Thursday: Vatanen has been moved to injured reserve and the Devils have recalled Eric Gryba from the AHL.
Wednesday: The New Jersey Devils have had an extremely frustrating season, and today got some more bad news. Sami Vatanen has been diagnosed with a concussion and will be out indefinitely. The injury occurred on Monday when Derick Brassard hit Vatanen’s head into the boards. Brassard was ejected from the game, but did not face any supplementary discipline.
Vatanen, 27, has been the good-if-not-great player the Devils hoped for when they traded Adam Henrique for him last season, and could very well be a trade target if the team can’t right the ship next year. Signed for another year at $4.875MM, the right-handed defenseman will draw even more than that on the open market and price himself right out of New Jersey if the team can’t get an extension with him done at some point after July 1st. Though he only has 17 points on the season, Vatanen is still logging nearly 22 minutes a night and putting up respectable possession numbers on a struggling team.
This injury comes at a terrible time for the team if they felt as though they could put together a second-half push, but more likely only strengthens their position for the draft lottery. The Devils currently sit ahead of only the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference and will have a good chance of drafting an elite prospect with a top five pick in June. If they decide to sell off some of their aging or expiring assets, they could potentially have quite the haul of draft picks to inject some more talent into the minor league system and continue the slow, methodical rebuild that GM Ray Shero had spoken about. Last year’s playoff run appears to have been a fluke, but there are obvious pillars of the future already on the roster.