The New Jersey Devils will be an improved team. With landing a solid prospect at the draft, and signing Ondrej Palat from the Tampa Bay Lightning, things are taking a turn for the better. With all the work Tom Fitzgerald has put into making this team better, the success could make the Devils a team to watch in the Metropolitan Division. Fitzgerald upgraded every aspect of the lineup from forward to goaltending.
New Jersey Devils Team Upgrades
Ondrej Palat is a huge boost to the Devils. Not only is he now a big veteran presence on the team, but he brings an element to his game that lacks in the lineup. Palat is a solid two-way winger who thrives in all aspects of the game. He plays well at even strength, on the power play and on the penalty kill. Just a superb two-way winger in this league.
— B/R Open Ice (@BR_OpenIce) July 14, 2022
Ondrej Palat finished the season with 49 points, which would have been good for fourth on the Devils roster behind Jesper Bratt, Nico Hischier, and Jack Hughes. Palat fills a massive need for the Devils at the winger position as the Devils search for a balanced offence.
Surprisingly enough, the Devils finished 10th in goals for with 182 and 15th with a Corsi For Percentage at 50.52%. At even strength, the Devils had an expected goals percentage at 50.87%. The line of Hughes-Sharangovich-Mercer was the most productive scoring 14 goals. The problem is after that, any line that consisted of Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt or Nico Hischier was the production for the offence.
The key for the Devils is balance. Getting another star was key for this team as it provides scoring balance amongst the forwards. Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier each have a winger capable of putting the puck in the net.
The Devils also traded for forward Erik Haula from the Boston Bruins. Erik Haula had a nice year for the Bruins, centering Taylor Hall and David Pastrnak. He went on to finish the year with 18 goals, 26 assists, and 44 points. Haula boosts the Devils in the bottom six, becoming the third-line centre. His 44 points ranks higher than any Devil in the bottom six.
Tom Fitzgerald addressed the forward group and balance is throughout the top nine. Safe to say the Devils got better in that regard and should see progress on the ice.
This is where Tom Fitzgerald got creative. First off, drafting Simon Nemec was huge and bolstered the right side on the defensive side. With Luke Hughes being a left-handed defenceman, the Devils have two great prospects with high upside. They are right around the corner.
Fitzgerald traded young blueliner Ty Smith and a 2023 Third round pick to the Pittsburgh Penguins for John Marino. This trade was a win and Marino is locked in for the next five seasons. The Devils had a brutal year as they finished 31st overall in goals allowed with 216. The Devils went from having one of the worst defensive groups, to possibly a top 10 overall group.
John Marino is a solid defensive defenceman with offensive upside. He finished this year with one goal, 24 assists, and 25 points. His 24 assists were a career-high. He also led the Penguins defencemen with two short-handed points and finished with an average of 20:38 TOI (Time On Ice).
Marino is a right-shot defenceman and rounds out a loaded right side for the Devils. Coach Lindy Ruff could pair John Marino with Jonas Siegenthaler, which would form one of the best shutdown pairs in the league. Per Evolving Hockey, this chart illustrates how good Jonas Siegenthaler and John Marino are defensively.
According to Daily Faceoff, The Devils Depth Chart is
The team has a logjam brewing on the back end. Damon Severson and Ryan Graves are both UFA at the end of the season. If the team is not in playoff contention, one or both of them could be traded at the deadline. With Marino locked in for five more seasons and Simon Nemec not far behind, it could make Severson expendable. He has a team-friendly contract and will receive a hefty raise come next off-season. Severson could fetch another high-profile winger to add to the roster.
Not only is this better than a year ago, but it’s a complete overhaul from the time Ray Shero got fired by the New Jersey Devils.
New Jersey Devils Goaltending
No Devils goaltender finished with a positive Goals Saved Above Expected, according to Money Puck. Jon Gillies was the worst with -16.5, in addition to Blackwood with -12.7. Nico Daws ended up being the best goalie of the bunch finishing with 2.45 goals against average while also sporting -7.6 goals saved above expected.
Enter Vitek Vanecek. The newcomer for the New Jersey Devils is the upgrade in net Fitzgerald was looking for. He would display average goaltending for the Washington Capitals, and put up consistent numbers. Vanecek finished the year starting in 42 games and had a 2.67 goals against average and a .908 save percentage (which he put up the year prior). His -5.4 goals saved above expected was better than his counterpart Ilya Samsonov and would have been the best on the Devils roster.
Is he elite? No. But he is worth the gamble to keep stability in the crease and give the talented group up front a chance to win hockey games.
The New Jersey Devils will be an improved team. With Fitzgerald’s moves, the roster looks good on paper, and this team should be more competitive. It’s been great for the Garden State and the Devils to have made the moves they have made, as it brings joy and excitement. Now it is up to the players to display it on the ice and in the win column.