Devils News & Notes: 23-Man Roster & Possible Line Combos

Yesterday was the NHL’s deadline for teams to release their initial 23-man rosters ahead of the start of the regular season, which begins today for some teams. For the New Jersey Devils, they kick things off on Thursday with a trip to Philadelphia to take on the Flyers. There weren’t many surprises with the Devils’ initial 23-man setup, though there was one with a bit of a quirk. Let’s go over their roster and how they may line up when they take on the Flyers. 

Nemec Makes Devils Over Bahl, But With a Catch

Most people, including myself, were surprised to see Šimon Nemec, the second overall pick in the 2022 draft, make the Devils’ initial 23-man roster over Kevin Bahl. Bahl had an outstanding preseason, finishing with an expected goals percentage (xG%) just above 72 percent while giving up just three high-danger chances when he was on the ice; the Devils had a 21-3 advantage in high-danger chances with him on the ice. 

Nemec did show some flashes of what made him the second-overall pick, but generally speaking, it was clear some seasoning in the AHL with the Utica Comets would be best for him. He finished with a Corsi for percentage (CF%) of 43.16 percent and 43.8 xG% at five-on-five during the preseason. The Devils also have Dougie Hamilton, Damon Severson, and John Marino on the right side of the blue line, where Nemec would play. So what gives? The NHL salary cap may have something to do with it:

As is the case with initial rosters, the salary cap does play a factor. While Nemec may not be NHL-ready now, there’s a good chance he’ll see some NHL action later in the season. His cap hit would’ve been significantly higher, perhaps comfortably in seven figures, meaning the Devils likely wouldn’t have the cap space to call him up later on. 

Placing him on the roster now gives the team the flexibility to use long-term injured reserve (LTIR) since Jonathan Bernier will begin the season on LTIR while he works his way back from hip surgery. And since it seems to be a paper move on the surface, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Bahl back with the Devils ahead of Thursday night’s regular-season opener. 

Holtz & Zetterlund Set for NHL Action

Considering their preseasons, it’s not surprising to see Alexander Holtz and Fabian Zetterlund open up the season with the Devils. Holtz looked like a much-improved player during exhibition games, finishing with a goal and two assists in five contests. His board play is stronger than it was a season ago, and his already underrated playmaking ability seems to have taken another step forward. 

Another important stage in Holtz’s development was improving his skating, which he seems to have done over the summer. He looked quicker and was more efficient in transition through the neutral zone during the preseason. Considering most of his minutes came alongside Ondrej Palát and Jack Hughes in exhibition games, it wasn’t too surprising to see him make the team. And he earned it. 

Alexander Holtz New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils winger Alexander Holtz (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Zetterlund’s spot on the Devils’ roster was anticlimactic compared to Holtz’s. He is waivers-eligible and would’ve surely ended up getting claimed by another team if the Devils had placed him on waivers. He did earn his spot, though, as he had a solid preseason, finishing with three assists in five games. His five-on-five numbers were pretty decent, too, as he had a 52.17 CF% and 49.87 xG%. 

Zetterlund showed well in the NHL last season and was one of the Comets’ best players, with 24 goals and 52 points in 58 games. Making the Devils’ roster was more a formality, and he should have a role as a bottom-six forward at a minimum this season. 

Potential Devils Line Combos & Defense Pairs

Now that the Devils’ roster is as good as set for Thursday, how could they line up when they take on the Flyers? A trio of Palát, Hughes and Holtz seems like a safe bet, but what about other line combos? And what about the defense pairs? 

Related: Devils’ Bottom-Six Becomes Clearer After Latest Roster Cuts

If Nico Hischier isn’t ready to return from a strained hamstring, Dawson Mercer will likely open up as the team’s second-line center. Based on Sunday’s practice lines, his linemates could be Jesper Bratt and Tomáš Tatar, who had an impressive preseason and looks primed for a bounce-back year. 

If that’s the case, the Devils’ third line could consist of Yegor Sharangovich, Erik Haula and Fabian Zetterlund, while the fourth line would bring back the BMW trio of Miles Wood, Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian:

  • Palát – Hughes – Holtz
  • Tatar – Mercer – Bratt
  • Sharangovich – Haula – Zetterlund 
  • Wood – McLeod – Bastian
Nico Hischier New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils center Nico Hischier (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

If Hischier is ready to go, that’ll bump Mercer to the wing, perhaps with Sharangovich and Haula, leaving one of Zetterlund or Bastian as a healthy scratch for the first game. It’s also possible that Sharangovich and Tatar flip spots since Tatar played well with Haula and Zetterlund during exhibition games, while Sharangovich should mesh with Mercer or Hischier and Bratt:

  • Palát – Hughes – Holtz
  • Tatar – Hischier – Bratt
  • Sharangovich – Haula – Mercer
  • Wood – McLeod – Zetterlund/Bastian

As for the Devils’ defense pairs, they should be a bit more straightforward:

  • Jonas Siegenthaler – Hamilton
  • Ryan Graves – Marino
  • Brendan Smith – Severson

Marino, who the Devils acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins this summer, had a fantastic preseason and may begin the season on the second pair based on how head coach Lindy Ruff structured his defense pairs to end the preseason. Either way, running Hamilton, Marino and Severson on the right side is a luxury not all teams have. 

Now that the Devils have their initial 23-man roster in place (Bahl will probably re-join the team soon), it’s time to get games started. Make sure to stay tuned to The Hockey Writers for the latest coverage as the 2022-23 NHL season gets underway. 

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