The Devils entered training camp with less than two weeks to evaluate their players and make a decision on their final roster to open the 2020-21 season.
And a lot has happened since players reported 10 days ago.
Jesper Bratt hasn’t signed a new contract. Corey Crawford retired. Nico Hischier still hasn’t practiced due to an offseason injury. Sami Vatanen re-signed on a one-year contract.
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So there are plenty of changes in NJ Advance Media’s latest opening-night roster projection. The Devils must cut their roster to 23 players before 5 p.m. on Tuesday, so here’s one final shot at predicting the final team.
While Palmieri is entering the season on the final year of his current contract and his long-term future is still up in the air, he’s still the Devils’ top goal scorer and will be vital for any success the team has this season.
With Hischier missing all of training camp so far, Hughes has centered the top line since the start. If Hischier isn’t ready to go, expect him on the top unit to start the season.
Zajac could end up in a top-six role to start the season with Hischier out.
Depending on how head coach Lindy Ruff wants to balance his lineup, Gusev could be in position for top-line minutes. He has spent recent practices and scrimmages skating with Hughes and Palmieri.
After landing Johnsson from the Maple Leafs in a trade where Toronto aimed to shed money off the salary cap, Johnsson should start the season a top-six left winger. Look for him to start the season next to Zajac if Hischier is out.
Zacha missed a few days of camp with an injury, but he returned to practice on Saturday.
Wood was also out for a few days due to a shoulder injury, but he returned to practice on Saturday. He said he’ll be good to go to start the season.
Now we’re venturing into some unknown territory with prospects trying to make the team. So far, Merkley has looked the part and has been in a big role throughout camp. He’s been skating with Zajac consistently and has also seen some power-play time.
After playing left wing in all his NHL games last season, Boqvist has stayed at center for most of training camp. His line of Yegor Sharangovich and Janna Kuokkanen has been good since joining forces.
A dark horse entering camp after a strong stint in the KHL, Sharangovich is making it nearly impossible for the Devils to cut him. He scored three goals in the past two scrimmages, and he’s shown the ability to generate chances and play smart offensive hockey.
After landing with the Devils in last February’s Vatanen trade with the Carolina Hurricanes, Kuokkanen performed well in the AHL at the end of last season and also got a small taste of the NHL. With three pro seasons already under his belt, Kuokkanen could be ready to make the full-time NHL jump at 22 years old.
McLeod will probably start the season at right wing if he makes the Devils’ roster. Ruff likes his speed and tenacity that could land him a bottom-six role.
Unlike some of the other forward prospects in camp, Bastian isn’t a fast, flashy player. But he’s a big body and a strong defender, and Ruff has liked those elements of his game. He might not end up as a regular in the Devils’ lineup, but there’s a role for him.
Seney has bounced between the NHL and AHL over the past two seasons, but his 53 NHL games should give him a leg up over some of the competition in training camp.
Notable omissions: Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt
Hischier still hasn’t resumed skating after suffering a leg injury in December prior to training camp. Ruff said he’s been progressing and should be close to getting on the ice, so the door is still open for him to play in the season opener. But for now, it looks like he might miss the start of the season.
With Bratt still unsigned, there’s not enough time for him to get a contract, secure his work visa, travel to New Jersey and quarantine for seven days. Even if a deal gets done before the start of the season, Bratt will miss some games.
In the mix: Nolan Foote, Ben Street, Mikhail Maltsev
Now the Devils’ longest tenured defenseman, Severson is a lock to start the season in a big role on the blue line.
Subban’s first season in New Jersey was a disappointment, and now the former Norris Trophy winner will be looking to bounce back and show he’s still a difference maker on the ice.
Murray will play a big role on the left side after the Devils acquired him from the Columbus Blue Jackets in a salary dump during the offseason. Injuries have been a red flag for Murray throughout his NHL career, but when he’s on the ice, he’s capable of handling top-pairing matchups.
Butcher has steadily played his way into a bigger role during his three NHL seasons, and with Murray in position to take the left side in the top pairing, Butcher should still be in the top four to start the season.
Kulikov signed a one-year deal in the offseason, adding some depth and NHL experience to the blue line. His should be a lock to make the final roster, though his role could ultimately come down to where the next player stands.
Even with the addition of Vatanen, it’s hard to see the Devils keeping Smith off the roster. Ruff has liked what he’s seen, and the 2018 first-round pick deserves the chance to see some real action in the NHL to start the season.
The addition of Vatanen could eventually cut into Carrick’s role — he was playing some right wing during Friday’s scrimmage with Vatanen still waiting to join the team. Carrick saw inconsistent playing time during his first two seasons with the Devils, and he could be in a similar spot again.
Notable omission: Sami Vatanen
Vatanen will be on the roster eventually after re-signing on a one-year deal on Thursday. But due to travel and quarantine protocols, Vatanen won’t be ready to play on opening night. So for now, he’s off the roster until he’s cleared, likely after the Devils play their first game.
In the mix: Kevin Bahl, Reilly Walsh, Matt Tennyson, Colton White, Josh Jacobs
Mackenzie Blackwood, Scott Wedgewood
With Crawford retired, the Devils need to fill the other NHL roster spot. Wedgewood is the most likely candidate since he has some NHL experience.
The Devils will have to add another goaltender in the coming weeks in some form, so it’s possible another player comes in to take Wedgewood’s spot. But for now, he’s the guy in line to join Blackwood on the roster.
In the mix: Gilles Senn
Nikita Gusev-Jack Hughes-Kyle Palmieri
Andreas Johnsson-Travis Zajac-Nick Merkley
Janne Kuokkanen-Jesper Boqvist-Yegor Sharangovich
Miles Wood-Pavel Zacha-Michael McLeod
Extras: Nathan Bastian, Brett Seney
Ryan Murray-P.K. Subban
Will Butcher-Damon Severson
Dmitri Kulikov-Ty Smith
Extra: Connor Carrick
Teams can carry between four and six players on the taxi squad, which is unique for the 2020-21 season. Teams must have three goalies between the NHL roster and the taxi squad.
G Gilles Senn
F Ben Street
D Matt Tennyson
D Colton White
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