Luck continues to follow the New Jersey Devils this year. After winning the first pick through the NHL draft lottery, they now welcome Hobey Baker award winner Will Butcher to their roster. Obviously, this was not all pure luck. Ray Shero and his team clearly had a great pitch geared towards the University of Denver product. Ultimately though, it was up to Butcher and he chose New Jersey. Now that he has made his choice it is time to see what the Devils’ defensive pairings might look like for the 2017-18 season.
Defensive Pairing Predictions
Andy Greene – Damon Severson
John Moore – Steven Santini
Will Butcher – Ben Lovejoy
Devils’ Defense Building Through Youth
Much like what Shero has done with the offense over the past two years, he has begun to retool the defense with young, promising prospects. Butcher joins Mirco Mueller, and Michael Kapla as the latest additions to the Devils’ blue line. All three are 22 years old and will be battling for roster spots throughout training camp and the preseason. Santini is 22 as well but his play last season has made his spot a bit more stable than the others at the moment.
It will be a somewhat new feeling for Devils’ fans to watch promising defensive prospects clash for roster spots. All are left-handed but could be switched to the right side if they play well enough. It would not be surprising to see more than two of them playing at the same time. That is mainly because the Devils had a subpar defense last year and anyone not named Severson and Greene have to earn their spots on the roster.
Heavy Reliance on Severson
While adding Butcher is exciting, Severson is still the best defensemen in New Jersey. The 23-year-old had a career year last season, recording 31 points in 80 games, tied for fifth-best on the team. That total is a lot more impressive than it sounds, especially when you consider the Devils’ offensive deficiencies in 2016-17.
Expect Severson to lead the Devils in ice time throughout the season, as he officially becomes the go-to guy on the blue line. His offensive style complements Greene’s defensive game which makes for a decent first-pairing. Behind those two lie unproven prospects and inconsistent veterans. It is a safe bet that head coach John Hynes will be relying heavily on Greene and Severson next season, with the latter becoming the bonafide number one defenseman for the Devils.
Butcher Makes the Cut
This prediction may seem a bit premature but I am fairly confident in it. Butcher had a lengthy list of teams interested in him and he decided to pick the Devils. One of the reasons was surely for the amount of playing time he would receive. Being a key piece for a team is always enticing and was definitely part of the pitch to land him.
Agnt Brian Bartlett on why Butcher chose NJ: "Will felt like NJ provided a good mix of opp, coaching, dev, style & retrng plyrs …" [more]
— Mike Morreale (@mikemorrealeNHL) August 28, 2017
I doubt Shero won him over by saying he would really benefit by starting the year in the AHL. Plus, he played all four years at the University of Denver and just won the national championship, so he is more NHL-ready than most prospects coming out of college. The signs are pointing towards the NCAA champion starting the season in Newark. That can change in a heartbeat but as of right now, it is likely Butcher’s spot to lose.
This defense needs to exceed expectations for the Devils to be successful but it will not be easy. They are still largely unproven and the Metropolitan Division is still the toughest in the NHL. Fortunately, the offense has made some great additions and Cory Schneider is in line for a bounce back year. The burden of winning games won’t be solely on the shoulders of the defense, they have good forwards in front of them and a solid goaltender to back them up. If this defense can be an average unit in the NHL than the Devils have a good chance at success in 2017-18. They may even challenge for a playoff spot.