The New Jersey Devils continue to have a busy off-season. Though not in the sense of signing a lot of big-time free agents. After making a splash by acquiring defenseman P.K. Subban at the NHL Draft, the Devils defence immediately got better. Over the past two weeks, Devils General Manager Ray Shero focused on re-signing his own players. With Connor Carrick signing last week, and Mirco Mueller signing on Monday, the Devils continue the trend of adding depth defenseman. Even with these moves, the Devils still have needs too addressed on defense.
How the Devils Defense Stacks Up
The Devils have a crowded blue line as the Devils have up to seven defencemen competing for six spots on the opening night roster. For the Devils that is a good problem to have. A team can never have too many defensemen as the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues showed. Not to mention the Devils still need to sign Will Butcher to a contract as well. Butcher has an arbitration hearing scheduled for August 2nd. When the Devils do eventually sign Butcher, this will just another body the Devils can use on defense.
The Devils have solidified the right of their defensive corps. Subban joins a group that already has Sami Vatanen and Damon Severson. The latter of which will now be put into situations where he can succeed even more. With Subban slotting into the top pairing, Severson’s talent will be on display as he can expose a weaker matchup. Severson will now be able to get more shots off from the point and create offense. Look for him to take another step forward.
The left side of the defense has a bit more question marks with Andy Greene, Mueller, and Will Butcher. Over the past several seasons, Greene has been a defensive liability for the last couple of seasons. It will be hard for the coaching staff to justify benching Greene or even moving him down the lineup so long as he has “C” on his sweater. Though the Devils could move Subban or Vatanen to the left side, ideally Coach John Hynes would like to see improvements from Butcher or Mueller to make the left side just as strong as the right.
As training camp approaches the Devils will also have rookies competing for a role on defense. One of the players the Devils have high expectations for is Ty Smith. Smith was one of the final cuts last year in training camp. While he has shown the ability he can play at the NHL level, it will be interesting what type of role Smith will play come next season.
What The Future Holds
In every changing NHL, the one thing that has stayed the same is defense wins championships. The Devils were known for having a good defense and it was the backbone of their championships teams. The Devils have been exposed for a having a mediocre defense which has hurt their goaltending situation.
Having the right defensive structure with the players in the system is key. What would really help is having a guy like Scott Stevens around, who could help these young defencemen grow and transition into a role in the NHL. He could teach some of the more heavier players to play a physical brand of hockey, which is necessary once the playoffs start
One thing is for sure the Devils still have a lot of room for improvement especially on defense if they want to get back in the playoff picture.