As the NHL trade deadline looms closer with each and every passing day this season, New Jersey Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald has several UFA’s to keep in mind, while also making roster spots available.
One of the first players likely to be dealt would be Russian left-winger Nikita Gusev. Yes, Goose had a career year last year, however the Moscow, Russia native has recorded five points in 16 games this season. That’s compared to 44 points in 66 Games in 2019-20. With Gusev at the production of 49 points in 82 NHL games, I would like Tom Fitzgerald to trade him for a second or a third and an NHL veteran.
At this point in Travis Zajac’s career and him being a 35-year-old centreman, it seems a lot less likely that he wants to be traded outside of New Jersey. Zajac has been in the NHL with only the Devils since 2009-10. His career began in 2006-07 when he was signed to an entry-level contract. At this point in the forward’s career, he, much like his teammate Andy Greene, has been through the glory days and rebuild of this franchise. This, however, leads me to a player very likely to be dealt in Kyle Palmieri.
Palmieri, in 2019-20, had his name involved in trade speculation, but Tom Fitzgerald didn’t get the right offer and decided to hold onto the winger a tad longer. He believed in Kyle’s ability to score, as he has a history of tallying 30 goals. Thus far into the 2020 season, he’s recorded three goals and nine points through 19 games. Palmieri’s contract holds a modified no-trade clause. At this point, I would like to have Fitzgerald fielding several offers because kids like Nolan Foote, Jesper Boqvist and Fabian Zetterlund are all banging on the door for opportunity.
At this point, Ryan Murray not being on the ice and placed on the trade block means New Jersey should look into getting a fourth or fifth in a deal for his services. The Devils could promote one of their younger defenders up from Binghamton to the NHL team, as GM Tom Fitzgerald is keeping a close eye on the hockey club’s pipeline.
I’m not so sure trading Dmitry Kulikov away is possible because the Devils moving on from Murray would mean they need to lean more on a reliable defensemen. However, Dmitry Kulikov hasn’t been his usual defensive self during the team’s slump, which has him on the possible cut list, along with defensemen Sami Vatanen. If both Kulikov and Vatanen turn their defence around and help this young team produce, then I’m all for keeping them around for one more season.
The other key variable is that you have Daniil Misyul and Shakir Mukhamadullin needing 1-4 seasons to individually marinade to learn the North American pro game. They would do so alongside the likes of Michael Vukojevic, Nikita Okhotyuk and Kevin Bahl. Misyul, and Mukhamadullin are both currently playing in the KHL. As per CapFriendly, Daniil played one game in Lokomotov Yaroslavl’s MHL (Junior Team). He did so after a KHL stint, where he skated in 46 games, racking up seven points, five of which were assists. Misyul brings a young, physical presence who competes with speed and the ability to score.
Like Daniil Misyul, Salavat Yulaev has had a very similar styled player in 6’2 defensemen, Shakir Mukhamadullin. At 19 years of age, he’s produced three goals and seven assists for a total of 10 points through 39 games. Mukhamadullin is a growing boy, as he measures at 6’4 and 178 pounds. He could easily add 10-15 pounds of muscle mass and still not be done adding when he transitions to the NHL. At that point, he could prove to be a physical, mobile and frustrating player with a long reach on the blue line.
Many people are still shocked that Mukhamadullin went 20th overall, but I absolutely trust the department the Devils have aligned to scout and track Russian prospects. From what I saw during the U-20 Russian games, Shakir, when he’s clicking on a top line, can skate smoothly and make a tape-to-tape pass while moving well from low danger to mid danger areas. He does this along the boards, which then allows for an added forward attack. Coach Lindy Ruff likes to add a fourth skater on the rush, who moves fluidly and with fast legs, where you can pin the opponents in their end and press for that goal.
New Jersey is on the right path in their rebuild, potentially moving on from the old guard and more-so in with the new. I really like how Miles Wood has matured a lot under Ruff’s four-man attack system. If the Devils were to improve under Mark Recchi and move on from Alain Nasreddine on the PK and defence, I see them only moving upward towards a well-rounded team in the near future.