Devils 2022-23 Training Camp Battles: Wingers

In less than a week, Prudential Center will be buzzing with rookies who will be looking to fight for a spot on the New Jersey Devils’ opening night roster. There is always competition at training camp, but this season is setting up for something a bit more intense as the team has a mix of veterans and hungry prospects who got a taste of life in the NHL last season.

Ahead of training camp, I will be publishing a mini-series that will focus on wingers, centers and defensemen and what the battle will look like at each position. We will first look at the wingers, and if there is one thing we learned about head coach Lindy Ruff last season is that he does not want to depend on his top-six players to get the job done, he is looking to roll four balanced lines. The good news is he and his staff will have plenty of options this season as there is a good mix of veterans and rookies who are ready to compete for roster spots.

Players Who Are Expected to Play Top-Six Minutes

The top six are almost a lock as Ondrej Palat, Jesper Bratt, and Yegor Sharangovich should be seeing plenty of minutes alongside the team’s top two centers and former first-overall picks. On Aug. 3, the organization avoided salary arbitration with Bratt by signing him to a one-year “show me” contract worth $5,450,000. The coaching staff will put him into a position to build off of last season’s success most likely alongside Hischier. Sharangovich historically plays his best hockey alongside Hughes, and it could be argued he is primed for his own breakout season now that Sergei Brylin is part of Ruff’s coaching staff. The former Tampa Bay Lightning forward signed a five-year contract back in July, and will be a nice addition to either the first or second line.

Dawson Mercer Jesper Boqvist Yegor Sharangovich New Jersey Devils
Dawson Mercer, Jesper Boqvist, Yegor Sharangovich of the New Jersey Devils celebrate (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Last season, fans saw the versatility of rookie Dawson Mercer as he was utilized as both a center on the third line and a top winger with Hughes and Sharangovich. The Newfoundland native is guaranteed a top-nine position, and while Ruff can easily reunite the 20-year-old with his aforementioned linemates, he could be an intriguing option to play alongside Erik Haula on the third line. It would give the team’s top nine depth and open up a top-six role if another youngster is looking to challenge for the position. The team has plenty of options at the center position, which makes it likely Mercer will spend majority of the time on the wing.

The four aforementioned players are seemingly the ones to beat if someone is looking to play alongside Hughes and Hischier. The safe assumption is the team’s top two lines will be Palat-Hischier-Bratt and Sharangovich-Hughes-Mercer, but there will be young players at camp who got a taste of the big club last season and will be ready to fight for a top-six spot next week.

Can Holtz Challenge for a Top-Six Role?

Alexander Holtz has been busy this offseason training alongside Bratt with trainer Andreas Öhgren. When he came back to New Jersey for development camp, it was noticeable that he has filled out his frame and put on additional muscle. He admitted that the biggest thing he needed to work on this summer was his speed and it has been something he has worked on the past few months.

During an interview with Mike Morreale of NHL.com, Devils assistant general manager Dan MacKinnon told him that when it comes to Holtz becoming an NHL regular it’s all about conditioning.

Related: Devils Need Alexander Holtz in the Top-6 to Start the Season

“At our exit meeting with him, we told him elite-level conditioning is going to give you the best opportunity to push for a regular NHL spot,” MacKinnon said. “It’s not his shot, it’s not his creativity, it’s being in the best shape of your life.”

Fans have seen clips on Instagram of the training he and Bratt have done with Öhgren, and it won’t be a surprise to see either one come to camp in top shape. The organization seemed to be happy with where his progress was when he returned to New Jersey in July, and the results should only be better when he returns next week. Can he challenge for a top-six role? Yes. Will he start the first game of the season as a top winger? While it’s going to be difficult, it is not impossible.

Wingers Who Will Most Likely Make Up the Team’s Bottom-Six

Miles Wood

It is going to be good to see Miles Wood back in New Jersey’s lineup. During an interview with Devils reporter Amanda Stein, the head coach talked about the excitement surrounding the return of the 26-year-old.

Miles Wood New Jersey Devils
Miles Wood, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

“Oh, really looking forward to that,” said Ruff regarding a healthy Wood. “I think we saw, or I had a real good look at what, what he can do and a difference he can make inside of the game when he’s healthy, from two years ago. Miles can be a big part of our team.”

Wood brings a lot to the team with regard to this speed and physicality, but fans can’t forget that he scored a team-leading 17 goals during the shortened 2020-21 season. On Aug. 4 he agreed to a one-year contract worth $3.2 million Like Bratt, he has a “show me” deal, and everyone will be interested to see how he can perform after having surgery on his right hip last season.

Tomas Tatar

The 2021-22 campaign was Tomas Tatar’s first in New Jersey, and he pretty much came as advertised. He finished with 30 points (15 goals, 15 assists) which was the exact point total he finished with the season prior with the Montreal Canadiens. Like most forwards, he found himself moved throughout the lineup last season, and thanks to injuries and Covid-related illnesses, he played alongside basically everyone from Hughes to Jimmy Vesey.

Tomas Tatar, New Jersey Devils
Tomas Tatar, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

It is speculated that Tatar will settle in on the third line this season with Haula as his center. The two are familiar with each other as they dropped the gloves as opponents and later became teammates in Las Vegas. The stability of playing together consistently can benefit both of them, and with Tatar becoming an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of the season, he will want to give himself as much value as possible before hitting free agency.

Nathan Bastian

It would be a surprise to see Bastian start anywhere other than New Jersey’s fourth line. At 6-4, 205 pounds, he was the largest forward on the roster last season and had no hesitation throwing his body around finishing with a team-leading with 194 hits. For the past few months, Tom Fitzgerald talked about wanting his team to be harder to play against, and that would mean the 24-year-old would remain in the lineup.

Andreas Johnsson

If there is one player who seems to be the odd man out entering training camp it is Andreas Johnsson. The 27-year-old was a healthy scratch the final two games of the season and was held off the scoreboard in his final four appearances of the season. He finished the 2021-22 campaign with 35 points (13 goals, 22 assists). He found early success when put on a line with Mercer and Bratt and in November earned an impressive 12 points in 13 games. Once that line was divided up, he had difficulty keeping up that level of production. Like Tatar, the Swede will be an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of the season. He will need to outperform the prospects who made it into the lineup over him at the end of April.

Prospects Who Can Surprise and Earn a Spot on New Jersey’s Roster

Nolan Foote

The 6-foot-3 left winger came to New Jersey as part of the Blake Coleman trade. The Tampa Bay Lightning selected him in the first round with their 27th overall pick at the 2019 NHL Draft. He made his league debut on April 18, 2021, earning an assist on Hischier’s goal. In the next game, he scored his first goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He has appeared in 13 NHL games earning six points (four goals, two assists).

Scouting Report from Future Considerations: “He’s powerful on the puck and when he asserts himself he’s an unstoppable bull on the wall or in a straight line to the net.”

Highlights From Last Season

  • He ended the 2021-22 campaign in New Jersey on a high note earning four points in the final three regular-season contests, mostly playing on the third line alongside Jesper Boqvist and Fabian Zetterlund.
  • In 55 games with the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League (AHL) he scored 14 goals and finished the season with 32 points.
  • Last April head coach Lindy Ruff praised the 21-year-old for adapting his game and showcasing his potential.
Nolan Foote New Jersey Devils
Nolan Foote, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Foote is still learning how to be an all-around player in all three zones. During the team’s development camp this past summer, the Colorado native talked about growing his game in all areas, but specifically wants to focus on getting stronger, quicker and work on his puck protection. His ability to protect the puck and be strong along the wall could be two factors in what league he plays in next month. Depending on where his development is when he returns to Prudential Center, there is a realistic chance he will at least begin the 2022-23 campaign in the American Hockey League (AHL).

Fabian Zetterlund

New Jersey selected Zetterlund with their 63rd pick during the 2017 NHL Draft. The 23-year-old made his NHL debut last season, appearing in 14 games. In his sixth game with the big club, he scored his first career goal against the Arizona Coyotes.

Scouting Report from Hockeyprospect.com: “He combines speed with a very good motor, as he has a strong desire to retrieve pucks and forecheck.”

Highlights From Last Season

  • He had an impressive season in the AHL with the Utica Comets. Zetterlund earned 52 points (24 goals, 28 assists) in 58 games, including a team-leading eight power-play goals and seven game-winning goals.
  • In five postseason games with the Comets, he along with AJ Greer led the team with eight points in five games.
  • The 5-foot-11 forward concluded the 2021-22 campaign in New Jersey on a three-game point streak (two goals, two assists).

If the Swede is in fact ready to make the jump to the NHL, he would most likely be utilized in a bottom-six role, and at 220 pounds, he would be the heaviest forward of the group. Last season Nathan Bastian and Michael McLeod were the most physical forwards on the team combining for 339 hits. Newly acquired Erik Haula finished the 2021-22 campaign with 129 hits, and when healthy Miles Wood has no qualms bringing physicality to the ice. Fitzgerald has stated he wants his team to be tougher to play against, and in order for Zetterlund to really impress, he would need to be offensively stronger than Johnsson and physically in the same realm as Haula or Bastian.

A Dark Horse Who Can Impress the Coaching Staff

Tyce Thompson

New Jersey selected Type Thompson with their 96th overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. He has played nine games with the Devils over the past two seasons earning one career point. He celebrated the milestone against his brother Tage and the Buffalo Sabres.

Last season he was limited to two games with the big club as he suffered a shoulder injury but returned at the end of March to play 16 games in the AHL, earning 15 points. He plays a versatile game and is another player who can be utilized as a winger or center. The six-foot-one forward has shown a lot of progress and development despite the fact that he is only 23 years old but may need more time before he is ready to challenge for a regular spot.

Related: Devils’ Top 10 Prospects: Preseason 2022-23

There are a lot of different combinations the coaching staff can test out over the next couple of weeks. Veterans like Johnsson will need to earn their spot while prospects, including Holtz and Zetterlund, will need to fight and claw their way into the lineup. Rookies report to camp on Wednesday, and the battle will begin to be one of the eight wingers on the opening night roster.


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