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Devils Mailbag: Depth Defense, Goaltending, Yegor Sharangovich, & the NHL Draft

Erik Johnson a depth option? Connor Hellebuyck, Yegor Sharangovich chatter, & more

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Devils Mailbag: Depth Defense, Goaltending, Yegor Sharangovich, & the NHL Draft

Newark, NJ – It’s a strange feeling that we’re one night away from the NHL Draft, and the focus for the New Jersey Devils is elsewhere. Even Devils fans didn’t have much to ask regarding tomorrow night and that’s likely because New Jersey doesn’t have a first-round selection. However, following a Damon Severson trade, Jesper Bratt & Erik Haula extensions, and even some depth transactions in recent days, general manager Tom Fitzgerald’s summer to-do list is still long.

You guys have plenty of questions as the rumor mill continues to swirl. Let’s get some answers.

The Only Draft Question

We’ll get the lone draft question in this mailbag out of the way. The Devils’ first pick of the 2023 NHL Draft is in the second round, 58th overall. At that point, the Devils are probably just going to select the best available player no matter what position they play.

However, I could see Fitzgerald and Co. understanding the logjam they have in defense. Do they really need ANOTHER defenseman to develop? They’re pretty set with Dougie Hamilton, Jonas Siegenthaler, John Marino, Luke Hughes, Kevin Bahl, and Simon Nemec for the foreseeable future. That’s not to mention that Seamus Casey is still in the pipeline and they like what they have in Daniil Misyul and a few others. Perhaps there’s a can’t miss right-handed defenseman when it’s New Jersey’s turn to pick. Aram Minnetin fits that profile and brings speed. If he happens to fall to 58, the Devils could surely snag him. He’s recently been ranked between the high 50s and low 90s so it’s not out of the question.

However, if I’m Fitzgerlad, I’m taking a forward with size. If 6-foot-3, 194-lb forward Anton Wahlberg out of the SHL is available, he’d be my pick. A goaltender would be a good choice, too.

Addressing the Ryan Graves Void

Teams are still calling Fitzgerald with interest in Ryan Graves. He could still be moved before free agency as the Devils’ GM has already done with Severson. In order to fit Jesper Bratt’s $7.875 million, plus whatever Timo Meier is going to get, under the cap, re-signing Graves appears unlikely as he could command between $4-$5 million on the open market. As a left-shot defenseman with size, someone will pay him that.

A couple of weeks ago I did address some stop-gap defensemen. Since then, I believe Carson Soucy’s price tag has increased and he might be priced out of what New Jersey is willing to fork over. I’ll admit, I was a little surprised to hear Erik Johnson won’t be returning to the Colorado Avalanche and will head to free agency. Thus, here we are.

Johnson fits the need as a right-shot defenseman if/when Graves moves on from New Jersey. It’s true that Graves is a left-shot defenseman, but with Severson gone and Hughes in the picture, they’ll need a RHD.

Johnson only tallied eight points in 63 games last season, but the Devils have enough firepower on the blue line that they’re not depending on an import for offense. His footspeed is down, however, he still defends well and kills penalties. That’s all New Jersey needs from a bottom-pairing defenseman. If the Devils can lock Johnson in around $2.5 million short-term, he’d be a good fit. Even if he negotiates a two-year contract, Brendan Smith is up after this season and Johnson can be the seventh defenseman. The Devils would certainly welcome his playoff/Stanley Cup experience as well.

Someone did ask if Nemec is going to be NHL-ready in 2023-24.

Devils Goaltending

A lot of the attention is on Connor Hellebuyck as an available goaltender on the trade market. Rightfully so as Hellebuyck was just a nominee for the Vezina Trophy. Linus Ullmark ultimately won and Hellebuyck placed third on the voting ballot. Still, there’s no denying that Hellebuyck is an elite goaltender and the Winnipeg Jets would have been much lower in the standings without him last season.

However, after speaking with former NHL goaltender turned DailyFaceoff analyst, Mike McKenna, I’m not convinced the Devils need to splurge on someone like Hellebuyck or even Jusse Saros. Vanecek was plenty reliable in the regular season and to McKenna’s point, he wasn’t himself in the playoffs as he might have been dealing with some sort of injury.

Karel Vejmelka is the right idea. He was quite good for the Arizona Coyotes last season, especially when you consider the team in front of him. However, the Sean Durzi acquisition and the notion that the Coyotes want to be taken seriously next season debunks the idea that they’d sell Vejmelka.

McKenna mentioned Semyon Varlamov as an option on the free-agent market. However, I find it hard to imagine the New York Islanders don’t bring him back in tandem with Ilya Sorokin. If they don’t he should certainly be an option. Jonas Korpisalo is another option that could work well in tandem with Vitek Vancek. Perhaps Alex Lyon, who will need a new home, is a good stop-gap option until Akira Schimd is 100% ready for a full-time role as well.

What’s up with Sharangovich? Blackwood?

With the draft approaching, things around Yegor Sharangovich and Mackenzie Blackwood could heat up. Yegor Sharangovich is desirable as a young restricted free agent who has already notched a 20-goal season. Blackwood is desirable, but far less, as he’s still young, he’s massive and has a high ceiling. He just can’t stay healthy.

Sharangovich will retrieve more than what Blackwood can. There’s no reason to believe why the Devils can’t turn him into a second-round pick at this year’s draft. If multiple teams are interested, maybe a little more. If he goes unsigned, Blackwood will become an unrestricted free agent and can sign where he pleases. That’ll drop the price tag on him for sure. Fitzgerald might be able to squeak out a late-round draft pick, at most, from another team who wants exclusive negotiating rights.

What if Sharangovich stays?

What if Sharangovich isn’t traded, however? Things are always changing and if Fitzgerald doesn’t like what he’s being offered, there’s reason to hang on to a 25-year-old forward with upside.

Sharangovich didn’t score 24 goals by accident two seasons ago. With the right deployment, Sharangovich can return to that caliber. As the Devils’ young core continues to evolve, Sharangovich could certainly benefit from it. As a versatile forward, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Sharangovich come into camp motivated to keep his place in the lineup and snag a spot in the Devils’ top six. If Tomas Tatar isn’t back, Sharangovich could fill his void. Or perhaps Palat is bumped to the third line. Next to one of Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, or Jesper Bratt, 25-30 goals isn’t farfetched.

Another dark horse breakout candidate is Jesper Boqvist who had a strong second half of the 2022-23 season.

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