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Devils Trade Targets: 3 Wingers Who Can Fill the Top-Six

After trading Tyler Toffoli, the Devils need a top six winger. Here are three options New Jersey could trade for this summer.

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New Jersey Devils

When the New Jersey Devils acquired Tyler Toffoli last summer, there was tons of optimism that he was the final piece of the puzzle. Instead, the season went belly-up, Toffoli was traded, and the Devils now find themselves starting from scratch.

The Devils had hoped that Toffoli, in conjunction with an Alexander Holtz breakout, would help fortify their top six. While Toffoli did bring a ton of production before his trade, he was a poor fit for the style of play the Devils are designed to play, and was reportedly not on the same page with the team when it came to an extension.

As for Holtz, his lack of ice time has been well documented. Despite a respectable 16-goal season, Devils coaches were often apprehensive about giving him extended minutes in the top six.

That brings us to this off-season. A head coaching search and quest for a 1A goalie rightfully remain at the top of the to-do list, but the Devils are still lacking an extra punch in their top six.

Luckily, there may be a few good options available to them. So let’s take a look at three top-six wingers that General Manager Tom Fitzgerald should target.

Nikolaj Ehlers – Winnipeg Jets

The Winnipeg Jets once again crashed out of the playoffs early after a promising regular season. That’s been a trend for them for quite some time, and after losing to the Colorado Avalanche in five games, changes may be coming.

One of those changes will likely be moving on from Danish forward Nikolaj Ehlers.

The Jets are reportedly shopping Ehlers before the draft, and for the right price should be someone Fitzgerald calls on. Ehlers is coming off a 61-point season, the second-highest total of his career. He also has one more year left at $6 million.

Despite his lack of high-end production, it’s Ehlers style of play that makes him an attractive option for the Devils. He plays with incredible pace that rivals only Jesper Bratt. Having the ability to deploy Bratt and Ehlers either one after the other or even together would give the Devils a level of speed and dynamism they lacked this season.

According to the NHL EDGE, Ehlers ranked in the 94th and 95th percentile in top skating speed and speed bursts over 20mph. Also, Ehlers is one of the best players at scoring off the rush and playing in transition.

There are however two downsides. The first is his pending UFA status next season. If the Devils are willing to take him on an expiring deal like they did Toffoli and iron out an extension later, then this is a moot point.

The other downside to Ehlers is that he’s smaller and contradictory to the type of player Fitzgerald seems to be looking for. However, if Fitzgerald is willing to sacrifice physicality for skill, then Ehlers may be the best option on the market.

Frank Vatrano – Anaheim Ducks

The Frank Vatrano renaissance since going to the Anaheim Ducks is fascinating. After years of being a solid middle-six winger, he had a late 20s breakout the past two seasons.

After a career-high 41 points in 2022-23, Vatrano is coming off of a career year where he put up 37 goals and 60 points on a not-very-good Ducks team. During the middle of his career year, Vatrano became the topic of trade chatter. With just one year left before he hits free agency, the rebuilding Ducks may look to cash in on the 30-year-old before he walks for nothing.

If the Ducks were to move Vatrano, like Ehlers, he would be a great fit for the Devils. Also like Ehlers, Vatrano would inject elite-level speed high in the lineup. He ranked in the 95th percentile in top skating speed and 87th percentile in speed bursts over 20mph, according to NHL EDGE.

Vatrano also brings a very heavy wrist shot that cleanly beats goalies while also not being afraid to get to the blue paint. He’s not an overly physical player but has no problems taking the body or getting to the dirty areas.

Unlike Ehlers, Vatrano may be more difficult to acquire. Ducks General Manager Pat Verbeek is notoriously tough to negotiate with, and reportedly had a high asking price for Vatrano. His $3.65 million cap hit for a 37-goal scorer makes him very appealing to a lot of teams.

However, the asking price should lower a little since the acquiring team would only get Vatrano for theoretically one playoff run rather than two. If the price were to come down, surely Fitzgerald would have some interest in bringing Vatrano over to Newark.

Drake Batherson – Ottawa Senators

The Senators have been stuck in their rebuild/retool for a few years now. Maybe new Head Coach Travis Green can help them, get out of it, but until that day comes they look like a team that’s still finding its footing.

If they decide to hit another mini reset, then the Devils should try and pry away Drake Batherson. The 26-year-old is coming off of a career year that saw him score 28 goals and 66 points. Batherson has high offensive IQ, putting himself in great spots on the ice to score goals. His shot isn’t elite, but he’s a volume shooter who can get the puck on net and has a high shooting percentage.

While he’s not the burner like Ehlers and Vatrano, Batherson still has high-end speed that fits with Jesper Bratt and Jack Hughes. His top skating speed was only in the 70th percentile, according to NHL EDGE. However, he was in the 92nd percentile when it came to speed bursts over 20mph.

The biggest issue would be cost. Batherson still has three years remaining at $4.975 million. It’s a sizable number, but one that the Devils would have no problem taking for the production he provides. However, Ottawa would be looking for a big return if they were to move a core player like Batherson.

The 10th pick in the draft may be too rich, but they could ask for a Seamus Casey or even a Dawson Mercer. It likely costs Fitzgerald and the Devils a lot, but adding a prime Drake Batherson at a reasonable number for three years would be a savvy move.

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