It’s time for another roundup of New Jersey Devils news and rumors. The draft and free agency are less than three weeks away, meaning the rumor mill is beginning to kick into high gear. That’s been the case with the Devils, as The Athletic’s Pierre Lebrun had some news about Kyle Palmieri’s future with the team.
The Devils also loaned out a couple of their top prospects to European leagues to begin the 2020-21 season. We’ll take a look at that, as well as some other roster movement with prospects already playing in Europe.
Devils Loan Kuokkanen to Kärpät
Janne Kuokkanen, who was part of the return in the Sami Vatanen trade, will begin the season playing in his native Finland for Kärpät in the Liiga. Kuokkanen, who can play left-wing or center, finished this season with 48 points in 56 games in the AHL. He seems close to earning a regular NHL role, and a move to the Liiga could help his case when NHL training camps begin.
Related: 5 UFA Forwards for Devils to Target
The Liiga is not close to the level of the NHL. It’s not even the second-best league in Europe. That said, the quality of play is still pretty decent. Kuokkanen has played in the AHL for three seasons already, so playing in a pro league like the Liiga shouldn’t be a problem. If he does well, it could help him earn a roster spot with the Devils, which is there for the taking.
Palmieri’s Future With the Devils
Earlier in the week, The Athletic published their NHL Trade Big Board, with Kyle Palmieri checking in at no. 6. Lebrun also had quite a bit to say about Palmieri in a separate article and what his future with the team may be.
Per Lebrun, the Devils and Palmieri’s camp have had preliminary talks about an extension, though they’re not close to reaching a new agreement. He also mentioned plenty of teams are calling about Palmieri, so the Devils will have a decision to make at some point soon (From ‘LeBrun: How Eric Staal was traded to Buffalo despite his no-trade list,’ The Athletic – 9/17/20).
Palmieri has been the Devils’ most consistent player over the last five seasons. He’s averaged close to 29 goals per 82 games and is the best shooting threat the team has. But he’ll be 30 years old by the time an extension kicks in, meaning a long-term deal worth seven to eight years might not fit in with a team that’s trending younger.
If GM Tom Fitzgerald decides to trade Palmieri this offseason, he should be able to net the Devils a first-round pick and a top prospect. And I wouldn’t rule out them being able to land a player who can help their NHL roster immediately. So it’s something Fitzgerald will have to consider when the time comes.
Zetterlund Loaned to the Allsvenskan
Some more prospect news, as the Devils loaned right-winger Fabian Zetterlund to HC Vita Hästen in the Allsvenskan, the second division in Sweden. His first pro season on North American ice came in 2019-20. He spent the whole campaign in the AHL, where he had 19 points in 46 games for the Binghamton Devils.
Zetterlund’s situation isn’t much different than Kuokkanen’s. The Devils want some of their prospects playing pro hockey to get ice time before the next NHL season begins. And with European leagues getting underway this week, it makes sense to get their prospects on loans for a couple of months. The Allsvenskan isn’t the Liiga, but it should still get Zetterlund some valuable playing time he needs for his development.
Gritsyuk to the VHL
Arseni Gritsyuk made Avangard Omsk’s initial roster to begin the KHL season. But he didn’t play in any of the team’s first few games, which led to Avangard demoting him to the VHL, the second division in Russia.
Gritsyuk had a highly productive 2019-20 playing in the Russian junior league, where he had 63 points in 59 games. It would’ve been nice to see him get minutes with Avangard in the KHL, but he is only 19 years old. The VHL is still a pro league, much like the Allsvenskan, and Gritsyuk will get valuable minutes playing there. If he shows well and produces as he did playing in juniors, he could get a call-up to the KHL later in the season.
Stay tuned for more Devils news and rumors, as the offseason should be kicking into high gear in the next week or so.
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