New Jersey Devils: Contenders or Pretenders?

The Devils are fighting for a playoff spot with 12 games left in the season.

Hello, New Jersey Devils fans! The last time we caught up, it was pre-trade deadline and I speculated as to what the team would do.

While they didn’t obtain an Alex Galchenyuk or a Calvin de Haan, which I had hoped for, New Jersey did make a couple solid acquisitions.

Prior to the deadline, the Devils acquired forward Michael Grabner from their cross-river rivals, the New York Rangers, in exchange for defense prospect Yegor Rykov and a third round pick in the 2018 draft.

While Grabner has yet to make a huge impact, a change of scenery can be difficult for some guys. However, with the season winding down and New Jersey fighting to keep a playoff spot, it would be great to see the Austrian winger come out guns blazing. He had 25 goals with the Blue Shirts prior to being traded, which if translated, would provide a huge boost to the team as they pursue their first playoff berth since their Stanley Cup appearance in 2012.

Overall, this was a solid move, and one I commend general manager Ray Shero for making. He didn’t subtract from the active roster and didn’t sacrifice the farm system. Rykov, who may very well blossom into a quality d-man one day, was a former sixth round pick and is currently playing in the KHL so he wasn’t going to make an immediate impact in Jersey anytime soon.

In addition to Grabner, New Jersey made a move coming right down to the wire on trade deadline day, acquiring Patrick Maroon from the Edmonton Oilers.

While I was hoping for the bold move of acquiring Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators, Maroon was a shrewd trade and made the Devils a better team than they were prior to making it, so I can’t be upset.

Coming into Wednesday night’s matchup against the Vegas Golden Knights, the 29-year-old Maroon has already registered five points (one goal, four assists) in his early games with New Jersey.

On the season, he has registered 15 goals and dished out 20 assists while logging a 3 +/- in 63 games. He is also coming off a 2016-17 campaign where he logged 27 goals. When he and Grabner fully mesh into this lineup, they give the team a better chance to score early and often each game, which they so desperately need.

While I would have liked to have seen Shero acquire an additional defenseman at the deadline, I really like what I have seen from Sami Vatanen in recent weeks with New Jersey. A lot of people unfairly criticize Vatanen because he doesn’t light the lamp as frequently as many thought he would, but, his presence on the ice is strong, and a lot of his skills go beyond the scorecard. I liked Adam Henrique as much as any Devils fan, but the swap of the two earlier this season was needed and in my opinion, has helped both the Devils and Ducks tremendously.

So there we have it, this is the team we have for the home stretch. And this home stretch is not going to be an easy one. On Wednesday, the Devils faced the very potent Knights, followed by the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, Pittsburgh Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lightning all in the next week plus. This will be a true test to see if the Devils are contenders or pretenders.

The team has stumbled a bit in recent games, but pulled out a dramatic victory against the Nashville Predators this past weekend in shootout fashion. Hopefully, they can build off of that since the beginning of the season, I have seen this team as a playoff contender and I think they can still get there and make an impact. Though he wasn’t my favorite coach in Devils history, I remember Peter DeBoer saying in 2012 during the Cup run, “Why not us?” So why not us in 2018? We have the talent, grit and speed to put pressure on our opponents and pull out victories like we have done all season. If we can do that in the playoffs, we will be a force to be reckoned with.

Until next time, Devils fans!