- Emily Kaplan of ESPN (Insider Subscription needed) offers a post-mortem of the Devils season and writes that the team has to add some defensive depth as it was a glaring need during the five game loss to the Lightning. She writes that both Sami Vatanen and Will Butcher are great building blocks for a strong defensive corps, but “reinforcements” are needed to get the Devils back into the playoffs and beyond. She also touches on predictions for next season, and what the Devils should do concerning Patrick Maroon and Michael Grabner.
The NHL announced the New Jersey Devils’ Brian Boyle, Florida Panthers’ Roberto Luongo and Carolina Hurricanes’ Jordan Staal as the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy finalists Saturday for the 2017-18 season. The award is voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association nominate players who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.” The winner will be announced June 20 during the 2018 NHL Awards in Las Vegas.
Boyle has received quite a lot of exposure already after being diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, a type of bone marrow cancer at the start of training camp this season. The 33-year-old returned to the Devils on Nov. 1 and put up 10 goals in his first 25 games and 13 goals and 23 points in 69 games for the season as a bottom line center for the playoff-bound Devils. He also represented New Jersey at the 2018 all-star game.
Luongo, who has dealt with both hand and groin injuries at age 39 and still produced a solid season with the Panthers. He still played 35 games, picking up 18 wins with a 2.47 GAA and a .929 save percentage. He made an emotional speech on Feb. 22 prior to the game addressing the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, honoring the victims.
Staal put up a solid season despite dealing with family tragedy. In late February, Staal and his wife, Heather, announced their daughter Hannah was delivered stillborn due to a terminal birth defect and only missed three games. Staal put up 19 goals and 27 assists this year. The 29-year-old skated in his 800th game and scored his 200th goal this season.
Another team eyeing overseas talent this off-season is one whose off-season has yet to begin. Russian news source Sport-Express reports that SKA St. Petersburg defenseman Yegor Yakovlev is planning to sign with the New Jersey Devils. It seems that GM Ray Shero and company have stayed busy on the talent acquisition front for next season, despite the team still being focused on their first-round playoff series.
Yakovlev, 26, is yet another talented member of KHL powerhouse SKA. Teammates like Ilya Kovalchuk, Nikita Gusev, Sergei Plotnikov, and Mikko Koskinen are among many on the roster who could sign in the NHL this summer, but Yakovlev seems to be closest to a concrete deal. Yakovlev lost games due to injury in 2017-18, but last season set career highs with 21 points and a +30 rating in 56 games. He made up for some missed time this year with a strong showing for Russia at the Olympics as well, skating on the team’s top pair. A high-energy two-way defenseman, Yakovlev certainly appears to have the talent to push for a regular role in the NHL.
Where exactly he fits in New Jersey is a different question. The Devils surprised many this season by earning a playoff berth just one season after finishing near the bottom of the league. Part of that turnaround has been the improved play on the blue line, greatly aided by the additions of Sami Vatanen and Will Butcher. On the left side, where Yakovlev plays, New Jersey has Butcher, captain Andy Greene, and – for now – John Moore. While admittedly it’s not as strong as the right side of Vatanen, Damon Severson, Ben Lovejoy, and seventh-man Steve Santini, it’s still a solid group and a consistent one at that, with all three playing in 81 games this year. Even if Moore, an impending unrestricted free agent, was to leave the Devils, Mirco Mueller is a promising lefty in need of some play time. While healthy competition never hurts, it certainly seems like Yakovlev is signing on to a situation where he won’t be guaranteed a starting job without earning it.
- New Jersey defenseman Sami Vatanen did not travel with the team to Tampa Bay today, notes Amanda Stein of the Devils’ team site (Twitter link). He suffered an upper-body injury against the Lightning early in Game Four; he left with just 6:46 of ice time. However, the team isn’t ruling out Vatanen joining the team on Friday if his condition improves. The puck drops on the fifth game of that series on Saturday afternoon.
The New Jersey Devils have recalled their “Black Aces”, several players who will skate with the team throughout the playoffs but are not expected to play. Christoph Bertschy, Nick Lappin, Michael McLeod, Blake Pietila, Kevin Rooney, Michael Kapla and Brian Strait are all on their way up from Binghamton. The AHL squad did not qualify for the playoffs, meaning the season is over for the rest of the team’s prospects.
For McLeod, the 12th-overall pick from 2016, it’s been a disappointing. After dealing with injury to start the year, he returned to the Mississauga Steelheads and didn’t take the expected step forward to become one of the most dangerous players in the league. Though his game has always been built on using his speed to play a solid two-way game, scoring 100 points in 77 games during the 2016-17 season showed off exactly how much offense he could create. In 44 games this year he recorded just 54 points, and Mississauga was knocked out in the first round of the OHL playoffs.
Hopefully a taste of the NHL playoffs will be able to spark another level in his development, and he’ll be battling for an NHL spot out of camp in the fall. Otherwise, he’s headed for the AHL to hone his skills and try to be the next young star to help widen New Jersey’s newfound window of contention.
The New Jersey Devils announced they have signed Joey Anderson to a three-year entry-level contract. The NCAA champion from the University of Minnesota-Duluth is expected to have his contract start this year as he’s expected to join the Devils today and skate with them tomorrow.
Anderson, a 5-foot-11 forward, leaves after his sophomore year in which he had 11 goals in 36 games for the Bulldogs, who defeated Notre Dame in the championship game last week. He was named to the NCHC all-rookie team as a freshman after scoring 12 goals that year, taking his the to the NCAA Frozen Four finals. In total, Anderson has combined for 23 goals and 41 assists in two years. He also captained this year’s World Juniors team for Team USA, leading them to the bronze medal, scoring seven points in seven games.
Anderson was New Jersey’s third-round pick in 2016, the 73rd overall selection in the draft. Known for his heavy shot and quick release, Anderson has the skills to be a talented scorer in the league. Despite elite speed, his intelligence, high motor, hard-working demeanor and enthusiasm is key to what propelled Minnesota-Duluth to a national title.
Former New Jersey Devils star Ilya Kovalchuk reached his 35th birthday today, but that milestone has more meaning for the KHL and Olympic star, who has indicated he wants to return to the NHL after a five-year layoff. The veteran, today on his 35th birthday, is officially off the voluntary retirement list and is now an unrestricted free agent, free to negotiate and agree to terms with any NHL team, although he can’t officially sign a contract until July 1, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie.
While many players once they hit their mid-thirties begin to see their play begin to fade, Kovalchuk hasn’t slowed down yet. In fact, his past two years in the KHL have been two of his best in his career. The winger has scored 64 goals combined during that two-year period and tallied 143 points as well. He also won MVP honors and helped lead Russia to a gold medal at the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang. He’s indicated that he would like to return to the NHL for another two to three years with the goal of winning a Stanley Cup.
While there have already been rumors that he has agreed to a side deal with the New York Rangers as he has always held a fascination with playing in New York, he has come out recently and refuted that rumor. The Rangers may also wait on making a decision about Kovalchuk until they hire a coach. On top of that, if Kovalchuk’s true interest is winning a Stanley Cup, then the Rangers might not be the ideal destination as they are in rebuild mode. However, Kovalchuk and his agent have an earlier advantage on most pending unrestricted free agents which might allow him to find an early home.
Yesterday, we asked who would come out of the next few weeks with the title of Western Conference Champions, and 37% of our readership agreed. The Nashville Predators easily led the poll, with the Colorado Avalanche bringing up the rear with just 3% of the total vote. Interestingly, the vote pegged the Los Angeles Kings as the third-most likely to win, despite finishing the season as the seventh best team in the West.
Will the public perception be the same in the Eastern Conference? We ask you the same thing, who will be champions when the first three rounds have been decided?
Can the Tampa Bay Lightning ride their conference lead all the way to the top? Will the Pittsburgh Penguins reach their third consecutive Stanley Cup Final? Are the Washington Capitals really cursed, or is it finally time for Alex Ovechkin to lift the Cup?
Make sure to leave your reasoning in the comments below, and share the poll on Twitter so you can disagree with even more people.
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- Although he has been cleared to participate in a full practice, it appears that Devils center Marcus Johansson is slated to be a scratch for their playoff opener on Thursday night, reports Abbey Mastracco of The Record. The 27-year-old has been out of the lineup since suffering his second concussion of the season back on January 23rd. While his production had dipped prior to the injury, his return to full health should be a boost for New Jersey as they get set to take on Tampa Bay.
There have been reports for weeks now that Russian sniper Ilya Kovalchuk is dead set on returning to the NHL in 2018-19, and now Igor Eronko of Sport-Express is reporting that it will be with the New York Rangers bringing him back over. Eronko reports that it will be a two or three year contract, though no financial details are listed. Technically Kovalchuk isn’t a free agent until he turns 35 later this month, and can’t sign a contract until June 1st. Still, since the New Jersey Devils allowed him to speak to teams last summer to try and work out a deal, there is no reason to believe they wouldn’t still be fine with his camp approaching potential clubs.
Last summer, Kovalchuk was connected to the Rangers by his own words when he said that he would like to play in either New York or Florida. That didn’t happen, as it would have required a sign-and-trade with the Devils that never materialized. After another season placing among the league leaders in the KHL, Kovalchuk and his SKA St. Petersburg squad were eliminated yesterday in the conference finals.
Though there is certainly enough time left before a contract can be official that anything can happen, it has seemed like Kovalchuk was destined to join the Rangers for some time. That destiny though was questioned when the Rangers announced to their fans the start of a rebuild, and their desire to get younger and faster. Kovalchuk, for all of his talent, will be 35 when play starts next season and doesn’t add much to a rebuild. After trading away Ryan McDonagh and others, it does seem counter-intuitive to then bring an aging star in during the offseason.
The Rangers though may not be looking for a long rebuild. The team acquired quite a few assets in their trade deadline fire sale, and could use them to quickly turn around this disappointing season. With young players like Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson already making an impact, and Henrik Lundqvist already in net, perhaps they don’t expect to stay at the bottom very long. Kovalchuk would help that bounce back, though we’ll have to wait and see if he is truly on his way to the Rangers.