It’s been a busy week for the New Jersey Devils. Trade rumors are beginning to pick up steam before the April 12 deadline, especially those involving Devils’ players.
Plus, could some prospects be close to joining the organization? And an update on some injuries to a few of the Devils’ key players. Let’s dive into the latest team news and rumors.
Blackwood Injured; Hischier Has Surgery
Perhaps the biggest Devils news of the week was that center Nico Hischier underwent surgery to repair a sinus fracture he suffered on Feb. 27 after taking a puck to the face against the Washington Capitals. The surgery took place on March 15, and his timeline to return to action is three weeks from then.
Hischier has played in only five games this season due to a variety of reasons. He suffered an injury training in Switzerland during the offseason, got COVID while in New Jersey, then took a puck to the face in his fifth game of the season. There’s no doubt his absence has had an impact on the team, and they’ll welcome his return in about two weeks.
As for Blackwood, he left warmups before the Devils faced the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night and did not make his scheduled start. The team is saying it’s an upper-body injury, but it doesn’t seem to be serious. Hopefully, he doesn’t miss much time because his play had been coming along over the last couple of games.
Pavel Zacha took a nasty slash in Tuesday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres. He missed Thursday’s contest against the Penguins, but he should be back in the lineup today in their rematch against Pittsburgh.
Devils Receiving Calls Ahead of Trade Deadline
On a recent segment of TSN’s Insider Trading (about 3:20 in), Pierre Lebrun reported the Devils have received calls from almost every playoff or bubble team and called the Devils the action team. He also mentioned that right-winger Kyle Palmieri is the player garnering the most interest from contenders.
Palmieri’s had a down season by his standards, but poor shooting luck has played a factor in his counting totals dropping. If the Devils can’t re-sign him, he’ll have plenty of suitors in the coming weeks. He should be able to fetch a second-round pick and a B-plus prospect at a minimum. Don’t rule out a first-round pick if enough teams are bidding on him too.
Palmieri isn’t the only pending unrestricted free agent the Devils have who contenders may consider acquiring. Defensemen Sami Vatanen, Ryan Murray and Dmitry Kulikov are all UFAs. Travis Zajac is also a UFA, though he has a full no-trade clause and is unlikely to waive it.
It’d be a surprise if the Devils traded all their UFAs, especially on defense. But they should be able to recoup some draft capital and perhaps add to an already strong farm system before heading into an offseason where they’ll be one of the few teams who’ll have an abundance of cap space to improve their roster.
Devils Sign Vukojevic
Early yesterday afternoon, the Devils signed defenseman Michael Vukojevic to a three-year, entry-level contract. Vukojevic was a third-round pick of the team in 2019 and got a start to his pro career a bit earlier than expected, with the OHL still on pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vukojevic has impressed with the Binghamton Devils, with six points in eight games. He has good size at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, and is a high-end skater. He wasn’t thought to have much offensive upside, but he’s shown good offensive instincts in spurts while in the AHL. He still has a ways to go to be NHL-ready. But for someone who wasn’t supposed to be playing pro hockey this season, he’s handled himself well.
Vukojevic will finish this season on an AHL contract. And if the OHL does restart at some point, he’ll have to return there. This season won’t count against his ELC, as it won’t kick in until the start of the 2021-22 campaign.
Are Other Prospects Close to Joining Devils?
With the NCAA season drawing to a close, a couple of Devils’ prospects could be on the verge of joining the organization as soon as next week. Providence College was eliminated from the Hockey East tournament on Wednesday, though they seem to be in a good position for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. If they don’t receive an at-large bid, that means Tyce Thompson’s season would be over.
Over in the Big Ten, Penn State was eliminated from their conference tournament and are highly unlikely to make the NCAA tournament. That means forward Aarne Talvitie’s season will also be over. He finished with 13 points in 20 games.
The Devils will want to get them signed soon for a couple of reasons. One is because a delayed start to the AHL season means the league will be playing into the beginning of May. That will allow both players to get time in a decent amount of pro games. And if they play well, they could even see a game or two in the NHL.
The other reason the Devils need to get them signed soon is both Talvitie and Thompson would be eligible to become UFAs in August 2022 if they returned for their senior seasons. Thompson is a particularly good prospect, so the Devils will want to get him signed now rather than having him return to Providence.
It’s also worth keeping an eye on Alexander Holtz’s situation. He still has a few games left with Djurgården, followed by a play-in round to get into the SHL playoffs. If they fail to advance to the playoffs, the Devils will be eligible to sign Holtz to his ELC. There’s a good case to bring him over now and get him some games on North American ice. That’s still a few weeks away, but it’s something to monitor once the calendar turns to April.
That’ll wrap up this edition of Devils’ news and rumors. Make sure to stay tuned to The Hockey Writers for the latest coverage as the trade deadline approaches.
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