The New Jersey Devils came into this offseason looking to improve their offense. They were set on defense with eight NHL-caliber defensive players. They had just traded for Corey Schneider to lock down the goalie position even further beyond Martin Brodeur. The only players they needed were scorers. It was no secret that the team was struggling to find scoring last season. The loss of Zach Parise seemed to hurt more than they thought. They went out and signed Michael Ryder and Ryane Clowe to try and fix that issue. They thought that the offense was going to have a bounce back year.
Then Ilya Kovalchuk decided, after the signing period had calmed down, that he would rather use his services in Russia for the KHL instead of for the Devils. This caused massive panic between Devils fans. There were many ideas on how to fix the issue at hand. I have heard we need to trade for a big name, but that would take a complete emptying of an already top-heavy Minor League system. There was the speculation that we needed to sign Damien Brunner, but he has seemed to keep teams on a leash while he takes his time on his decision. There are those who feel we should go back to playing the trap, but it’s 2013 and it isn’t the same game. There are some who think the Jaromir Jagr signing will be enough to give a spark to this offense. Then there are the fans who think that the Devils need to call up OHL phenom Reid Boucher to fix this issue.
Boucher is the former fourth-round pick who beat Steven Stamkos‘ record for goals on the Sarnia Sting with 62 last season. He is looking like one of Lou Lamoriello‘s great draft finds. He looked like a risk as his size does not look like a typical hockey player. He just has superior skills when it comes to a shot. He has insane accuracy and great vision. He knows where to be and can get open. He is fearless and will jump into any pile to try to end up with the puck. He has the kind of soft hands that are making the Devils fans salivate. He came into rookie camp with a vengeance. He seemed to score in every single Red and White scrimmage. With that being said, he shouldn’t be called up to the NHL club this season.
The size is still an issue, and it would be nice if he could put on a couple pounds of muscle while in the AHL. He is only 19 years old, so he has some body development to go through. You don’t want the bigger teams to hurt his confidence when they try to beat him into the ground. You want this kid to work out, and having a full season in the minors is giving him the best opportunity to succeed.
There are some players that you have to figure out before you even look at Boucher. Jacob Josephson will be the first player called upon if an injury happened. He is back on a one-year deal and the Devils need to figure out whether the former first round pick is going to pan out. The same goes for Mattias Tedenby, who every season looks more and more like a bust. He is definitely on his last shot, but they brought him back to give him that shot.
You don’t want to hurt this kid’s chances at NHL stardom, and there are other players you need closure on. Boucher is likely to play on this team in 2014-15, but he shouldn’t play earlier than that. Between Boucher and Stefan Matteau, the Devils have two players that could end up being on a star-studded line in five years. They need to be treated the right way now to make sure they develop into what you project. Don’t force the talent. When they come up in the next couple of years, they will be a thrill to watch. Let them develop and the reward will be even greater down the line. Peter DeBoer will make the right decision.