The first deal of trade deadline week turned out to be a doozy. Many assumed the New Jersey Devils would be parting ways with scoring winger Kyle Palmieri, but in adding in veteran center Travis Zajac, the trade with the rival New York Islanders got a lot more spicy.
In exchange for Palmieri and Zajac, the Devils receive prospect A.J. Greer, minor-leaguer Mason Jobst, a conditional fourth-round pick in 2022 and most importantly, a first-round pick in the upcoming 2021 draft. New Jersey also retains 50 percent of the salaries for Zajac and Palmieri.
Starting with the Islanders, this trade makes a ton of sense. With captain Anders Lee injured, New York needed scoring punch and Palmieri has been a consistent threat over the past five seasons. He hit the 30-goal mark in 2015-16 and in the ensuing seasons, the right winger was good for about 25 tallies annually. Palmieri doesn’t have the same heaviness of Lee – but he’ll do in a pinch.
As for Zajac, that was a move less foretold. The veteran center plays a two-way game and was one of New Jersey’s top pivots when it came to defensive zone faceoffs. His point totals have actually been up this year, but he’s not the offensive threat he was at the beginning of his career in New Jersey. Nonetheless, Zajac brings depth down the middle for the Islanders and in the playoffs, you can never have enough depth.
Also of note: Zajac and Palmieri are both slated for unrestricted free agency this summer, so they are both very much rental players in this scenario.
Clearly the Islanders are going it for this season and with Barry Trotz behind the bench and a talented, structured team at his call, it makes sense. New York is practically locked into a playoff position already and could easily snag first in the division if they can outduel Washington (and/or fend off Pittsburgh and Boston) down the stretch.
From the Devils’ perspective, the big piece in return is the 2021 first-round pick. While it may turn out to be late in the first round (depending on how the Islanders do in the post-season), it’s a terrific chip to have, especially when New Jersey’s own first-rounder will likely be quite high – potentially top-five at this point. Getting a second first-rounder allows GM Tom Fitzgerald not only the chance to attain another asset, but to maybe take a chance with that Isles first-rounder, knowing he’ll get one of the most coveted prospects in the class with his original Devils pick.
The conditional fourth-rounder becomes a third-rounder in either 2022 or 2023 if the Isles make the Stanley Cup final, with the Isles picking the year.
As for the players, Jobst was a college free agent signed out of Ohio State by the Islanders and he’s already 27 years old. He hasn’t done much offensive damage in his early days as a pro, but he’s also a pending UFA; if he doesn’t make an impression the rest of the season with AHL Binghamton, the Devils simply walk away.
Greer on the other hand is a nasty power forward originally drafted by Colorado. He’s off to a slow start this season, but he has proven he can put up numbers at the AHL level already and he’s been more than willing to drop the gloves in the past. He’s a restricted free agent this summer, so New Jersey controls his short-term future.
There was a lot of uncertainty about this year’s trade deadline due to the flat cap, pandemic quarantining and the shifting standings. But the Islanders and Devils have already proven you can make a pretty substantial move if you’ve got the pieces.