BUFFALO — Defenseman Damon Severson hopes to improve in a top-four role after signing a six-year, $25 million contract with the New Jersey Devils on Monday.
“I don’t really look at it as pressure,” said Severson, who was a restricted free agent with no arbitration rights. “I take it as a vote of confidence from the management and ownership. I just have to have the confidence to know that I can help the team with the skill set I bring and do what I can to keep getting better, and progressing in a way to make this team better.”
The contract has an average annual value of $4.17 million and does not include a no-trade clause.
Severson, 23, was glad to sign a long-term contract because it showed him the Devils view him as a fixture of their defense for the future. General manager Ray Shero said Friday that a bridge deal of two or three years was possible, but the shorter contract would have left Severson a restricted free agent with arbitration rights much sooner.
“The market is relatively set for these young defensemen, but again you’re always coming off a three-year deal for these young players,” Shero said during the Prospects Challenge at HarborCenter on Monday. “I was always willing to do a long-term deal with Damon because as a young defenseman, he has a really good skill set and good hands. It will take some time for these young defensemen to get to where they want to be.”
Said Severson: “I was happy when the Devils preferred to go long term because I wanted to commit to New Jersey. A bridge deal is a different way of looking at it, but I’m happy with a long-term contract. I’m comfortable and excited for what’s to come here.”
Severson, selected in the second round (No. 60) of the 2012 NHL Draft, was coming off a three-year, $2.85 million entry-level contract, according to CapFriendly.com.
“He’s played 200 games and, like our team, we have to continue to develop and get better and he’s a big part of that,” Shero said. “It’s going to be up to him and our coaching staff to get to that next level, for us to be a good team and for him to be the best player he could be.”
Severson has 69 points (nine goals, 60 assists) in 203 NHL games. In addition to contributing offensively, he said he wants to improve on his minus-31 rating from last season.
“I didn’t have a good plus/minus last year, so you always want to work at that, in addition to points,” Severson said. “There might be stretches when I might not put up any numbers at all. It’s just a matter of playing that consistent game and being the guy that your teammates and everyone can trust.”
Severson, who could be paired with captain Andy Greene when the Devils open the season against the Colorado Avalanche at Prudential Center on Oct. 7, had NHL career highs of 28 assists and 31 points in 2016-17, his third NHL season. He was third on the Devils with 73 blocked shots and averaged 20:21 of ice time per game.
“I’m looking forward to developing here,” Severson said. “I know the type of player I can be and I’m going to try to keep that going in the right direction. I’m an offensive style guy so I’ll try and play that way, knowing that defense takes care of offense.
“It’s just a matter of winning; at the end of the year they don’t ask who lost the Stanley Cup. They ask who won it and we want to get there.”