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While some understandably may see a pure, dynamic shooter like Pacioretty on the block and instantly push the Devils’ chips onto the table to go all-in on acquiring his services, it’s hard to really identify a path where that makes sense in New Jersey. At 32, Pacioretty is a full decade older than his potential linemate Nico Hischier and would be 34 when he becomes eligible for a contract extension in 2023. As fun as it would be to see the Connecticut native return to the East Coast to play out the remainder of his prime, that move doesn’t make a ton of sense.

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Marchessault, by contrast, makes a ton more sense – especially at the right price.

For those out of the loop, Marchessault is a center in a wing’s body who is equally comfortable playing on the left and right wing. He’s scored 20-plus goals and 45-plus points in each of the last four seasons and has the rare distinction of leading the Golden Knights in shot attempts during their inaugural season. Over his tenure with Vegas, Marchessault has been one of the most efficient five-on-five scorers in the league, averaging 2.10 points per 60 minutes. He’s also become one of the more reliable wing passers in the NHL today, averaging 32 assists a season as the Golden Knights’ premier do-it-all top-line offensive option.

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Fun fact: The Devils haven’t had a skater record 32 assists in a season since the 2017-18 season, when Taylor Hall, Will Butcher, and a rookie Nico Hischier all accomplished the feat.

With Marchessault in the fray as a playmaking winger, the soon-to-be-30-year-old could help to revolutionize the offensive games of both Hischier and Jack Hughes while providing the team with extra offensive firepower desperately needed in the top-six. His ability to play either wing position could also allow the Devils to shuffle around their top-six wing combinations to optimize their shooting, scoring, and playmaking, as Andreas Johnsson is also a versatile wing who can successfully play on either side.

A long-term top-six featuring Marchessault and Johnsson could look really, really good, especially if the team can find a lethal sharpshooter to fill out the depth chart – I’m looking at you, Alexander Holtz.

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We went into New Jersey Devils camp hoping that Jack Hughes would come in looking strong. Then, it came out quickly that he put on at least 14 pounds of muscle and spent the entire pause training hard. It seems to be showing on the ice as he is getting better with every day that passes in training camp. We know that he has superstar potential and 2021 could be the year that he starts to slowly become that. He has his flashes in 2019-20, but he didn’t really come close to his potential last season.

In yesterday’s scrimmage, Hughes played on Team Red’s top line with Kyle Palmieri and Nikita Gusev. It is hard to see Gusev sticking on that line, especially if Pavel Zacha is okay and Jesper Bratt comes back, but it was interesting to see here. Palmieri might be a guy who gets to play with Hughes a lot at even strength, which could really help both of them. In this scrimmage portion of Training Camp on Friday, this line looked really good.

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In particular, Hughes looked awesome. He seems to be very comfortable with the puck and can use his vision to create for himself and his teammates. It is this type of skill that made him the number one overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. New Jersey really needs him to be an elite offensive centerman and the way this camp is going makes it feel like he is ready to go.

The game went straight to a shootout following a 1-1 tie at the end of regulation. It was one of those shootouts that the goalies started to save everything so some guys had to start shooting twice. Hughes was sent a second time and it sure was a nice way to end things. He took a blistering shot that ended it and showed just how much skill he actually has. There are things that he can do with the puck that not many in the world can.

This is all so good because they really need a lot from Hughes. When Nico Hischier comes back, they will be relied on to be this team’s top two centers for a very long time. They are both very different in terms of their play styles but they both can have a tremendous impact on their team. If each of them reaches their true potential with the Devils, this team will be a force for a long time.

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HOT: Sami Vatanen’s impact on the New Jersey Devils
We are under a week before the season starts so they need Hughes to keep playing well during camp. He looked great out there with Gusev and Palmieri and had a sweet goal to end the shootout. If he can carry some of this greatness into the season, many people on the Devils will benefit from it. In addition, it also might help them win a whole bunch of games.

But what would the Devils have to give up to acquire Marchessault from the Golden Knights? According to The Fourth Period, Vegas is desperately trying to facilitate some sort of trade without retaining any money on their books and may even be willing to attach a pick to get Marchessault or Fleury off their books. If the Devils could land the final four years of Marchessault’s contract for a mid-round pick, you’d have to think the team would do it in a heartbeat, right?

Sure, I imagine so. Then again, plenty of other teams, specifically the Nashville Predators, the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Florida Panthers have expressed interest in Marchessault’s services, so that situation could rapidly turn into an unnecessary bidding war. What the Devils do have, that none of their competitors in the Marchessault-sweepstakes do, is a trade chip that could instantly push them to the front of the pack: Nikita Gusev.

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In theory, the swap makes perfect sense for all parties involved. Gusev is also a versatile, playmaking wing who can play on their side and put up 30-plus assists with ease. Clearly, the Golden Knights like Gusev at least a little bit, as they initially acquired his rights from the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2017 alongside a second-round pick, a fourth-round pick, and the contract of Jason Garrison. Sure, they ultimately traded his rights to Jersey before he so much as recorded an NHL stat, but that had more to do with straddling the insane beast that is the Golden Knights’ cap situation than a total disdain for what Gusev brings to the table. If anything, Vegas could have really used a player like ‘Goose’ in the 2020 playoffs, as they simply couldn’t overtake the Dallas Stars in a 2-3 series.

Flipping Gusev for Marchessault would all but surely make the Devils a better team, as it’d give the team a second 20-plus goal scorer, another veteran presence in the locker room, and a playmaking force who could surely help to further the offensive potential of both Hirschier and Hughes, but it wouldn’t make the Golden Knights that much worse in the process, which trading the Cap-Rouge, Quebec for a draft pick surely would. The Devils get a long-term building block with four-more years under contract, and the Golden Knights get a similar soon-to-be RFA forward who could seamlessly slide into Marchessault’s role and be retained on a new contract if things go well.

And the best part? The Devils can retain as much a $2 million of Gusev’s cap hit for the 2020-21 season, which would give the Golden Knights even more cap flexibility… and New Jersey enough money to still go after Mike Hoffman in free agency. Sorry, I had to do it (more on that here).

NEXT: The New Jersey Devils should weaponize the cap by signing Mike Hoffman
In an ideal world, the New Jersey Devils would be able to (virtually) walk right up to the
T-Mobile Arena center, hand the Vegas Golden Knights a mid-round pick and bring a moderately used Jonathan Marchessault back to the Garden State for the next four years. Unfortunately, with actual fringe playoff teams also in the market for his services, that may not be as easy as some may assume. No, to guarantee a player like Marchessault, who subjectively speaking is a perfect fit in Lindy Ruff’s top-six and the Devils’ rebuilding timeline, they’ll all but surely have to give up a player to make the deal work. While it’d be tough to see Nikita Gusev go, especially after he just added a young goose to his flock, a one-for-one swap makes a ton of sense for all parties involved and could be the key to both teams achieving their goals in 2020-21.

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Sharangovich was tremendous while on loan in the KHL, where he totaled 17 goals and 25 points in 34 games. Kuokkanen has three seasons of AHL experience and looks ready for a shot at a regular NHL role. While Boqvist primarily played left wing last season, he’s looked much more comfortable at center during camp. It may be a line of three rookies, but their performance as a unit during the scrimmages suggests they might offer the Devils some depth to start the season.

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The fourth line, at least out of the gate, should have some familiar faces. Miles Wood and Pavel Zacha are likely to begin there, but there’s still one spot to fill alongside them. Nathan Bastian looks to be in the running for that opening, as does Michael McLeod, which would give the Devils some size and scoring punch on the fourth line.

Related: Devils Have Uphill Climb to Qualify for 2021 Playoffs

All of this will change when Hischier and Bratt return, though. It’ll be interesting to see where everyone fits when that happens, especially if the Sharangovich, Boqvist, and Kuokkanen line clicks during game action. That could give Ruff some difficult decisions to make in the bottom half of the lineup, but that’s not a bad problem to have.

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Defense
The Devils’ defense will have a mixture of new and old faces after a few offseason moves. They acquired Ryan Murray from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for a fifth-round pick. Despite having chronic lower back problems, Murray has been an effective top-four defenseman when in the lineup. If he can stay healthy, he’ll give the team a significant boost on their top pair.

Also joining Murray is Dmitry Kulikov, who the Devils signed during free agency to a one-year deal worth $1.15 million. Kulikov isn’t going to have the significant role Murray will, but he should provide the team with some defensive depth as their no. 6 or 7 defenseman.

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In a somewhat surprising move, the New Jersey Devils have brought back defenseman Sami Vatanen on a one year contract worth $2 million for the season. Vatanen will need to quarantine and arrive in New Jersey before he can participate in team activities. His timetable to join the team and be ready for games is yet to be determined. Vatanen brings a familiar presence on the backend that does nothing but strengthens the depth of the Devils blueline.

The Devils originally acquired Vatanen from the Anaheim Ducks for fan favorite Adam Henrique, en route to the first playoff appearance since the run to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final. The Devils then traded Vatanen almost one year ago to the Carolina Hurricanes for Janne Kuokkanen, Frederick Claesson, and a 2020 3rd-round draft pick that became Nico Daws. Kuokkanen looks to be a lock for the opening night roster and could make a major impact on the Devils. Claesson is still a free agent and Dawes waits in limbo for the OHL season to start.

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Vatanen did not play a game in the regular season for the Hurricanes last season due to an injury, which added to the drama of the conditional draft pick acquired by the Devils. He did play seven games in the playoffs, accumulating three assists in those games.

An NHL ready player and a 3rd-round pick is a steep price for only seven playoff games in hindsight for the Hurricanes. This only adds to the legend of good moves that Tom Fitzgerald has done so far in his tenure.

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The move does throw some confusion to the roster though, as it was thought the Devils already had their blueline set up with the assumption Ty Smith would make the team. Right now, if Ty Smith makes the team, the Devils would have 8 NHL caliber defenseman on the roster. PK Subban, Damon Severson, Connor Carrick, and Vatanen would be on the right side. Ryan Murray, Will Butcher, Dimitry Kulikov, and Smith on the left. It is yet to be seen how the Devils roster will shake up over the course of the season while the question of how the taxi squad will be used remains.

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In all, this is a good move for the Devils to bring back Vatanen. He was seemed to be well liked by his teammates and he is capable of being a player the Devils could really use. He can work the powerplay as well as the penalty kill. The only question is, can he stay healthy? Like Murray, if health isn’t an issue, both players are top four quality defensemen. If they aren’t healthy, the Devils will be back to square one and more questions than answers. But all in all, bringing Sami back is a smart decision.

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Ryan Murray Columbus Blue Jackets
Ryan Murray, Columbus Blue Jackets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
Returning for his second stint with the Devils is Sami Vatanen, who signed a one-year deal worth $2 million less than a week ago. Like Bratt, he needs a work visa then has to quarantine for seven days before joining the team. So he’s likely to miss their first couple of games, at a minimum.

In addition to those three defensemen, the Devils return Damon Severson, Will Butcher, P.K. Subban, and Connor Carrick. Subban looks like he’ll start the season paired with Murray, while top prospect Ty Smith looks as if he’ll play alongside Severson on the second pair. Once Vatanen is eligible to play, the Devils’ defense pairs should look something like this:

Murray – Subban
Smith – Severson
Butcher – Vatanen
Kulikov – Carrick (extras)
No one will mistake the Devils’ blue line as the best in the NHL. With that said, it’s a pretty capable group. Subban had the worst season of his career in 2019-20, so giving him top-pair minutes won’t work if he doesn’t rebound to some degree. Though, it does help that Murray is the best defenseman Subban will play with since becoming a Devil.

Smith looked terrific during the Devils’ camp scrimmages, and he appears ready for the NHL. Severson was the team’s best defenseman in 2019-20, so Smith looks to be walking into a favorable situation to start his NHL career.

Once Vatanen is eligible to play, he and Butcher should give the Devils a reliable third pair. Butcher is one of the team’s more effective puck-moving blueliners, and he’s put up good numbers paired with Vatanen over the last three seasons. Vatanen should also get some meaningful minutes on both the power play and penalty kill.

New Jersey Devils Sami Vatanen
New Jersey Devils Sami Vatanen (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)
And with Kulikov and Carrick as the team’s seventh and eighth defensemen, that makes the Devils’ defense one of their better position groups.

Goaltending
Goaltending looked like it was going to be a strength heading into this season. But it’s now the Devils’ biggest question mark after Crawford announced his retirement. Crawford had a .917 save percentage (SV%) last season and would’ve been a significant upgrade as a 1B to Blackwood.

Now the Devils are left scrambling to find a backup to Blackwood with just two days before the regular season begins. Scott Wedgewood is the de facto no. 2 goaltender with Crawford retiring, but he hasn’t played in an NHL game since 2017-18. His recent AHL numbers aren’t all that encouraging either – he had a .893 SV% last season and .908 SV% in 2018-19.

If the Devils want to be competitive this season, they need to find a veteran backup behind Blackwood. They could look to the trade market, but it might be a challenge finding a willing trade partner since teams must carry a goalie on their taxi squad.

The Devils’ best bet seems to be scouring the waiver wire and hoping someone useful ends up on waivers. One team to watch is the Toronto Maple Leafs. If Jack Campbell wins the backup job to Frederik Andersen, as expected, the Leafs could place Aaron Dell on waivers with the intent of sending him to their taxi squad.

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Two good goalies are better than one for the New Jersey Devils in 2020-21.
After waiting nine-plus months to watch a meaningful game of New Jersey Devils hockey, the 2020-21 season is right around the corner – and needless to say, it’s going to be weird.

The fans will be… sitting at home. The Prudential Center will be (essentially) empty, and the Devils will be playing their smallest slate of games since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. Factor in an all but guaranteed division realignment to accommodate for the closed Canadian border and an abbreviated schedule that could feature less time between games, and it’s safe to say any team with even a small hope of contention will need to have their goaltending plans on lock.

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Well, fortunately, the Devils suddenly find themselves with not one, but two of the more intriguing netminders in the Metropolitan Division.

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After sticking it out with a rapidly developing MacKenzie Blackwood and a clearly diminished Cory Schneider, New Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald signed two-time Stanley Cup winner Corey Crawford away from the Chicago Blackhawks on a two-year, $7.8 million deal.

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While Schneider will forever hold a special place in the hearts of Devils fans for his impressive string of seasons in the mid-2010s, it’s hard to describe just how much of an upgrade Crow is over a player who finished out the 2019-20 season in Binghamton.
Earlier this week, The Athletic’s Pierre Lebrun unveiled what realigned divisions will look like for the shortened 2020-21 season. For the Devils, they’ll have the usual suspects from the Metropolitan Division — the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, New York Rangers, and New York Islanders.

But they’ll also have two new division “rivals” in the Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres, meaning the Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets won’t be division foes. The Devils will play all 56 games within the division to reduce travel and risk of exposure to COVID-19. So they won’t be seeing the Hurricanes and Blue Jackets during the regular season.

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On the surface, this is a pretty tough division for the Devils. Every team other than them and the Sabres were part of the league’s 24-team, return-to-play format in the summer. A look at point projections from Jack Fraser (you may know him as @JFreshHockey on Twitter) has the Devils finishing with 57 points, second to last in the East Division and just ahead of the Sabres.

Though the Devils only project to finish with 57 points (an 84-point pace in an 82 game season), there’s not a significant gap between them and the Flyers. The Devils upgraded their goaltending significantly when they signed Corey Crawford to a two-year deal in free agency. If he and Mackenzie Blackwood produce exactly as they did last season, the Devils should be competitive. Combine that with steps forward from Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, and the Devils could surprise some. But there’s no doubt the team has a tall task ahead of them in a stacked division.

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Measuring in at 6-foot-2, 216 pounds, Crawford has the seventh-highest saves percentage of any active player in the NHL (91.8) and has the rare distinction of winning the Jennings Trophy twice – in 2013 and again in 2015.

Though he’s certainly seen his average number of games played drop over the past few seasons, going from roughly 53 from 2013-17 to roughly 35 in each of the past three seasons, Crawford is clearly still one of the better ‘name brand’ goalies in the league even if he’s more of a platoon player than an unquestioned number one.

In 2019-20, Blackwood appeared in seven more games with four more starts than Crawford with the Blackhawks, but is that the plan moving forward? Did Crawford sign what may be his final substantive contract extension to play second-fiddle to a 24-year-old goaltender with ‘long-term starter’ written all over him, or is there a world where the Crow makes Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman look silly for explicitly passing on giving the 13-year vet another contract?

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Well, fortunately, we may not have to have that conversation right now; not in the first half of 2021 at least.

Again, the 2020-21 season is going to be weird. The Devils will presumably be playing four-five games a week and may need to rely on a legit 50/50 goalie split. While the team will surely need to pick a number one goalie for the sake of consistency, there’s no reason to believe the team couldn’t roll with Crawford for a few games and then switch over to Blackwood and then back to Crawford the following week.

On paper, both players have their own merits. Crawford is a stable vet with 12,500 saves to his name. Playing him in net against more offensive-minded teams could help the Devils steal a few more wins and better evaluate the talents of developing defensemen like Ryan Murray, Connor Carrick, and Dmitry Kulikov. And as for Blackwood? Well, he’s the future. After impressing down the stretch last spring, Blackwood deserves a chance to prove one way or another what his ceiling is as a member of the Devils, and if he’s the kind of player who can fill out a defense alongside prospects like Kevin Bahl, Ty Smith, and Nolan Foote moving forward.

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In a perfect world, a team would have one elite goalie they can rely on for 60-plus games a season and a decent enough backup to keep them competitive when the top guy is out. Crawford was that guy for much of the 2010s, and, fingers crossed, Blackwood will follow suit in the 2020s. However, in 2020-21, having two very good guys may be more useful than one elite goaltender, especially if the season is only 56 games long.

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After playing his entire career with the Chicago Blackhawks, I highly doubt Corey Crawford ever expected to wear another team’s jersey in an NHL game. Had the team that drafted him prioritized loyalty as much as he did, he likely wouldn’t have, but fortunately for fans in the Garden State, that wasn’t the case. By signing with the New Jersey Devils – after a long talk with his childhood idol Martin Brodeur, which you can read here – Crawford accepted a position in a platoon and an opportunity to pass his knowledge along to MacKenzie Blackwood over the next few seasons. While either player could conceivably outplay the other and full take on a true number one role, the Devils’ best chance to win would be running a true two-goalie system where each player can play off the other. If the 2020-21 season is going to be weird, why not embrace it?