After a disappointing campaign in 2020-21, the New Jersey Devils, led by general manager Tom Fitzgerald, have had an impressive offseason. The Devils were active in free agency, as well as on the trade front as they attempted to retool their roster. In addition, New Jersey had a masterful showing at the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, which included two first-round selections. Without further ado, let’s see just how much the Devils “bulked up” ahead of next season.
Ryan Graves, Defenseman, Acquired via Trade from Colorado
First up is Graves, a smooth-skating blue-liner. Acquired by the Devils from the Colorado Avalanche, the former fourth-round pick is a fantastic addition to New Jersey’s blue line. As a player, he combines the unique skill set of size (6’5″, 225 lbs) and puck-moving ability. He’s strong in his own end and loves to lay the body as exemplified with his 77 hits a season ago. Now 26 years of age, Graves is exactly where he wants to be with his development as an everyday NHLer, and has really refined his game into a well-rounded, confident, and reliable defenseman. This is music to the ears of the Devils’ front office and coaching staff.
Last season in Denver saw Graves skate in 54 games tallying two goals and 15 points. His ice-time also soared, tallying 19:03 per game with 91 blocked shots. Almost instantaneously, the Devils are going to be a better team with him in the lineup. It goes without saying that the passionate fan base out in Newark are going to absolutely love Graves.
Tomas Tatar, Left-Wing, Acquired via Free Agency
Up next is Tatar, an Ilava, Slovakia native. After signing a two-year, $9 million contract ($4.5 million average annual value), Tatar represents one of this summer’s most underrated signings. At 30 years of age, he provides veteran leadership, experience, and goal-scoring acumen to New Jersey’s forward group.
Last season with the Montreal Canadiens saw Tatar play 50 regular-season games, scoring 10 goals and 30 points. A prototypical middle-six forward, Tatar is a consistent performer and a six-time 20-goal scorer. In the NHL where goals are at a premium, Tatar is an excellent signing for Fitzgerald and the Devils at a bargain deal to boot. For a team that struggled to score last season, Tatar will be welcomed with open arms in New Jersey. In addition, Devils head coach Lindy Ruff gets another offensive weapon at his disposal alongside the likes of Jack Hughes, Yegor Sharangovich, Nico Hischier, Miles Wood, Pavel Zacha, and Jesper Bratt. Don’t sleep on the Devils, folks!
Luke Hughes, Defenseman, Acquired via 2021 NHL Entry Draft
Quite recently, the University of Michigan has manufactured some high-quality talent in the hockey department. Hughes is the latest product to emerge from Ann Arbor, MI as he finds himself donning the famous Devils crest. Drafted in the first round, and fourth-overall at the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, Hughes is a phenomenal talent and was considered one of the top prospects of his draft class. What’s even more fitting is that the defenseman will be skating alongside his brother Jack in New Jersey, while his other brother, Quinn, is a star for the Vancouver Canucks. Talk about a hockey family!
Born and raised in Manchester, New Hampshire, Hughes is an excellent skater who gets around the ice effortlessly. He’s a good passer, possesses excellent vision, and loves to skate his way out of trouble. Standing at 6’2″, 182 lbs, this is a player who’s dynamic, fun to watch, and should fit in like a new glove in New Jersey. Imagine a D-core with the likes of Jack Hughes, Ty Smith, Dougie Hamilton, Damon Severson, P.K. Subban, and the aforementioned Graves. Not too shabby, wouldn’t you say? This kid has a bright future ahead of him and all the makings to be a superstar in the making at the NHL level.
Dougie Hamilton, Defenseman, Acquired via Free Agency
Fitzgerald went “big game” hunting this off-season. His catch? None other than Dougie Hamilton, one of the premier free-agent defensemen on the market. The price tag? $63 million over seven years. Let’s take a look at what this signing means for the Devils.
Over the past few seasons, Hamilton has established himself as one of hockey’s top offensive defenseman. An absolute mammoth of a player, he tips the scale at a whopping 6’6″, 230 lbs. It’s safe to say that size is one of his most significant attributes. In addition to his stature, Hamilton is a smooth-skater, great on the rush, and capable of quarterbacking a power-play with the best of them.
The Toronto, Ontario native scored 10 goals and 42 points in 55 games last season for the Carolina Hurricanes. He also posted a plus-20 rating in 22:43 minutes of ice time per game. The season prior also saw him post 40 points in just 47 games with the Canes. This is a player who can not only defend with the best of them, but he can also produce at an elite level offensively. Reeling in Hamilton is an absolute slam dunk and a no-brainer for the Devils’ brass.
Chase Stillman, Right-Wing, Acquired via 2021 NHL Entry Draft
Stillman rounds out our list as an excellent late-round pick for New Jersey. The native of St. Louis, MO can do it all on the ice. Son of former NHLer, Cory Stillman, the winger possesses a deep toolkit and is just oozing with raw potential. Drafted in the first round, 29th overall at last month’s draft, Stillman has a never-ending engine to him, and can get up and down the ice effortlessly.
His speed and work ethic are admirable attributes, as is his ability to score goals and make plays. A consummate teammate who leads by example, Stillman is the prototypical on-ice general who will be welcomed with wide smiles and open arms in Newark. This selection has all the makings to be an absolute steal. It sure looks like the Devils have found themselves a real, solid, top-six winger for many years to come.
Look for the Devils to be that scrappy, “in your face” team that surprises a few people in 2021-22. New Jersey is coming hockey fans.
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