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11 Key Takeaways from Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald Press Conference

Tom Fitzgerald addresses the media following free agency. There were plenty of notable items discussed, including RFA contracts, roster decisions, and more.

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New Jersey Devils
Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald addresses the media following free agency.

New Jersey Devils General Manager Tom Fitzgerald addressed the media on the last day of development camp and following free agency.

He had a lot to say.

Let’s not waste any time. Here are the 11 key takeaways from Fitzgerald’s conference on Wednesday.

Fitzgerald was torn between Anton Saliyev and Konsta Helenius with the 10th overall pick

Fitzgerald was open to trading the 10th overall pick at the 2024 NHL Draft. However, with a few surprises early in the draft, names some teams — including the Devils — believed would be gone remained.

The Devils GM opted out of trading the pick when he became torn between drafting Anton Silayev or Konsta Helenius.

“There was a couple of opportunities, but certain teams and certain players valued a plus to it. And we were okay with that if it made sense, depending on what that plus was. And as the picks started and players started to go off the board, I remember talking with and I turned to Dan MacKinnon next to me because we really liked the Finnish center as well. I just said [to MacKinnon] like, ‘What do you think? The six-foot-seven guy, the defenseman or the center?’ He looked at me like, ‘The defenseman is six-seven and can skate.’ And I’m like, ‘Alright, we’ll take the defenseman.’ So I wasn’t trading that one.

Dawson Mercer and the RFA’s are next on Fitzgerald’s to-do list

Fitzgerald hadn’t even thought about hammering away at a deal for his RFA’s with the draft, the start of free agency, and development camp all within a weeks-worth of time.

Now that things have settled, Mercer and the RFA contracts are next in Fitzgerald’s agenda.

Dougie Hamilton, Jack Hughes, and Timo Meier health update is positive

Not much to say here, everyone is either healthy or will be by September.

“Everybody’s doing great. Dougie is 100%,” Fitzgerald said. “Jack I just saw at the awards. He looks great. He’s on track to be ready in September, same with Timo [Meier].”

Fitzgerald planned for Simon Nemec to play a full AHL season in 2023-24

If it weren’t for Dougie Hamilton’s injury, the Devils wouldn’t have seen Simon Nemec blossom into a real-deal defenseman. Sure, there were hiccups along the way, just as there are with any young person navigating life. However, his tenacity and work ethic really shined, and the Devils and their fans got a glimpse of their future on the blue line.

“[Nemec] wasn’t going to play his 10 games [last season] to be quite honest,” Fitzgerald explained. “A sliding contract for me is important in conducting business. The funny thing happened, he came in for Dougie Hamilton and played extremely well. We saw the upside and we saw the future of this organization. And, he had his ups and downs.”

Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise. Nemec looked fantastic in his rookie season. With his uber-competitive nature, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see him take another step next season.

Erik Haula and Curtis Lazar will serve as the Devils third and fourth line centers

According to Fitzgerald, Erik Haula and Curtis Lazar will make up the third and fourth line center position next season. That might sound obvious, but each player has been given a shot (or multiple) to play on Jack Hughes’ wing.

Expect Tomas Tatar to be given a chance at top-six minutes

The Devils were certainly trying hard to secure one of the big guns on the open market. Ultimately, the two they took aim at — Steven Stamkos and Jonathan Marchessault — opted for the Nashville Predators. The Devils then turned to Tomas Tatar who is familiar with the roster and has had success specifically with Nico Hischier and Dawson Mercer.

After Fitzgerald lost out on Stamkos and Marchessault, it sounds like Tatar is his current top-six solution.

“I think when you look at the top six, I think we have plenty top six players,” Fitzgerald explained. “And I also think we’ve got enough complimentary top six players that can play with true top six guys. I’m not sure how many teams in the league can have six top six guys. Right? So, you know, the Tomas Tatar [signing], he was a player that we’re very familiar with, we know he’s played really well with top six guys on our team. So it just gives us more flexibility.”

Seamus Casey will develop in with the Utica Comets, perhaps for a while

Seamus Casey opted to sign his entry-level contract and begin his pro career as opposed to going back to the University of Michigan for his junior season with the Wolverines.

The goal for Casey is to force his way onto the Devils’ roster. However, with the additions Fitzgerald made this summer, the path to obtain NHL minutes seems difficult with the depth of Nick DeSimone and Johnathan Kovacevic on one-way deals providing depth.

Further, the Devils’ GM explained not only is Utica the likely path for Casey, he explained he could be there longer than some might have anticipated.

“Listen, the American Hockey League is a tough, tough league. I’m not sure if everybody has been down and watched a game, but it’s a tough league. So Seamus [Casey]… to think that he can make that jump right away, you know, being down there, however long that’s going to be, it doesn’t matter. We just know we have a good one. If we have to overcook him, we overcook him. It’s better for us and it’s gonna be better for him.”

Fitzgerald somewhat took responsibility for Alexander Holtz’s development

The Devils traded Alexander Holtz in a package to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for forward Paul Cotter.

Thus, Holtz’s tenure in New Jersey came to a disappointing end. He never quite panned out as the sniper they drafted him to be when the Devils took him seventh overall in 2020. After giving the 22-year-old multiple opportunities over the years, he failed to claim his spot in the lineup as a regular and was ultimately dealt for a need.

Fitzgerald started by taking partial responsibility for Holtz, explaining he should have let him marinate a little longer.

“Well, we’re not here to point blame on anybody,” Fitzgerald started. “I can look at myself and say, maybe Alexander Holtz should have been in the American Hockey League two years ago when we had 112 points. But I felt that player development can also occur at the National Hockey League level when you’re practicing everyday with the Nico Hischiers, the [Jesper] Bratts, the Jack Hughes’ and shooting on NHL goalies and going up against NHL defenseman. Versus being down and just being able to score down in the American Hockey League. Being pushed is development. I don’t think it’s any one person or any one division. I’d like to think the players also look in the mirror and say I could be better. But at the end of the day, we were at a standstill — quite honestly — with Alex.”

Fitzgerald acquired Paul Cotter to be a younger, better Miles Wood

The Devils let Miles Wood walk in free agency last summer and the former Devil signed a six-year deal with the Colorado Avalanche.

Wood seems to be a fit in Colorado, according to their happy fans.

Fitzgerald realized after missing Wood’s fast and physical presence that perhaps the Devils need to get some of that back. Thereofe, he sent Holtz and Akira Schmid to the Golden Knights and thus Paul Cotter became a Devil.

“Adding a guy like Paul Cotter, who we believe has upside and has a little bit of Miles Wood in him, he can skate and is physical,” said Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald realized he relied too much on youth last season, players hungry to return to playoffs

Injuries played a significant role in the regression the Devils went through last season.

And because of all the injuries, the Devils were forced to call up Simon Nemec while Luke Hughes already manned the blueline as a rookie.

This summer, Fitzgerald made sure to go out and sign veterans who have been there and done that, and then some.

“I think now that we’ve created a more mature team, I think the older voices will help guide the younger guys to the right way to play,” Fitzgerald said. “I think last year in hindsight would be the silver lining with these guys because they’re hungry. Our young players are hungry and they realize that they’re not getting younger, they’re getting older. Now is the time. So we start with not putting the cart before the horse. Have a great camp, great start to the season and just worry about today, versus worrying about tomorrow. Tomorrow will take care of itself. We’ll make the playoffs if we play the right way.”

Done in free agency, willing to add down the road

If you’re waiting for more action from Fitzgerald, sorry to break it to ya. He’s done.

The Devils GM explained he’s happy with his work and will add later in the year if necessary.

Yeah, right now I am [done adding], the Devils GM said. “Cap space wise, we feel like we’re in a good place where we can stay flexible if something was to come down the road for us to be able to trade or get some assets and draft capital right now. We actually feel lucky and fortunate that if something was to come along, we could be in that game.”

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