Travis Zajac’s injury could give Jacob Josefson a shot at second line duty

The New Jersey Devils’ offense is about as top-heavy as they come, so when word surfaced that top center Travis Zajac could miss anywhere between three and six months, the uneasy search for answers began.

Early indications point to Patrik Elias being the temporary first line center (a role he has some experience with), but second line center remains a question mark. If the Devils decide to side with familiarity, they might make Dainius Zubrus their second center. There’s a chance that the team might go with upside and a littler mystery, however, in the form of 2009 first round pick Jacob Josefson.

There are some who believe that the Swedish pivot’s development would be better served playing against weaker competition in a third line role, but Josefson lined up with Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson during training camp on Sunday. Line combinations change enough during the regular season – let alone the earliest practices of the year – so it’s not safe to assume that Josefson will be a fixture on the second line. That being said, the fight to claim that spot ranks as one of the team’s most interesting training camp storylines.

Kovalchuk played most of last season with Zajac as his center. Josefson, who had three goals and seven assists in 28 games as an NHL rookie in 2010-11, knows there is an opportunity there for him.

“Both Kovy and Clarkson are really good players,” he said. “Everybody knows that. I just have to read off of them, so we can we can make some good plays. It’s always fun to play with those kind of players.”

Zajac’s absence has created a sizeable hole for the Devils because he did so many things: top-line center, power play, penalty kill, took pretty much every key faceoff. So, if Josefson, who was drafted 20th overall by the Devils in 2009, is able to take the next step in his development and play significant minutes as a top-six forward and on the power play, that will help the Devils considerably.

“Obviously, he’s one of our key players,” Josefson said of Zajac. “He’s gone now, so that just means that other guys have to step up and play until he’s back. We’re a good team, so everybody has to chip in and play for the team.”

Just one year ago, Josefson was merely fighting for a spot on the team in training camp. Now he’s staring down an opportunity to earn time alongside a $100 million player in Kovalchuk. The Devils traded up in 2009 to make him the 20th pick of that draft, so he’s obviously held in high regard in the franchise. It would be an impressive leap forward if Josefson manages to nail down that second line spot, though.

Sheary’s agent — who’s also Dumoulin’s agent — hoping to avoid arbitration

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Conor Sheary‘s agent is hopeful that an arbitration hearing won’t be needed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And that same agent has reason to be optimistic, since he’s also the agent for Brian Dumoulin, who settled at the last minute today.

“Each (case) is so different,” Andrew Gross told the Post-Gazette this morning. “Ultimately, though, team and player would like to avoid going in that room. It’s not a pleasant experience.”

Sheary’s hearing isn’t scheduled until Aug. 4. The 25-year-old forward is coming off a 53-point regular season. In his young NHL career, he’s already won two Stanley Cups.

That said, the Penguins can’t afford to break the bank on an extension. After all, a big reason for their success has been having players like Sheary on affordable deals — a necessity with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Kris Letang taking up so much cap space.

Sheary wasn’t all that productive in the 2017 playoffs either, scoring just two goals with five assists in 22 games, while finishing a team-worst minus-5 for the postseason.

“We’re prepared to go to arbitration,” Pens GM Jim Rutherford said last week.

Of course, Rutherford was also speaking about Dumoulin, and the two sides were able to reach an agreement on him.

You can probably expect a similar outcome with Sheary.

Just don’t bet the house on it.

Preds avoid arbitration with Austin Watson

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Another narrowly avoided arbitration to pass along.

The Nashville Predators have signed forward Austin Watson to a three-year, $3.3 million contract that will pay him $1 million next season, $1.1 million in 2018-19 and $1.2 million in 2019-20.

Watson’s hearing was scheduled for today.

From the press release:

Watson, 25 (1/13/92), set career highs in goals (5), assists (7), points (12), penalty minutes (99) and games played (77) during the 2016-17 season as he established himself as an integral member of the Nashville roster. The 6-foot-4, 204-pound winger then added four goals and nine points in 22 postseason contests as the Predators advanced to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Watson also appeared in 57 games for the Predators during the 2015-16 season, recording three goals and 10 points.

The Pittsburgh Penguins also avoided an arbitration hearing today by signing defenseman Brian Dumoulin to a six-year contract.

Spooner seeking $3.85 million in arbitration

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Ryan Spooner‘s arbitration hearing with the Boston Bruins is scheduled for Wednesday. And if it goes ahead, it could be a rather contentious one.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Spooner is seeking $3.85 million on a one-year deal, while the B’s are thinking almost half that at $2 million.

Spooner, a 25-year-old forward, will certainly be able to sell his offensive statistics. He had 49 points in 2015-16, then 39 points last season.

“Ryan’s a talented player,” said GM Don Sweeney, per CSNNE.com. “He’s had a lot of success. Our power play is better when he plays as well as he’s capable of playing, and he can really be a good complement to our group.”

But the knock on Spooner has always been his defensive play. The past two seasons, he’s a combined minus-17. Back in May, it was reported that the B’s were entertaining trade offers for him.

Spooner’s last contract paid him $1.9 million over two years.

Dumoulin agrees to six-year contract with Penguins

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Brian Dumoulin won’t need his arbitration hearing today.

The Pittsburgh Penguins announced this morning that the 25-year-old defenseman has agreed to terms on a six-year contract with a $4.1 million cap hit.

From the press release:

Dumoulin, 25, has been a key component to the Penguins’ back-to-back Stanley Cup championships, as he played in all 49 playoff games in that span, and recorded 14 points (3G-11A). In the 2017 playoffs, Dumoulin had an average ice time of 21:59 minutes, the most of any Penguins skater, and his plus-9 paced all team defenders. He assisted on Carl Hagelin‘s empty-net goal that sealed the 2-0 victory in the decisive Game 6 of the Cup Final against Nashville. 

Dumoulin is coming off of a contract that paid him just $800,000 in each of the past two seasons.

With Dumoulin signed, Pittsburgh now has five defenseman under contract for at least the next three seasons, the other four being Kris Letang, Justin Schultz, Olli Maatta, and Matt Hunwick.

The Pens still have one more arbitration case in forward Conor Sheary. His hearing is scheduled for Aug. 4.

Related: Without Letang, the ‘simple bunch’ gets it done for Penguins