We are just a few days from the Devils kicking off training camp ahead of the new season. After a season in which the Devils broke the franchise record in points and wins, expectations are at an all-time high. There is already a solid core of players and prospects vying for roster spots, but external competition in the form of a professional tryout (PTO) only heightens play. Players like Jimmy Vesey, Drew Stafford, and Brian Gibbons are recent PTOs who made the big club and had varying levels of success. This is also a great way to boost the AHL club with veteran NHL talent. Spots are limited, but a few NHL veterans could push for a contract.
Potential PTO Options for the New Jersey Devils
Starting with a surprise is former second-overall pick, Nolan Patrick. The Devils famously selected Nico Hischier over Patrick in the 2017 Draft, making this a fun camp storyline. The biggest concern is his health. Patrick has dealt with multiple concussions throughout his career and hasn’t played since the 2021-22 season because of it. He had two decent seasons with Philadelphia before the injuries began to pile up. Over his 222 career games, he scored 77 points, 61 of which came in his first two years.
For the Devils, it would be a chance to bring in a young centre who could be hungry to revive his NHL career. For Patrick, it would give him the chance to earn a contract, either in the NHL or AHL, and work his way back to an everyday role. There is no denying he has talent, it’s just whether or not his health holds up.
Zach Aston-Reese has carved out a very nice career for himself since making his debut with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Throughout his seven-year career, Aston-Reese has become one of the better defensive forwards in the league. Last season he signed a PTO with Toronto before eventually signing a one-year deal.
The addition of Aston-Reese would give the team another penalty-kill option to go along with free-agent signings Tomas Nosek and Chris Tierney. With Miles Wood’s departure, a hole is left on the fourth line. The competition for that spot looks like the one to watch in training camp, and adding another capable NHLer would only intensify it.
hey guys. my friend zach was recently laid off. if anybody knows of any fourth line or even 13th forward work out there please let me know. he's a terrific guy and has low-key really great defensive impacts if you give him a chance. thank you pic.twitter.com/B997gZYWnY
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) August 11, 2023
Highly unlikely but fun nonetheless. Zach Parise put together a very nice 2022-23 season, scoring 21 goals over a full 82 games. The now 39-year-old forward infamously left the Devils for the Minnesota Wild back in the summer of 2012, making a reunion one of the most interesting stories entering the season. Parise has had a phenomenal career and has been a very good two-way forward. Even at his age, he has shown that he can be a contributor to a playoff team.
A big question with Parise is if he wants to come back and play. Questions about his retirement have come up recently, but if he wants to give it one last go he could do a lot worse than the Devils. Despite having lost a step, there is a spot for him somewhere in the lineup. On a high-octane offence like the one the Devils figure to have, he’ll have a good shot at reaching 20 goals again, while also having the chance to play special teams. One last kick at the can for Zach Parise returning to the Devils could be fun for everyone.
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) April 29, 2023
Olli Juolevi was the former fifth overall pick back in 2016, but never figured it out at the NHL level. He’s played for four teams in three seasons and has spent the majority of his career in the AHL. Juolevi likely would not come in competing for a full-time NHL spot but could make his way to being the seventh defenceman at some point. His likeliest path is as an experienced AHL defenceman. Utica has lost a lot of talent over the past few years and Juolevi could come in and solidify the backend.
The team recently signed Cal Foote to a two-way contract, with the idea that he helps strengthen a defence core led by 19-year-old Simon Nemec. Adding Juolevi would be a similar move. Utica is young and inexperienced at the back, and Juolevi has 104 AHL games and 41 NHL games under his belt. His ceiling is limited, but he’s still just 25, and at worst he adds depth in the AHL.
Another former Devils on the list is defenceman Ryan Murray. Murray spent the 2020-21 season as a member of the Devils, where he registered 14 points (all assists) in 48 games. Since then he’s spent time with Colorado and Edmonton. Murray, like Patrick, is a former second-overall pick in need of getting his career back on track. Unfortunately for Murray, he looks destined to be a depth defenceman/AHLer nowadays.
That being said, he would bring another veteran and familiar voice to the room during camp. Similar to Juolevi, Murray’s likeliest outcome is to earn a two-way deal and be a key contributor in the AHL. However, Murray has over 400 more games of NHL experience and would be a much more reliable call-up. With young defencemen like Kevin Bahl, Luke Hughes, and Simon Nemec all gunning for full-time roles, adding someone with Murray’s experience offers a nice balance.
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