The free-agent frenzy has come and gone. But the New Jersey Devils are keeping busy, having signed Tomáš Tatar to a two-year deal on Thursday. They’ve taken care of some in-house items in signing a few of their restricted free agents, most notably Yegor Sharangovich. And it doesn’t stop there.
The Devils also promoted Mark Dennehy from head coach of their AHL affiliate to Chief Scout, Amateur Scouting. With Dennehy moving up in the organization, they hired Kevin Dineen to succeed him as the head coach of the Utica Comets — their new AHL affiliate. There’s a lot to get to, so let’s catch up.
Sharangovich Signs Potential Bargain Bridge Deal
The Devils got arguably their biggest remaining RFA signed on Thursday in Sharangovich. The two sides agreed on a two-year deal at an average annual value of $2 million. He finished this season with 16 goals and 30 points in 54 games — a 24-goal, 45-point pace over 82 games.
Sharangovich is quite the story. A former fifth-round pick at the 2018 Draft, he’s come a long way in a short amount of time. He finished the 2019-20 season with 25 points in 57 games…in the AHL. So to see him thrive in the NHL the way he did only a year later is pretty remarkable.
With that said, maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Since the NHL delayed the 2020-21 season until January due to the COVID pandemic, the Devils sent Sharangovich on loan to Dinamo Minsk in the KHL, where he had 17 goals and 25 points in 34 games. That success seemed to translate to the NHL, as he was one of the Devils’ best wingers this past season.
Sharangovich ranked first on the Devils in goals above replacement among the team’s rookies. He totaled 18 points in his final 21 games and finished the season averaging 1.77 points per 60 minutes at five-on-five. He also seemed to gel with Jack Hughes over the last four to five weeks of the season, which is notable heading into 2021-22. I’d expect him to get a shot alongside Hughes again, even after the Tatar signing.
Even though Sharangovich only has one year of NHL experience, it sure seems like the Devils got him for a bit of a discount. Evolving-Hockey had him projected at a cap hit of $3.709 million on a two-year deal, which is not unreasonable given his production. But the fact he only has 50 NHL games to his name probably helped the Devils keep the dollar figure down. If he produces close to how he did this season in 2021-22, the Devils should have themselves a pretty good value bridge deal on their hands.
Dennehy Moves Into Scouting Department
After three years behind the bench of the Devils’ AHL affiliate, the Binghamton Devils, head coach Mark Dennehy is moving on up. The organization announced they had promoted him to Chief Scout, Amateur Scouting. Per the press release, this is the role he’ll have in the front office: “[Dennehy] will work with hockey operations executives, the amateur scouting department and the entire staff to enhance the club’s scouting and development capabilities.”
From the sounds of it, it doesn’t seem like Dennehy will be scouting, per se. Rather, it appears he’ll be overseeing the Devils’ amateur scouting department and figuring out new ways to help broaden the way they approach scouting prospects. Before joining the Binghamton Devils, he was an NCAA coach for 13 seasons. He’s been around developing prospects for quite some time, so it seems like a role suited for him as the organization keeps looking to strengthen their farm system.
Dineen Hired as Comets Head Coach
Since Dennehy moved into the Devils’ front office, that meant they needed to find a replacement to coach the Comets. They wasted no time hiring Kevin Dineen to succeed Dennehy, making the announcement just hours after Dennehy’s promotion. Dineen spent the last two seasons as the San Diego Gulls’ head coach, compiling a 56-36-9 record. He also has NHL head coaching experience, as he was behind the bench of the Florida Panthers for two seasons from 2011 to 2013.
While Binghamton had an incredible run where they won 25 of 34 games in 2019-20, their results under Dennehy were mostly underwhelming. Sure, he was dealt a tough hand this past season. Most of the players he likely expected to have on his roster either ended up in the NHL or on New Jersey’s taxi squad. Still, Binghamton only won seven of their 35 games in 2020-21. That’s not good enough when their primary focus is to develop the team’s top prospects.
With the Devils beginning their new AHL affiliation with the Comets, they’ll be getting a coach who should help with prospect development.
This might seem like a minor hire in the grand scheme of things, but the Devils will have plenty of their top prospects playing in Utica next season. Among them are Alexander Holtz, Dawson Mercer, Nolan Foote, Tyce Thompson, and Reilly Walsh. For Walsh and Foote, it’ll be their second season in the AHL. For Holtz and Thompson, they’ll be beginning their first full campaign in the league. It’ll be a crucial time for their development, so having someone like Dineen, who has a solid track record as an AHL coach, should benefit the Comets and the Devils moving forward.
Studenic, Greer Under Contract
Finally, the Devils signed RFAs A.J. Greer and Marián Studenič to one-year, two-way deals earlier in the week. Studenič played in eight NHL games last season and potted his first-career NHL goal; he had seven points in 22 AHL games. Greer came to the Devils in the trade that sent Kyle Palmieri to the New York Islanders at the trade deadline. He played in one game for the Devils but finished with 14 points in 16 games for Binghamton.
Greer will play a significant role for the Comets and will likely be high on the Devils’ shortlist when they need a call-up. With the Devils having lost Nathan Bastian to the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft, Studenič could be a candidate to fill his role. He’s a good skater and forechecker and can kill penalties. He needs to find some more offense to his game, but he fits the mold of a modern fourth-line winger. Studenič will need to earn the spot during the preseason, but it’s there for the taking if the Devils don’t make a depth addition through free agency.
That wraps up this edition of Devils news & notes. The Devils still have $14,742,765 in cap space, with only Janne Kuokkanen left to re-sign from their RFAs. Even after signing him, they should still have plenty of room to make another addition. So make sure to stay tuned to The Hockey Writers for the latest updates.
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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