6 #NJDevils Thoughts – November 8, 2018

1) Let’s start with the less interesting stuff.  Regardless of whether you love, hate or have any feeling in-between on Pavel Zacha, the clock was running out on possessing the option to send him to AHL-Binghamton.  Zacha has played 154 career NHL games.  Once he clicks past the 160-game mark, he would have to clear waivers to be sent down.  No chance he would clear.  Multiple NHL teams would take a shot on a 21-year-old center with size and speed who is under team control for at least four more years after this season.  Whether it works or not is obviously the most important element to this, but the Devils were right in firing one of their last bullets to try and alter his development trajectory.

2) On the October 11 episode of 31 Thoughts: The Podcast (17:39 mark), Jeff Marek detailed a conversation he had with someone from the Halifax Mooseheads organization, asking where Nico Hischier ranked among fellow alum Jonathan Drouin (’13 3rd overall), Nikolaj Ehlers (’14 9th overall), Timo Meier (’15 9th overall) and Nathan MacKinnon (’13 1st overall) in terms of skillset:

“Honestly…I’d put him at the top.  Here’s why…MacKinnon had Drouin to play with, Ehlers had Drouin.  All these players had other players to play with.  Nico Hischier did all of that on the youngest team, not just in the Q, but the entire CHL.  He did it as an import coming over and everybody in the Q tested him.  Slash, punch, trip, hack…all of it.  And he kept getting better as the season wore on.  You talk to hockey guys around the team that have seen all the guys go through Halifax and the honest ones will tell you…Hischier’s probably the best.”

Unbelievable praise.  I’m cool with a MacKinnon development curve for Nico.  Strong rookie season and then eventually peaking into a dominant player in his fifth season.  Here’s MacKinnon’s 2013-14 rookie season vs. Nico’s 2017-18 rookie season:

Granted, Nico played with the MVP last season but MacKinnon wasn’t stuck with mediocrity, as his most common teammates that season were Ryan O’Reilly and Gabriel Landeskog.  You get the point, though.  Being one of the top players in the league is a lot to ask of rookies not named Matthews or McDavid, but maybe we can dream of Nico being a Hart Trophy candidate by the end of the 2021-22 season.

3) Over the summer, Taylor Hall switched his representation from the Orr Hockey Group to Darren Ferris of the DHG Sports Agency.  Hall used to be represented by Ferris when Ferris was with the Orr Hockey Group (1996 to 2012).  The reason why this is interesting is that Ferris also represents Toronto Maple Leafs winger Mitch Marner.  If you’ve been following the whole “yes, we can fit all of John Tavares, Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Marner under the cap” storyline, it has become a daily watch in Toronto.  The first obstacle is Nylander, a current RFA with a signing deadline of December 1.  Marner and Matthews are right behind him, as their ELCs expire at season’s end.

The Marner/Hall angle has the potential to be fascinating.  They are both elite players at the wing position, though 5+ years separates them in age.  Which one will get done first?  (Probably Marner…I think?)  How much of a difference is there going to be in their AAV ask?  Does one set a benchmark for the other?  Not that one negotiation impacts the other, but maybe the Marner one will be as painful as Nylander’s, in turn making the Hall one “relatively” easy?  This could all be nothing, maybe it’s everything.  I’ll be keeping an eye on Marner negotiations.

4) I recently came across this Instagram post from the agency that represents 2017 4th round pick Nikita Popugaev:

Hmm.  This could be anything obviously, but I’m hoping it means a move from Russia and all of their hockey leagues.  Popugaev was traded inside the KHL from CSKA Moscow to HC Amur right near the beginning of the season, seemingly with the idea of receiving more playing time.  Sadly, that has not been the case.  In 13 GP for HC Amur, he is averaging 6:22 TOI/GP.  Last year with CSKA Moscow, he clocked in at 4:39 TOI/GP.  All of this after he was traded in the middle of the 2016-17 WHL season in Canada and left North America all together early in the 2017-18 season.  He turns 20 in less than two weeks.

I know some of this has been self-inflicted, but I do feel bad that he came home to play hockey and he’s really not being afforded that opportunity.  He needs to start logging actual minutes during a crucial time in his development.  A move to North America would be ideal (would anybody have him after last year, though?), but I’ll settle for anywhere that’s not Russia.  Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Germany, wherever!  Let’s hope we hear about a new destination for Big Poppa.

5) Jeff Cox recently tweeted out that Ethan Phillips has committed to Boston University, as he’ll arrive on campus for the 2019-20 season  I’m sure you’re wondering why that matters at all.  Let me explain.  Ethan Phillips is the son of Ash and Mandy Phillips.  Those names ring any bells?  It’s Nico’s billet family from Halifax!  Devils fans got to hear from them last preseason:

Ethan has mostly played midget hockey this season, but also has a few games under his belt for Sioux Falls in the USHL (6 points in 4 games!).  While he’s not considered an elite talent, he is receiving some notoriety in the hockey industry.  The Draft Analyst Steve Kournianos has him at 340 on his preseason 2019 NHL Draft rankings.  He’s also on NHL Central Scouting’s Players to Watch list with a C grade, which equates to a potential 4th round or later pick.  The Scouting News compares his game to that of Nashville Predators center, Kyle Turris.  He was originally headed to Quinnipiac.  (Dave must be pissed.)  In June, he was a 13th round pick of the Halifax Mooseheads in the QMJHL Entry Draft (here’s an interview/highlights of him at their training camp), but he’s taking the college route.

Of course, Boston University is the alma mater of John Hynes.  I have no idea if he’s currently on NJ’s radar, but if he makes noise…the Devils will certainly know.

6) Recently, the Devils and Entercom announced a new digital relationship.  The press release however offered little clarification on how much (if at all) the Devils would appear on terrestrial radio this season, specifically WFAN…their “flagship” station for the last decade and change.  I reached out to a person with direct knowledge of WFAN’s programming, inquiring how many Devils games would be broadcast on any CBS Radio affiliate in NYC.  His response?

“Only 3 or 4.” 

Well, that sucks.  I understand media is rapidly leaving traditional platforms, but terrestrial radio still has a place in professional sports.  Wouldn’t moving to a less-prominent station with a smaller reach have made at least SOME sense in the short-term?  The New York Mets just left WOR.  Why not them?  Did you know NJ has a Fox Sports radio affiliate?  I had no idea until last year, when I happened to stumble upon 920-AM The Jersey…right here in Princeton.  It basically has no local programming.  It’s all syndication.  I’m limited on deep-rooted knowledge of how they operate, but that seems like an opportunity to me.

Regardless, the team needs to do a much better job promoting how to listen to the games.

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