The New Jersey Devils are stacked. General manager Tom Fitzgerald’s body of work has been quite impressive, especially this summer. The Devils’ GM has received praise for locking down his core players long-term at reasonable rates. Fitzgerald is no one-trick pony, however. New Jersey is viewed as having one of the best prospect pools in the NHL as they continue to draft and develop well. According to The Athletic, New Jersey’s pipeline of players 22 years old or younger ranks fourth-best in the NHL. Featured on that list are prospects Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec. The former is a shoo-in to play opening night in Newark. The latter will need to make an impression as the Devils’ GM claims they don’t need Nemec to make the roster.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to hear that Fitzgerald isn’t rushing Nemec to the NHL. The Devils GM said the same thing in June after Damon Severson was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“Listen, there’s no rushing (Nemec)” Fitzgerald said. “My guys tell me he’s going to come in and he’s going to push for a spot and that’s all you want. You want to see that growth, you want to see that development. It’s a huge summer for a young player like that as an 18-year-old turned 19. It’s a big summer for him. The gains that he can make in the summer strength-wise are only going to help him become the best player he possibly can be. But we don’t forget that he’s only 19 years old and what will he look like when he’s 22, 23, 24, 25? It’s exciting, to say the least.”
There’s little doubt that Nemec is an important part of the Devils future. His transition to North American hockey has surely been an encouraging sign of what’s to come. In 65 games with the Utica Comets last season, Nemec scored 12 goals and 34 points and later added a goal and four points in six playoff games. Nemec’s sensational first season in North America named him to the AHLs 2023 Top Prospect Team.
However, with Severson and Ryan Graves both in new organizations, New Jersey may not want to risk too much inexperience on the blueline with Hughes and Nemec, a sentiment even head coach Lindy Ruff echoed. That’s not to say the organization has closed the door on the idea. Nemec can come to training camp this September and force his way onto the roster. Regardless, Fitzgerald believes he’s set New Jersey up for success whether that happens or not.
“Nemec, we think the world of this player,” Fitzgerald explained as a guest on the Spittin’ Chiclets Podcast. “As an 18-year-old he went into the American (Hockey) League and did really well. Do we need him to make our team? I don’t need him to make our team. But, if he comes into camp and tells us ‘I’m not going down because my play deserves to be here,’ we’ll deal with that when the time comes. That’s a good problem to have. But, going out and finding a veteran like Colin Miller was important to us just to create that depth on the right side.”
New Jersey has seven legitimate NHL defensemen on the roster. When Fitzgerald acquired Miller from the Dallas Stars, it was clear the Devils were okay with Nemec playing another year in Utica. However, through the ebbs and flows of the long 82-game season, injuries mount and slumps happen. Fitzgerald said New Jersey doesn’t NEED Nemec to make the roster. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t WANT Nemec in the NHL. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to see Nemec make his NHL debut at some point in 2023-24.