32 in 32: Three issues to watch for the Devils

NHL.com offers in-depth analysis of each of the 32 teams between August 8 and September 8. Today, three issues to watch for the New Jersey Devils.

32 IN 32 DEVILS : Season preview | The best hopes | Analysis for poolers

1. Finally some stability in front of the net?

Mackenzie Blackwood has been a subscriber to the infirmary for the past two seasons. After enjoying a promising rookie season in 2019-20, when he went 22-14-8 with a 2.77 goals-against average and .915 save percentage, the 25 year-old posted records of 14-7-4 (3.04; .902) in 2020-21 and 9-10-4 (3.39; .852) last season. General manager Tom Fitzgerald hopes Blackwood will be able to do better this season.

“Even though he was hit hard by COVID-19 (in January 2021), he had a good season, but he had to have ankle surgery (June 2021). The rehab took a bit longer, and there was a snowball effect after that,” Fitzgerald explained. “He knows the opinion I have of him as a goaltender and he wants to be our number one. We believe not only that he will bounce back, but that he will have a great season. »

As a precautionary measure, the Devils acquired the goaltender Vitek Vanecek in a trade with the Washington Capitals on July 8. Last year, he was 20-12-6 with a 2.67 GAA, .908 save percentage and four shutouts in 42 games (39 starts) in the US capital. The Devils also have in their training Jonathan Bernier, who has one year left on his contract, but his availability is uncertain. He played 10 games last year before being placed on the injured list Dec. 10 with a season-ending hip injury.

2. How much have the Devils improved?

The Devils have been active since the start of the summer to improve their top-9 offensive and defensive depth. They’ve been looking for weight and experience, so they could fight for a playoff spot if they can stay healthy. After acquiring Vanecek, New Jersey got their hands on the 31-year-old forward Erik Haula (5-foot-11, 191 pounds, nine NHL seasons) in a trade with the Boston Bruins, before signing the 33-year-old defenseman Brendan Smith (6’2 », 200 lbs, 11 seasons) for two years. They also signed the 31-year-old striker to a five-year contract Ondrej Palat (6′, 194 lbs, 10 seasons), a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Eventually, they made a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins and got the defenseman John Marino (6’1″, 181 lbs, three seasons) in return for Ty Smith and a third-round pick in 2023.

Reinforcements also arrived behind the bench, as the Devils hired Andrew Brunette as associate coach. Brunette, who is expected to take care of the power play, finished second in the balloting for the Jack Adams Trophy, given to the coach of the year, last season when he was interim head coach of the Florida Panthers.

3. Which prospects will land a key position at the end of training camp?

Forwards Alexander Holtz and Fabian Zetterlund look ready to make the jump to the NHL. Holtz, who was drafted seventh overall in 2020, had 51 points in 52 games last year with the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League. Zetterlund, a second-round selection (63rd) in the 2017 draft, had 52 points in 58 games at Utica, and was the team’s leading scorer on the power play (eight) and for game-winning goals (seven). .

Video: NJD@WSH: Holtz finds the top corner at 2-1

Defenseman Simon Nemec, the second pick of the last draft, could also be in contention for a position, but he is more expected to spend the season at Utica. Luke Hughes, a guard the Devils selected fourth overall in 2021, is expected to play a second season at the University of Michigan in the NCAA.

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