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Heading into the off-season, the New Jersey Devils' biggest needs – now and in the long-term – were a top-6 center and a top-4 defenseman.
Nico Hischier is a stud and completely competent 1C but things were a little messy after him. Travis Zajac was probably punching above his weight class seeing steady 2nd line minutes, and Pavel Zacha may never be capable of playing that role.
In drafting Jack Hughes, the Devils landed a future star who will knock the latter two into more appropriate slots (Zajac's ice time may actually be similar to Hughes', but Hughes will play on the 2nd scoring line).
Now, center is suddenly a position of strength.
While I still wouldn't say that about the defense, it's much less an issue than it was previously.
Even after a down year, P.K. Subban has still averaged 50 points per 82 games over the last three seasons. He is very good offensively and also capable of handling himself against quality competition. Getting him is big.
So what's left to do? Let's take a quick look at the depth chart to help figure that out.
We'll start up front.
Before everyone gets up in arms about Jesper Bratt on the top line, I should point out a) he has worked well with Hall and Hischier in the past and; b) Jack Hughes will need someone on his line who will actually shoot the puck. That's why Kyle Palmieri is on L2.
If Jesper Boqvist is ready to be play in a sheltered top-6 role, I think they are set there.
As a whole, I'd say they could use one more top-6/top-9 caliber winger – preferably on the right side.
The Devils probably can't bank on much production from Nathan Bastian and/or John Hayden. If Palmieri or Bratt were to get injured for any amount of time, things could get ugly in a hurry.
One potential target who could help address this: Joonas Donskoi. He is a very efficient 5v5 point producer, he is fantastic defensively, and his skating ability makes him a natural fit for the way the Devils want to play. Donskoi would be the perfect player to skate alongsideBlake Coleman and Zajac on the 3rd line, and he could play up in the event of an injury.
I would be very confident trotting out this forward lineup on opening night.
To the defense we go.
Note: Despite being left-handed, Ty Smith primarily played RD last season so I penciled him in there for now.
I don't think a Sami Vatanen - P.K. Subban pairing would be great at driving play but they should be able to hold their own. Certainly better than a pairing featuring a declining Andy Greene and Damon Severson.
Speaking of those two cats, they played some of the toughest minutes in the league last season. Greene+Severson were both among the 13 defenders to log 600+ minutes against elite competition, per PuckIQ
. Giving them softer minutes could help garner much better results, especially with an improved group of forwards in front of them.
Will Butcher and Smith will need to be protected, or split up, on the road – you don't want them playing top competition, especially vs teams with heavy top-end forwards – but they strike me as a unit that could do serious damage vs team's depth players. I mean, Butcher garnered excellent results with *Ben Lovejoy* while playing those kind of minutes.
Ideally, the Devils land one more quality LD but I'm not sure there's much of a road there. The captain isn't getting pushed out and Vatanen is a year away from free agency.
The only options are essentially a) overpaying for a free agent like Jake Gardiner and then dealing Vatanen or; b) including Will Butcher in a package for a more established upgrade. I'm not sure I'd bet on either happening.
If I were to guess, I think the Devils are more likely to add a forward than left-defender in the coming weeks. Either way, I don't think they're done just yet.
We'll see what Ray Shero has up his sleeve.
Reviewing the Devils' 2019 draft class
New Jersey Devils acquire P.K. Subban
New Jersey Devils select Jack Hughes with 1st overall pick
On the Taylor Hall contract situation
Data tracking Hughes and Kakko at the Worlds
Five pieces the Devils could use as trade bait this summer
The Jack Hughes blog™