New Jersey's blueline is one of the weakest in the league. While Severson will continue getting better, he needs to be supported by other talents in order to succeed
The easy part is done. The New Jersey Devils have signed defenseman Damon Severson to a new pact worth $25 million over six years, which translates to an average cap hit of $4.1 million. Now, the Devils need to get the young man some backup.
Severson is the best defenseman New Jersey has right now. This is both a positive and a negative, so let’s start with the positive.
At just 23 years of age, Severson is entering the peak years of his NHL career and there is a lot to like in the young man. He’s got great size and his mobility is tailor-made for where the game is right now. He is the reigning offensive champ among New Jersey blueliners and he ranked third on the team last year in primary assists with nine, behind only forwards Travis Zajac (17) and Taylor Hall (15). His possession numbers were also some of the best on the squad and he ranked third in average ice time, playing more than 20 minutes on a team where no one played more than 22 minutes a night.
While his minutes were a little sheltered, you essentially have an offensively-leaning defenseman who is just coming into his own. And considering that his shooting percentage was abysmal (just three goals on 2.4 percent shooting) last year, there is a very good reason to believe his production will go up as his bad luck fades in that department (ask your local stats wiz about regression to the mean).
As I said before, Severson is the best blueliner New Jersey currently employs and this is where the negative comes in. Because Severson should not be the Devils’ best defenseman just yet. He needs to have more help, as he continues to develop into a player that could be a top-pairing guy one day. Compare Severson to Minnesota’s Matt Dumba, who brings similar ice time, offensive stats and experience: Dumba plays on a Wild blueline corps that also features Olympian Ryan Suter and the underrated Jared Spurgeon. That’s good cover for a player coming into his own. Suter still plays 27 minutes a night and Spurgeon logs 24. Severson doesn’t have that cover and while Andy Greene and Ben Lovejoy are experienced veterans, at this point their dressing room presence outweighs their on-ice contributions.
To the shock of no one, the Devils struggled last season and defense was one of the major issues. The offense was also bad, but now the team has Nico Hischier and Marcus Johansson, so things are trending in the right direction. With prospects such as Mikey McLeod, Joey Anderson, Nathan Bastian and Jesper Boqvist (just to name a few) still coming up the pipeline, better days are coming up front.
But on the back end, serious work needs to be done. Mirco Mueller and Will Butcher are two new faces for this season and they could certainly help. Mueller couldn’t get any traction in San Jose, but the level of entry in New Jersey will be a lot easier. Butcher’s offensive chops will really help a team that had just one blueliner tally more than four points on the power play last year – Severson, who had 13.
If Mueller and Butcher can make lasting impacts, then the Devils will be in a much better place. But that’s a big ask and if New Jersey is going to progress in the next few years, they’ll need to get Severson some more help on that blueline corps. But at least they have him locked up long-term on a very nice contract.