Last week’s four-game win streak gave the Devils some separation. Certainly not enough to feel comfortable, but enough for GM Ray Shero to upgrade the team ahead of the trade deadline and with sights set on the postseason. Following a 4-2 loss at home to the Wild, the team announced the acquisition of Michael Grabner from their rival-Rangers. A first-ever trade between the two clubs.

In exchange for Grabner, New Jersey sent its own 2018 second-round draft pick and defensive prospect, Yegor Rykov, a fifth-round pick from 2016. Rykov had a strong showing at last year’s U-20 World Junior Championships as a mobile defenseman. He currently plays for St. Petersburg in the KHL, where he has 14 points in 51 games and is teammates with ex-Devil, Ilya Kovalchuk, and former Red Wing, Pavel Datsyuk.

Grabner, 30, is a speedy, versatile player, with a sound two-way game. In 59 games this season, he has 25 goals and 31 points. More intriguingly, 24 of his goals have come 5-on-5–and seven on an empty net. The Devils, who are already one of the fastest teams in the league, should have no problem fitting him in with the group. But where precisely might the winger fit?

Here are the forward lines from Thursday’s 4-2 loss at home to the Wild:

Taylor Hall – Nico Hischier – Kyle Palmieri

Blake Coleman – Travis Zajac – Stefan Noesen

Miles Wood – Pavel Zacha – Jesper Bratt

                          Brian Boyle – Jimmy Hayes

The Devils, who have gone with 11 forwards; 7 defensemen on numerous occasions this month, could make good use of Grabner on the team’s fourth line alongside Boyle and Hayes.

Moving up in the lineup is an option as well. But Zajac’s line, which intends to be used as the team’s shutdown unit, have developed some chemistry and it might not be something head coach, John Hynes wants to toy with. Zacha’s line, meanwhile, already has its resident speedster in Wood. At least to start here’s some idea of what the lines could be:

Hall – Hischier – Palmieri

Wood – Zacha – Bratt

Coleman – Zajac – Noesen

Grabner – Boyle – Hayes/Stafford

The Devils, who have 7 shorthanded goals on the season and are the only team with a 3-on-5 shorthanded goal, get a significant boost on special teams with the acquisition. And while they already have a tendency to go for it on the P.K., that might be even more of an instinct now–especially when Brian Gibbons (thumb) returns to action.

Gibbons, who skated on Thursday, has three shorthanded goals on the year and looks to be close to returning. Meanwhile, Marcus Johansson has worked out off-ice and a timetable for return is unknown. If he can return before the season ends, the Devils will have considerable depth up front.

Grabner, who signed a two-year contract with the Rangers in 2016, rebounded his career nicely while with the Blueshirts, returning to the 20-goal territory for the first time in four seasons last year and again this season. An unrestricted free agent at season’s end, he should command a larger chunk than the $1.6 million he’s currently earning. If the reason for his returned success is the area–then it helps that he can commute to work by car, bus or train.


About The Author

Mad about being born into a Mets household during the Yankees dynasty, Neal McHale turned to something different after the 2000 World Series. He got NHL 2001 as a gift and it helped pioneer a hockey love affair. His first sportswriting gig was covering the historically-gritty Big East Conference. Since 2015, he's been with Inside Hockey covering the NHL.

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