A look at some of the best remaining free agents who would fit this Devils team.
After finishing as one of the worst teams in the NHL in 2021, the New Jersey Devils improved their team dramatically by making some solid trades and signings.
They traded for two defenseman: top-four blueliner Ryan Graves from the Colorado Avalanche and depth defenseman Christián Jaroš from the San Jose Sharks.
In free agency, they signed LW Tomáš Tatar, superstar RHD Dougie Hamilton, and veteran goaltender Jonathan Bernier.
These are all excellent moves and put the Devils in a much better position heading into the 2021-22 season. However, teams can never stop improving and the Devils are no exception.
The Devils still don’t have great depth down the middle and although their defense looks much better, their blueline was one of the absolute worst in the NHL. Adding some more players there can only help them.
Here are nine free agents the Devils should take a serious look at before the season begins.
Artem Anisimov, C
Artem Anisimov’s two goals and nine points last season with the Ottawa Senators were career-lows. He ended up being scratched often and played just a total of 19 games.
Anisimov didn’t see much playing time primarily because the Senators are a young, rebuilding team, and he didn’t really fit the bill there. Of course, the Devils are in practically the same boat as the Senators.
They’re incredibly young and are rebuilding, so it isn’t a great sign that Anisimov didn’t have much value on a team so similar to the Devils.
However, if Anisimov remains unsigned and the Devils don’t do much to address their bottom-six (primarily 4C) centers, then the 33-year-old could be a decent option.
He obviously won’t be costly and could become a good veteran depth piece who provides some scoring.
The fact that Anisimov might not be the best choice on a young, rebuilding team as well as the fact that he’s a significant defensive liability don’t make him the best option, but as a last resort, why not?
Tyler Bozak, C
Tyler Bozak played 31 games with the St. Louis Blues last season, missing time with a concussion. In those 31 games, he scored five goals and 17 points.
Bozak’s gradual regression as well as the fact that he was injured last season have hurt his value and explain why he’s still a free agent. The 35-year-old would be a depth veteran centerman like Anisimov, but he could end up being somewhat of a steal.
Bozak has been a very good two-way forward throughout his career, is good on the penalty kill, and is good in the faceoff circle. He’s exactly the kind of player the Devils need.
They’re incredibly young so they do need to add some veterans. They don’t have many legitimately good two-way forwards. They had the worst penalty kill in the league last season and were one of the worst teams at faceoffs.
Bozak’s strengths are the Devils’ weaknesses and he’s definitely one of the best available options for them on the market. They’d be getting a guy who does everything they need for cheap. Why not?
Zdeno Chára, LHD
One of the greatest defensemen of his generation and a surefire future first-ballot Hall of Famer, Zdeno Chára is the best remaining free agent.
Chára does not seem to age and was surprisingly good in his age-43 season with the Washington Capitals. He’s still incredibly serviceable and the former Boston Bruins captain is a great veteran presence on the blueline and in the locker room.
This is ideal for a young Devils team, specifically a young (but promising) defensive group that would benefit maybe more than anyone from having such a legend as “Big Z” on their team, especially when he’s going to be so affordable.
At 44 years old, Chára might not want to join a rebuilding team and likely wants to compete to win another Cup, but if no contender is interested, the Devils should swoop in.
Jason Demers, RHD
Jason Demers is another veteran defenseman the Devils should take a good look at. Last season was pretty bad for him.
He started out as the third RHD and then became a healthy scratch as the season progressed on a not-so-great Arizona Coyotes team. At 33 years old Demers is past his prime, but he was a top-four defenseman just two seasons ago.
It’s unlikely that he’ll be as bad this season as he was in 2021. This could be a sneaky-good pickup for the Devils, especially if Demers can turn his game around, even just a little bit.
Ryan Donato, C
Ryan Donato had a high ceiling heading into the league but stagnated and is coming off the worst season of his career.
He was pretty terrible at even-strength, but was actually great on the power play, scoring two of his six goals and four of his 14 assists on the man-advantage.
Even given his very underwhelming season with the Sharks, it’s surprising that Donato is still available and he could be the steal of the late available free agents.
At 25 years old, he’s the youngest remaining free agent and is controllable through 2023, which should make him appealing to teams such as the Devils.
The fact of the matter is that although Donato has been somewhat disappointing in the NHL, he still has lots of upside and has proven that he’s fully capable of being a good scorer. He would be near-perfect for the Devils.
Even in his worst season, he had some positives. The Devils have the ability to sign a promising young center for cheap and can keep him around for longer if he pans out. Is this a no-brainer for New Jersey?
Alex Galchenyuk, C
Another younger available free agent is Alex Galchenyuk, who has had quite the journey in the NHL. He’s been disastrous for years, but is coming off his best season in some time.
He’s still bad defensively, but wasn’t as bad in 2021 and looked good offensively with the Toronto Maple Leafs upon joining them in February, scoring four goals and 12 points in 26 games as well as an impressive four points in six playoff games.
Galchenyuk is a defensive liability, which could definitely be a problem for a weak defensive team like the Devils, but he can score, has potential, and is still relatively young at 27 years old.
Of course, Galchenyuk’s struggles in his own end might not make him the best fit for the defensive-minded Lindy Ruff’s system. However, a cheap Galchenyuk in the team’s bottom-six might not be the worst thing in the world for the Devils.
Erik Gudbranson, RHD
The Devils have certainly improved their defense, but they should look to keep adding blueliners. Erik Gudbranson could be a decent option for them.
Gudbranson isn’t good defensively and certainly isn’t an offensive-defenseman, but he is 6’5″ and is very physical and gritty.
Of course, Gudbranson’s skill-set makes him much more appealing to playoff teams than ones that are still rebuilding like the Devils. However, the Devils lack physicality, meaning they could be interested in someone like Gudbranson.
Because the 29-year-old isn’t good at defending and doesn’t score, he probably isn’t the best available blueliner for them to take, but signing him to a cheap, two-way deal might not be the worst move.
Erik Gustafsson, LHD
As many might remember, Erik Gustafsson scored a whopping 60 points with the Chicago Blackhawks during the 2018-19 season and emerged as a fantastic offensive-defenseman.
Unfortunately, he was never able to recreate that season, regressing offensively and regularly playing quite poorly in his own end.
For that reason, he’s been bouncing around lately, including being traded from the Philadelphia Flyers to the Montreal Canadiens last season for just a seventh-round pick. His stock has taken an obvious hit, making the 29-year-old unappealing to most teams.
The Devils are in need of a defenseman who defends well because that is their most glaring weakness so Gustafsson isn’t the best option in that regard, but his offensive production makes him intriguing.
We know that he’s capable of scoring and he could be a good addition to the Devils’ power play.
The Devils could end up getting a relatively high-scoring blueliner for a bargain and although that isn’t (and probably shouldn’t be) a priority for them, it also isn’t something they should dismiss.
Eric Staal, C
Last but not least, we have another veteran centerman. Eric Staal has had quite the journey over the past two seasons.
He went from being the Minnesota Wild’s number one center to a complete disaster on the Buffalo Sabres to an arguably bigger disaster on the Canadiens.
Even so, there are still things to like about Staal. He did quite well as the Canadiens’ 4C during their deep playoff run. The line he played on was physical and focused on other aspects of the game that weren’t necessarily scoring, but ended up being important.
Staal did this while playing through an injury, too.
The question concerning Staal, and likely the reason why he’s still unsigned, is: was last year an anomaly, or is this the beginning of the end for him?
His five goals and 13 points in 53 games last season were, by far, career-lows for him. He’s 36 years old, but is just one year removed from one of his many respectable seasons.
There’s no guarantee, especially at his age, that Staal will go back to scoring 20 goals and 30 assists in a season, but it might come as a surprise if he struggles this year as greatly as he did in 2021.
Staal at a cheap price could work out quite well for the Devils, who could use a good scorer and veteran in their bottom-six.