Earlier last week, we looked at potential defensemen the New Jersey Devils could keep an eye on as trade targets throughout the 2023-24 season. Today, we’ll review some wingers, a position group with a better chance of being a priority for general manager Tom Fitzgerald ahead of the 2024 trade deadline.
With Tomáš Tatar still unsigned and unlikely to return to the Devils, they’ll be banking on Alexander Holtz or even Graeme Clarke to play a top-nine role this season. If they pan out, specifically Holtz, adding a winger won’t be an issue. But it also never hurts to have more scoring in a league where goal-scoring keeps increasing each season. Here are six wingers to keep an eye on in 2023-24.
The Winnipeg Jets will be one of the more intriguing teams in the Western Conference this season. The thought was they’d be quite active during the offseason, but all they did was deal Pierre-Luc Dubois to the Los Angeles Kings and buy out Blake Wheeler. There was no Connor Hellebuyck trade and no Mark Scheifele trade.
I expect the Jets to be in the Western Conference playoff race, especially since they’re in the weakest division in the NHL. But if they fall out of it, Nino Niederreiter could interest the Devils. He’s averaged 27 goals per 82 games the last three seasons, is an excellent forechecker, and is always a beast in possession. At 6-foot-2, 218 pounds, he’d add some size up front, so I could see him being someone Fitzgerald covets if he’s available.
Niederreiter is entering the final year of his contract and comes with a cap hit of $4 million. Aside from the Devils having plenty of cap space to acquire him — they project to have about $8.9 million in deadline cap space — he’d be an ideal fit for their top-nine because of the scoring and physical presence he’d add.
With the Florida Panthers needing to clear some cap space this offseason, they ended up dealing Anthony Duclair to the San Jose Sharks for Steven Lorentz. Duclair played in just 20 regular-season games after recovering from a torn Achilles he suffered last summer, totaling two goals and nine points. But he fared well in the playoffs, with four goals and 11 points in 20 games.
Duclair’s underlying numbers weren’t great last season, but 1) it was in a small sample size, and 2) it’s possible he was never 100 percent healthy from his Achilles injury. How he fares with the Sharks will determine if he’s a viable trade target for the Devils, but if he looks like the Duclair of old, he’s worth keeping an eye on.
Before the injury, Duclair had averaged 29 goals and 58 points per 82 games in his previous three seasons. Speed is a big part of his game, so if his skating returns to form, I’d expect his numbers to look closer to pre-injury. He has a $3 million cap hit for the final year of his contract, and he should be available since the Sharks are likely heading for the draft lottery once again.
Jakub Vrána had a difficult tenure with the Detroit Red Wings, but he got a fresh start when they dealt him to the St. Louis Blues. He played 20 games for St. Louis after getting traded to them ahead of last season’s deadline and totaled ten goals and 14 points.
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What Vrána did in his short time with the Blues was encouraging. He averaged 1.21 goals per 60 minutes and 1.94 points per 60, efficiency rates he put up before arriving in Detroit. Though the Blues have a flawed roster, their offense should be able to find the back of the net. Vrána has talent to work with, and he could be in line for a comeback season if he can stay on the ice.
The Devils may have had interest in Vrána at last season’s trade deadline. If the Blues are out of the playoff picture, it wouldn’t be a surprise if that were the case again. He’s entering the final year of his contract at a retained cap hit of $2.625 million, so the Devils would have no problem taking on his cap hit ahead of the deadline. And his scoring upside could be a significant boon to the lineup.
Another target from the Sharks, Alexander Barabanov has quietly become a solid top-nine winger since coming over from the KHL a few years ago. He finished the 2022-23 season with 15 goals and 47 points in 68 games — a 57-point pace over 82 games.
Barabanov was one of the Sharks’ most efficient five-on-five scorers a season ago, averaging 2.02 points/60. He’s not a high-volume shooter, but his 11.4 career shooting percentage shows he’s a decent finisher. He’s a good playmaker and could be a replacement for Tatar if the Devils don’t find it internally.
Barabanov will be an unrestricted free agent next summer and has a cap hit of $2.5 million for the final year of his contract, so the Devils wouldn’t have a problem fitting him in at the trade deadline if he’s someone they target.
After having a rebound season with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2022-23, Jason Zucker signed a one-year deal with the Arizona Coyotes this summer worth $5.3 million. He finished last season with 27 goals and 48 points in 78 games and was one of the Penguins’ best chance-creators at five-on-five. His 6.24 high-danger chances/60 ranked first on the team, ahead of Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust and Sidney Crosby.
The Coyotes aren’t likely to be in the playoff picture, but there’s potential for Zucker to repeat his 2022-23 season. He’ll likely play a top-six role alongside some combo of Nick Schmaltz, Clayton Keller, Barrett Hayton, Logan Cooley and Matias Maccelli. There’s some offensive firepower there, and he will get the ice time.
Zucker is an ideal top-nine addition for any team at the trade deadline, and he shouldn’t cost top trade assets to acquire. He might not be the biggest player at 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, but he gets to high-danger areas and shoots the puck quite a bit. His forechecking would also add another dimension to the Devils’ offense.
The Red Wings made plenty of improvements this summer, but that doesn’t guarantee they’ll be a playoff contender in the Atlantic Division just yet. If so, David Perron could be one of the most coveted trade targets around the deadline in early March.
Even at 35 years old, Perron is still a more than solid top-six winger. He finished last season with 24 goals and 56 points in 82 games and has averaged 28 goals and 68 points per 82 games since the start of 2020-21. He plays well off the rush, which would fit the style of hockey the Devils play under head coach Lindy Ruff.
Not only does Perron still fill up the scoresheet, but his veteran leadership would also likely appeal to the Devils and Fitzgerald. He won a Stanley Cup with the Blues in 2019 and was one of the original misfits on the Vegas Golden Knights team that made it to the Final but lost in 2018. That experience, plus his top-six scoring, could prove invaluable.
Adding More Scoring Could Be the Play
If the Devils go shopping for trade-deadline additions, a winger is the most likely bet. Sure, goaltending could be. But it’s rare that a goaltender gets dealt at the deadline and has an immediate impact that drives a team to a Stanley Cup run. Fitzgerald’s preference would likely be for someone with a bit of term, but if he believes the team can make a run to the Stanley Cup Final, a rental for a winger could be the play.
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Advanced stats from Natural Stat Trick