It’s no secret that the Devils have a shortage of dynamite scorers. They currently have just four active players with more than 30 points this season (Kyle Palmieri, Adam Henrique, Travis Zajac, and Michael Cammalleri), and one of them has missed half of this season.
They have the fewest goals scored this season (162 through 72 games), and the fewest goals 5v5 (just 97). The lack of offensive depth is very apparent. That lack of offense has actually given the Devils a chance to search for a diamond in the rough player, one who hasn’t quite shown what he is capable of with other teams. For some players, it has afforded playing time and opportunities they otherwise never would have had with their previous teams. Here are a few worth mentioning:
Originally a first round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Moore has bounced around for the first few years of his career. He was traded twice in three years, from Columbus to the Rangers, and from New York to the Arizona Coyotes. He never really got a chance to be an every day defenseman that can be relied upon for big minutes and some offense. He was never even handed a qualifying offer by Arizona this past off-season. The Devils swooped in and grabbed the 24 year old Moore, with the hope he could slot in a top 4 role, and show everyone what he’s really capable of.
Besides his dashing good looks, he’s been as advertised. With a few growing pains here and there, as is expected with a younger defenseman, Moore has really taken advantage of his chance. He already has a career high in points, 17 through 64 games played, and has three OT game winning goals, most recently against the Los Angeles Kings. His defensive prowess is still improving, and he brings one of the better skating abilities among the team’s defense corps. Now 25, he still has plenty of time to further develop into a true top 4 defender.
Schlemko was an undrafted free agent hanging around with the Coyotes for a few years, playing what seemed like every other game in his first few seasons. He has shown signs of brilliance, and yet was passed over many times. He spent his 2014-15 season wearing 3 different uniforms, the Coyotes, Stars, and Flames. Left as an unrestricted free agent after getting traded twice in a couple of weeks, the future seemed bleak for Schlemko, until the Devils signed him to a deal just before the pre-season, figuring to add some defensive depth and perhaps some veteran leadership to a very young blue line.
The move paid off in droves. Besides having a new career high in games played (63 as of March 20), goals (6), assists (13), and points (19), he’s been relied upon as a key member of one of the better power play units in the league. His spot on the point has been severely underrated, with him using slick hands and great vision to create a play making duo with Jacob Josefson, to set up scorers like Henrique and Palmieri for easy scoring chances. He has been very quiet defensively, which is something you look for in a bottom 4 defenseman. He’s never really been egregiously out of position, or making air-headed decisions. He’s been a steady stalwart for this team, and proves to earn a huge raise next season, deservedly so. He really likes his role here, and at just 28 years old, he figures in for the immediate future as well.
Smith-Pelly was a second round pick of the Anaheim Ducks in 2010. He has a great combination of skills and power that have yet to really be shown in the NHL. He never quite found his niche with the Ducks, and was traded to the Montreal Canadiens. He was stuck playing fourth line minutes for Les Habitans also, and was traded for the disappointing Stefan Matteau at the trade deadline last month. He really seemed to like Montreal, giving a teary-eyed farewell after learning of his trade to New Jersey just before gearing up to play the Sharks in San Jose.
None of us knew he’d blow up once he donned Devils’ red. Yes, it’s been a very small sample size. He’s scored points in six of his eight games with the Devils, including six goals. He’s been finding his way into the slot and jamming home rebounds, setting up linemates Adam Henrique or Tyler Kennedy, and really growing quickly as a power forward that can fit the Devils’ mold. He’ll be 24 in June, and can certainly carve out a place with this team in the future if he keeps up his solid play from here on out.
Palmieri was drafted in the first round by the Anaheim Ducks in 2009, and made his NHL debut at just 19 years old. He’s shown he’s got oodles of skill, between his skating, shooting, grit, and stickhandling. I can go on for a while singing his praises. You might be thinking, “He wasn’t a reject somewhere else, what’s he doing on this list?” Truth is, you’re absolutely correct. His problem was that he was bouncing from line to line on a very deep Anaheim lineup, constantly buried under elite forwards like Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. The Devils saw something in him, and sent a couple of draft picks to Anaheim to bring Kyle back to his home state.
The Montvale native has shown he’s extremely capable of scoring, and has blown past his previous career highs half way through the season. With 27 goals and 22 assists, he’s the leading scorer on the team. He’s easily been the most dynamic forward, with tremendous speed, a blistering shot, and a tireless work ethic. Playing just minutes away from his hometown certainly helps his desire to help this team succeed, giving back to the community that got him playing hockey in the first place. If this season is in any indication of what he can do year in and year out, just wait until the Devils compliment him with more than just Travis Zajac (no offense, Travis).
We could probably add a couple of names to this list. Tyler Kennedy has picked his game up lately, Bobby Farnham was really fun to watch early on, and Lee Stempniak was fantastic before his trade to Boston. It shows that the Devils this season have made a few great acquisitions that will go a long way beyond this season. Ray Shero has done a wonderful job of finding pieces that haven’t panned out elsewhere and landing some really good players on the cheap. The fact that the Devils are giving these guys a chance to show what they’ve got is great for these players, as they have potential to build something special in New Jersey. It might be all Devils fans have to look forward to the rest of the season, but it gives them a good sense of hope for the future.