Let me start off by stating the obvious: this list is extremely premature New Jersey Devils exemption list, and many players will be added/removed from the team between now and then.
Let me continue stating the obvious by saying that this list is based off the current roster and is motivated by not only the stats, but my personal preferences.
Forwards to Protect
As far as the New Jersey Devils go, this season has been tough. We still are a young team trying to rebuild and find its way. That being said, we need to protect players that will play key roles in the future of the organization.
1. Nico Hischier:
Hischier is an obvious choice for the Devils to protect. He was the first overall pick in the 2017 entry draft. He is a young player, currently in his second year in the NHL. He is a critical part of the Devils “rebuilding” phase.
2. Taylor Hall:
Hall is another obvious choice for the Devils to protect. He won the Hart Trophy for the first time in Devils history. He is the teams top producer in many areas and he brings a power and force that was lacking on the team.
3. Travis Zajac:
Zajac is a staple player in this organization and he always delivers. His ability to not only defend the puck, but also kill power plays is a key part of the Devils game.
4. Marcus Johansson:
Johansson is another obvious choice for protection. Like Zajac, he is a staple player and brings consistency to the team. This season alone, he has been critical to the Devils securing a point in games and forcing OT.
5. Kyle Palmieri:
Palmieri has brought a fire to the Devils. He plays with passion and heart and leaves it all on the ice. So far, he is the top goal scorer this season and was an integral part of the Devils play off push last season.
6. Jesper Bratt:
Bratt is another young player with a bright future who has a big role to play in the Devils “rebuild”. He has speed on the ice and is able to keep a level head when in difficult plays.
7. Pavel Zacha:
Zacha has a great amount of potential to be a star. Since being recalled from his short stint in Binghamton this season, he has been an asset to the Devils. As a forward, he has a great ability to fall back and play excellent defense.
Defenders to Protect
Picking defensemen to protect is tricky, as the Devils have an amazing prospect in Ty Smith. But, I’m sticking with the current lineup to keep things fair.
1. Will Butcher:
Butcher is an obvious choice of defenseman for the Devils to protect as of now. His freshman NHL season was spectacular. His sophomore season hasn’t been as great thus far, but there is still plenty of hockey to play. One of the youngest players on the team, he could evolve to play a key role in the Devils future.
2. Egor Yakovlev: Yakovlev night seem like a bit of a long shot for the Devils to protect. He is playing his first NHL season this year, having played in the Olympics, KHL and AHL. He has the potential to be a top performer on the back end of the ice and it will be interesting to see how (and if) he evolves.
3. Damon Severson:
Severson is a very capable and talented defenseman. He is a staple on the back end, bringing consistency, which is sometimes lacking for the Devils. He is great on the penalty kill and can produce offense when needed too.
Goalie to Protect
Choosing a goalie is tough. Given the choice between Kinkaid and Schneider, I’d pick neither. I’d recall Blackwood up from Binghamton and protect him. But, I am picking only from active NHL roster players.
1. Keith Kinkaid:
Kinkaid has not had a perfect season. Schneider hasn’t had a perfect season either. However, Schneider hasn’t won a game in a year. Kinkaid is the current starting goalie for the Devils this season so far. Schneider has had a tough go of it this season with his team really not supporting him during the games. Despite that, there are saves he 100% should have stopped. Kinkaid has been consistent. He makes big saves when needed and has kept the Devils in the game several times.
With the draft a couple years away, it is way to early to make decision. To me, there are some obvious players that need to be protected and some obvious players that should be available. The Devils have some great prospects right now, but they would be exempt from the draft. During the seasons between now and the draft, players will be traded and acquired which would muddy the waters (depending on who they are). The salary caps may change by the time of draft which could effect decisions for the Devils. Maybe a Stanley Cup Win (wishful thinking, I know) for the Devils will force them to protect players they otherwise might not have.
Whatever happens between now and then, I’m sure it will be nothing short of entertaining. We’ll just have to wait and see!
some data provided via nhl.com