The New Jersey Devils have one of the youngest rosters in the NHL. The organization has more restricted free agents (RFA) than unrestricted free agents (UFA) whose contracts set to expire this offseason or within the next few years. The core of the franchise is still being determined as the roster continues to be in development. Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier and Dougie Hamilton are players who will be with the team long-term, while Yegor Sharangovich and Dawson Mercer are possible options to join the trio. Here are three RFAs who are most likely to return in 2022-23.
The 23-year-old native of Stockholm, Sweden, needs twelve more points to set a new career-high in his fifth NHL season. Jesper Bratt leads the Devils in assists with 16 and in points with 24. He has been one of the few bright spots during what appears to be another difficult season for the franchise.
He is second on the team in shots with 64 and fifth with a 10.94 shooting percentage (SH%). Bratt has had a significant increase in SH% from last season to this year. In 46 games played during 2020-21, he took 77 shots, but his SH% was only 3.90. His SH% has risen 7.4 percent between 2020-21 and 2021-22.
He has taken an enormous step in his role with the team based upon his goals scored per shots made. He has shown his potential in working toward being a member of the team’s core this season, and if he continues to be reliable, the Devils should make certain he remains with the franchise.
The 26-year-old forward is out indefinitely after injuring his right hip during a preseason game in October. But Miles Wood has become a leader for the young Devils team, as he was one of the team’s alternate captains prior to his injury. He is considered one of the team’s more experienced players based on the youth in the organization.
Wood led the team with 17 goals in 55 games played and was tied for the lead in shots with Hughes as they both had 110. His presence is missed this season as the team’s depth has been tested due to injuries and players in COVID protocol. Due to the average age of the franchise, general manager Tom Fitzgerald should consider re-signing the Buffalo, New York native to provide the team with experience to the young roster.
Pavel Zacha has been one of the more reliable players for the Devils the last few seasons in terms of games played, as he is one of seven players on the roster to play in all 30 games for the Devils this season. The forward is sixth on the team with 43 shots on goal, and his 9.30 SH% ranks sixth also.
With the absences of players such as Hischier and Wood, Zacha is taking on a big role with the team at 24 years of age. He and Tomas Tatar are tied for the team lead with two power-play goals (PPG). Zacha and Hamilton are tied with five power-play points (PPP), which also lead the Devils.
While the franchise has struggled mightily on the man advantage in 2021-22, the seventh-year player from Brno, Czech Republic, has been one of the Devils’ consistent producers on the power play. Even if his success is considered below average in comparison with other players on teams that have better power-play units, he has been one of the players that have had some success on the man advantage for the organization.
The Devils continue to be a work in progress as they are in the midst of a setback with one win in their last 10 games. Due to having one of the younger rosters in the NHL, Fitzgerald needs to retain some players who possess experience and leadership. The team has some players that could help take the Devils out of the rebuilding phase toward becoming a playoff contender.
Due to their youth, the franchise is exciting to watch when they are having success. However, a young team will have its share of inconsistencies as they continue to gain more experience. The Devils have been in the process of attempting to find a core of players that will turn them into a contender for quite some time now. It appears the Devils have hit rock bottom, so hopefully good things are in store as 2022 approaches.