What is expected of the post Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri era, which came to a close following a trade on Wednesday? As the old saying goes, “for every door that closes, another one opens.” I firmly see lines three through four in New Jersey being filled by prospects such as Jesper Boqvist. Boqvist was a true centreman, who didn’t play much during last season due to a clause in his contract with the Devils. That saw the SHL product end up playing last season in the American Hockey League. Now up with the NHL club, Boqvist has gotten ice time to prove himself and has since scored his first goal against the Buffalo Sabres. He did so whole playing on a line with Michael McLeod.
The conundrums I had with watching Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac was that on the defensive side, they began looking out of place, however, Zajac’s face-off and poke checking will be missed. Like in any business and sport, every organization must find the right personnel to replace those people who are due to move on. GM Tom Fitzgerald is likely going to find a deal that consists more of NHL ready players while not having to go chasing after too many draft picks. It makes sense in this progression of the rebuild that GM Fitzgerald is looking at teams that can give him the right deal for some of their older guys. This would include guys like Dmitry Kulikov and Sami Vatanen and perhaps a little more for defensemen Ryan Murray.
From what I noticed throughout the week against the Sabres, New Jersey has a lot of young players that are gaining experience, which will allow them to grow and learn and create deeper chemistry for the season to follow. The Devils will be looking to find players who are on cap strapped teams that they’ll be able to keep following the Seattle Expansion Draft. The Devils having players such as Tyce Thompson playing on this team will show that he and guys like Dawson Mercer, Nolan Foote and Alexander Holtz are making their cases for NHL roster spots.
Holtz’s situation in Sweden is almost coming to a close with his team based in Djurgardens. My expectations for the young right-winger is that he gets up to New Jersey as soon as possible. But if he ends up playing with the Binghamton Devils, just having him around will be a good thing to have. Same goes for Foote, and soon after, Mercer, after shredding it up in the QMJHL with 36 points through 23 games.
I do like how The Devils are using this time right now as an evaluation period to see which players fit and which players get moved. It’s important that Jack Hughes and Yegor Sharangovich keep gaining their confidence while Pavel Zacha’s been popping offensively with two power play goals this week against Linus Ullmark.
Ty Smith has had a really good rookie campaign, while forward Jack Hughes has improved his all around game this season. I do see a very competitive and intense rookie in Hughes’ performance, and the Devils can use summer and pre-season camps to keep players like him focused and improving each player individually. If Tom Fitzgerald is able to bolster New Jersey’s roster this offseason, it’s likely not via free agency, but through a trade or a few trades to get this young core of players to form a stronger defensive core, while also promoting a few guys along the way.
There are still a lot of people left skeptical about the wingers for guys like Nico Hischier, Pavel Zacha, Jack Hughes and Yegor Sharangovich, but with more changes on the way, guys like Mercer and Holtz are continuing their paths. On the way over the next few seasons are guys like Areseni Gritsyuk, Daniil Misyul and Shakir Mukhamadullin, all of whom will be joining from the Kontinental Hockey League. One thing that Shakir has to do is just adding more muscle mass as he continues to develop. He has the elite, heavy Chara-esque slap shot, and that very long reach, thus is almost NHL ready. He just needs to focus on shaping himself. The future does look very promising for the New Jersey Devils and the players know how to pick up where they left off with two veterans in Zajac and Palmieri now gone.