Predicting the New Jersey Devils’ Opening Night Roster

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 06: New Jersey Devils Right Wing Andreas Johnsson (11) in action prior to the National Hockey League Preseason game between the New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers on October 6, 2021 at Madison Square Garden in New York, NY. (Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The New Jersey Devils’ preseason came to an end last night when their game against the New York Islanders was canceled due to a power outage at the Prudential Center. Now, the attention shifts towards the opening night roster as final decisions are made before they kick off the 2021-22 season against the Chicago Blackhawks on October 15.

The Devils have quite a few decisions to make in the coming days as they must have their roster cut down to 23 players by Monday night.

Forwards

This projection has thirteen players listed as forwards, an important quirk for later, making the roster to start the season. This includes a pair of 2020 first-round draft picks in Alex Holtz and Dawson Mercer.

Yegor SharangovichJack HughesTomas Tatar
Pavel ZachaNico HischierJesper Bratt
Alex HoltzDawson MercerJanne Kuokkanen
Miles WoodMichael McLeodAndreas Johnsson
Jimmy Vesey
Players in bold are extras.

Holtz and Mercer did enough throughout the preseason to earn a spot on the Devils’ roster. Other young players, like Jesper Boqvist, disappeared for large stretches of the preseason. This is increasingly frustrating for Boqvist who did not take the step forward that many expected over the course of the last year.

Andreas Johnsson could have easily been left off of this roster, but he ends up sneaking into the bottom six. Johnsson had a decent showing in the final preseason game as he found the back of the net against the New York Rangers. Aside from that, his preseason and training camp was largely forgettable. If Johnsson’s struggles continue into the regular season, then his appearances will drop, and he will become a waiver candidate quickly.

Out of the four players brought in on a professional tryout, Jimmy Vesey becomes the only one to make the opening night roster. Vesey showed his worth as a veteran player who can play in the event of an injury and will make the team in that role.

This forward group also gives the Devils flexibility if struggles emerge. If Holtz and Mercer need time with the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League or there are injuries, then they can call up players like Boqvist, Tyce Thompson, or Nolan Foote to fill in.

Defense

The decisions seem to be a little easier on the defensive side of the puck. In this projection, the Devils have eight players listed as defensemen making the roster. This is where that earlier mentioned quirk comes into play.

Dougie HamiltonRyan Graves
Ty Smith Damon Severson
P.K. SubbanJonas Siegenthaler
Colton WhiteMason Geersten
Players in bold are extras.

The biggest question for the Devils was figuring out who the extra defensemen would be on the roster. These positions go to Mason Geersten and Colton White.

White is a player the Devils have been waiting to come along for a couple seasons. A fourth-round pick in 2015, White has 11 games of NHL experience under his belt. He has shown the potential of being a depth defensive-minded defenseman during his time in the AHL. White is not going to light up the scoresheet but can step into the lineup if needed which gives him value in this defensive unit.

Geersten was claimed off waivers from the New York Rangers on October 3. Nothing about his game is pretty as he is more of a grit and sandpaper type player. Geersten does, however, play both forward and defense which is the quirk in the whole equation. This versatility, mixed with his toughness, gets the newest Devil on the opening night roster.

Many fans were hoping to see 21-year-old Kevin Bahl make the opening night roster. Those fans will have to wait as Bahl struggled to keep up with the NHL pace in the preseason. Most defensemen take time to develop and Bahl is no exception as he will get an opportunity to develop in Utica this year.

Goalies

The goaltending plan for the Devils has been pretty clear since Jonathan Bernier signed with the team in free agency on July 22.

Mackenzie Blackwood
Jonathan Bernier

Mackenzie Blackwood signed a three-year contact in the offseason and will be New Jersey’s 1A goaltender. There is uncertainty with Blackwood as he was a late scratch due to an inconclusive Covid-19 test prior to New Jersey’s cancelled preseason game against the Islanders.

Currently, Blackwood is the only New Jersey player that is not vaccinated against Covid-19. If his vaccination status does not change then Blackwood would not be able to play in certain arenas due to local Covid-19 restrictions.

Bernier will be assuming the role that was supposed to be held by Corey Crawford last season. He will be the 1B goaltender. If at any point Blackwood is injured or unable to play, then Bernier will step into the crease without any significant drop-off in ability. Bernier will give the team a chance to win games which is the most important ability for a goaltender.

Scott Wedgewood, last year’s backup goaltender, will be the Devils’ third goalie in emergency situations. With this projection, Wedgewood will start the season in Utica as an added insurance policy if there is an injury to Blackwood or Bernier.

With this roster projection, that Devils have a good mixture of youth and veteran players. Improvements to the forward group and back end gives fans hope that meaningful games will be played late in the season. This lineup gives New Jersey the chance to win on a nightly basis which makes for a very exciting season.

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