Newark, NJ – Assuming Jesper Bratt and Timo Meier return, the New Jersey Devils’ top-six forwards are set. In addition to the aforementioned, you can write Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, Dawson Mercer, and Ondrej Palat among them in ink. If Tomas Tatar returns, he’ll be in the mix somehow, too. However, there are bound to be departures in the bottom six which means the Devils may need to add a UFA depth forward or two.
There are certainly some prospects who appear ready to make the leap to the NHL. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Nolan Foote claim a role. Alexander Holtz’s time could finally come as well. And, don’t sleep on Graeme Clarke. However, if Simon Nemec is in fact ready for a full-time gig and Luke Hughes will also be on the blueline, how much inexperience do the Devils want to inject into their lineup? After taking a massive step forward last season, General Manager Tom Fitzgerald may not be willing to bank on too many prospects helping New Jersey take another step.
The fact of the matter is Miles Wood has likely played his last game with the Devils. Will Yegor Sharangovich be back? Can the Devils afford Tatar after the Bratt and Meier deals get done? If the answer to those questions is “no,” and Wood has moved on from New Jersey, the Devils are going to need to add to their bottom six.
Let’s take a look at three options.
Jesper Fast literally ended the Devils’ season when he scored the overtime winner for the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 5 just over a month ago. That’s exactly one of the reasons why New Jersey should look to add him.
Fast has plenty of playoff experience between playing for the Hurricanes and the New York Rangers. 80 playoff games is nothing to scoff at, and that’s how many Fast has participated in.
The 31-year-old veteran is a fit for New Jersey because of what they could be losing. Take Wood for instance. Wood brought speed and physicality to the bottom six and occasionally found the back of the net. Fast brings the same type of game, however, he might not have the same foot speed as Wood. Regardless, Fast plays the kind of grinding style that the Devils lack.
Analytically, Fast looks really good. At 5on5 during the regular season, he totaled a 60.30 Corsi-for percent and 58.69 expected goals percent. When the stakes were higher in the playoffs, he remained on the right side of things with a 54.75% and 55.70% respectively.
The Hurricanes have a lot of contracts to figure out as soon as next season. Only Andrei Svechnikov, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Jacob Slavin, Brent Burns, and Pyotr Kotchetkov are signed past the 2023-24 season. Perhaps that means Fast falls out of favor with guys like Sebastian Aho, Martin Necas, and Seth Jarvis bound for raises. If he heads to open market, he should be toward the top of Fitzgerald’s shopping list and shouldn’t break the bank.
The third-line center role is open for the taking. That is if Michael McLeod doesn’t receive a promotion. He was extremely effective in his role with the fourth line, however, and it might benefit the Devils to keep him there.
Sticking with the theme of adding size in New Jersey, Sundqvist certainly brings that. The Swedish forward stands at 6-foot-3, 220 lbs. He’s tough to play against as a big, physical body. The Devils added some snarl in Meier and Curtis Lazar, and there’s no reason to assume Nathan Bastian won’t be back. However, New Jersey could use some more of that up-front and Sundqvist would automatically be tied as the Devils’ heaviest forward with Meier.
The Wild acquired Sundqvist last trade deadline to replace what they lost in Jordan Greenway. Sundqvist can provide a little bit of offense, play on both special teams units and man the top of a crease, another area of need in New Jersey. Sunqvist is another forward that brings playoff experience and championship pedigree after claiming the Stanley Cup in 2019 with the St. Louis Blues.
Sundqvist isn’t likely to command a ton of money. He checks a lot of boxes the Devils may be shopping for New Jersey in a season where they’re looking to take another step forward. As a depth addition, Sundqvist would certainly help New Jersey attain that goal.
The Calgary Flames acquired Nick Ritchie at the 2023 Trade Deadline and the 6-foot-3, 236-pound forward did quite well for himself. Ritchie scored four goals and five points in 16 games with Calgary. Analytically, he played probably the best hockey of his career, although the sample size is really small.
In his 16-game stint with the Flames, Ritchie was the best skater on the ice. Not just the best forward, the best skater. He led Calgary with a 62.60 CF% and was fifth on the Flames with a 58.46 xGF%.
While with the Arizona Coyotes, his analytics certainly didn’t replicate what they did with the Flames. However, Arizona, although better this season, still isn’t very good. Ritchie proved on a team with a bit more skill that he could be the big body that crashes and bangs. He works as a net-front presence and wins puck battles along the boards. He’s certainly not the fastest, but with the speed of the Devils, he’s likely to be on the ice with four other skaters that can transition the puck well. Ritchie’s purpose will be to open the ice for them and chip in the dirty goals.
As a heavy winger with a decent offensive touch, Ritchie can certainly be effective in the bottom six. Add 38 games of playoff experience and you’re adding the right amount of size and experience to the forward group. Pair him with skaters such as Haula and Boqvist, they could be a really tough line to play against.
Be sure to like New Jersey Hockey Now’s Facebook page and follow us on Twitter: