assists for a total of 205 points. Furthermore, he is considered a steal in the 2020 draft because he was expected to go in the 11-13 range but fell to New Jersey at 18th overall. His hockey IQ and two-way play is a valuable asset that any team could benefit from.
A challenge that could prevent Mercer from being a part of the opening night roster is the abundance of centers on the Devil, including Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Pavel Zacha, Jesper Boqvist, and Michael McLeod. Though some players can shift to wing positions, Mercer thrives as a center. However, if he is good enough in training camp, his position will not hold him back from making the roster.
For the Devils, Holtz is a player that they have needed for a very long time. He is a sharp-shooter who never stops shooting the puck. As he develops, this will work very well with the abundance of capable centers the Devils have. Since 2019, he has played in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) with Djurgådens IF. The SHL is commonly known as the third-best hockey league behind the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and the NHL. Holtz was playing against men who are bigger and stronger than the 19-year-old winger and totaled 16 goals and 18 assists in 75 games played.
The challenges that Holtz can face are being pushed around in the NHL. He is 6-foot-0 and 194 pounds, but was pushed around in the SHL. As he grows, he will adapt to the NHL game, but he has to make it there first. In his short time with the Binghamton Devils, he played 10 games and scored one goal and two assists. Holtz’ training camp will define if he is ready to step into the Devils roster, but it is up in the air at this point.
After acquiring Foote from the Tampa Bay Lightning, he has played six NHL games and has a goal and an assist. Furthermore, he played 24 games with the Binghamton Devils and scored seven goals and 10 assists for 17 points. Foote’s game is another addition that would benefit the Devils. He is known for his impressive shot and large stature. He is 6’4″ and 201 pounds. Similar to Holtz, Foote is a player that the Devils have a major lack of. If he can show his amazing shot throughout training camp, he could have a shot at making the roster.
The sparsity of wingers for New Jersey could leave an open sport for Foote to be on the opening night roster. Also, he was able to play on a line with Mercer and Holtz in the prospect challenge. The three players were able to thrive together and each collected a goal in their second game. Though Foote could be a longer shot to make the roster, we will most likely see him in the lineup at some point during the season.
Offseason Additions Added Into the Lineup
With Fitzgerald’s active offseason, the Devils will have a different roster to start the season. Proven players such as Dougie Hamilton, Ryan Graves, Tomas Tatar, and Jonathan Bernier will add experience and promise to the roster. With the youth on the roster, the team was lacking in experience. It is critical to young and rising hockey players that they have a veteran leadership around them, so with the added veterans, players such as Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Yegor Sharangovich, Jesper Bratt, Ty Smith, and Mackenzie Blackwood should reach even further heights in their development.
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The new additions will be placed into the lineup with a full steam ahead attitude. They will take on big minutes, and have the opportunity to be the top players on the team. Hamilton and Graves are automatically two of the team’s top defenseman, and will be placed in the lineup to reflect that. Tatar is a master at transitioning the puck and will be a valuable key to the team’s offense. Also, he has experience with putting the puck in the back of the net, which is a trait that young players have challenges with.
Bernier was also brought in to fill an empty goaltending position. Blackwood will now have a veteran who is reliable and consistent to learn from. Also, he will allow for Blackwood to get more rest and not be overworked. The goaltending duo has the capabilities to be a top tandem in the Metro division.
How the Opening Night Lineups Can Look
Head coach Lindy Ruff will be able to oversee the roster regulars, prospects, and professional try outs (PTO) before finding his 23-player roster. The Devils signed three PTO’s in Jimmy Vesey, Mark Jankowski, and Tyler Wotherspoon. According to hockeydb.com, the trio has a combined 637 NHL games played. Vesey and Jankowski have the largest shot at making the roster, but will need to earn their spots.
Ruff will have to make some tough decisions as training camp continues, but also throughout the season. He has been able to watch 56 NHL games with a lot of his players. With that information and what he sees throughout camp, he will try and produce the best roster possible. With multiple players such as Zacha, Boqvist, and McLeod being centers, there will have to be position rearranging. However, the Devils will have the flexibility to do so. The opening night offensive lines can look like this:
However, there is room for prospects to make the roster. Foote has the most NHL experience of the prospects who have a chance at making the roster. Also, if Mercer is able to keep up his impressive play, it would not be impossible for him to be added. The top six will most likely look similar to what is listed. There are possibilities of players playing their listed positions such as Zacha which would break up the familiar line of Zacha-Hischier-Bratt. On the backend, the pairings are more predictable:
The goaltenders will be:
and as a third option, Scott Wedgewood.
Like every NHL season and team, the lines will constantly be mixed up based on opponents, injuries, and prospect call-ups. Devils fans will definitely have their opinions based on what the coaches of the teams decide. However, the season will surely have ups and downs that the team will get through. The added depth will be a good addition for the team and should help throughout the season.
Erica Rosenbaum is a New Jersey Devils writer for The Hockey Writers. She is currently attending Rutgers University and pursuing a Sports Management degree. She has run a Devils Instagram page since 2016 and previously wrote for AllNySports.