New Jersey Devils
2021-22 Record: 27-46-9 (63 pts)
Goal differential: 248-307 (-59)
Key Additions: G Vitek Vanecek, F Erik Haula, D Brendan Smith, LW Ondrej Palat, D John Marino
Key Subtractions: F Pavel Zacha, D P.K. Subban, D Ty Smith, F Jimmy Vesey
Perhaps no Eastern Conference team was more stung by Johnny Gaudreau signing in Columbus, than the Devils. They were the rumored front runner basically as soon as he announced his free agency intent, and it’s easy to see why (imagine a Bratt-Hughes-Gaudreau top line…). But in the end, while the Devils miss out on the top free agent available, they get a nice consolation prize and Stanley Cup pedigree in Ondrej Palat.
Offensively, the Devils are actually in pretty good shape. They have two of the top young centers in the game in Hughes and Nico Hischier. Jesper Bratt is one of the league’s best kept secrets on the wing, and Palat brings some experience to a very talented, but mostly young forward group. They traded a former high draft pick in Zacha, but return a quality depth player in Haula. I think they did a nice job gaining some experience up front and will be harder to play against this season.
Defensively, they have a lot to work with as well. Dougie Hamilton is one of the game’s premier offensive defensemen; he’s joined by Damon Severson, Jonas Siegenthaler, Brendan Smith, Ryan Graves, and newcomer John Marino, for what should be a serviceable top-six. Keep an eye on second overall pick Simon Nemec, who could make this team out of camp as well. They’re thin on left-handed defenders, but their right shots are fantastic, and they have plenty to choose from.
In goal, the Devils add former Cap Vitek Vanecek, and run it back with oft-injured starter Mackenzie Blackwood. Once thought to be one of the premier young goalies in the league, Blackwood has fallen a long way from grace; finishing last season with a meager 89.2% save percentage. They add Vanecek in hopes of stabilizing the position – which definitely held them back last season. If the goaltending does hold up, this is team is far better on paper than their 2021-22 record would indicate.