PK Subban and company need to improve if the Devils have any chance to leave the cellar this season.
As we continue getting you ready for the 2021 NHL regular season, we’re breaking down the New Jersey Devils roster. Thus far we’ve discussed the new coaching staff and the forwards. The next stop is the defensemen.
As we previously noted, the Devils had one of the worst defenses in hockey last year. Fitzgerald and the front office were aware of this issue and worked to resolve it by making some offseason acquisitions and hiring Ruff, a defensive-minded coach.
After a solid rookie season, Will Butcher hasn’t been able to live up to expectations and there’s the belief that he’s reached his ceiling.
He hasn’t done enough to earn a top-four role in the Devils’ defense and will likely be the team’s number three LHD.
Of course, Butcher, who turned 26 at the beginning of January, can take everyone by surprise with a great year of play, but his role on the bottom pair seems to be permanent.
There isn’t much to say about Connor Carrick, who isn’t very good and shouldn’t be more than a depth option for the Devils. Ideally, Carrick would be a member of the taxi squad and nothing more than the team’s seventh defenseman.
Dmitry Kulikov was a nice veteran addition who should help improve the Devils’ blue line situation, at least in terms of depth.
Kulikov likely won’t bring much offense to the table but is coming off an incredibly strong defensive season, something the Devils need help with.
The goal is for the 30-year-old LHD to bring depth to the defense, but he could have an important role to begin the season.
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Ryan Murray was one of the team’s best offseason acquisitions who can end up being vital to the team if he can stay healthy.
Murray, who was taken by the Columbus Blue Jackets with the second overall pick in the 2012 draft, definitely never lived up to expectations, but a lot of that has to do with the fact that he’s played a full season of hockey just once in his seven-year career.
Murray does have offense in his arsenal but his defense is his strength (he was one of the best defensive defensemen in the game last season). The 27-year-old will likely be the team’s top LHD, where he will hope to contribute while staying healthy.
Damon Severson came out of last season as the team’s best defenseman and, for that, will likely be paired with Murray at the top. Severson has always contributed offensively, but he was able to play the best defense of his career last season.
The question surrounding Severson is if that defensive improvement is here to stay, but playing alongside a strong defenseman as Murray and under a defensive-minded coach in Ruff should work to his advantage.
The 26-year-old has been paired with Murray for much of training camp and will work to continue to be the team’s number one RHD.
The moment Devils fans have been waiting for is here: Ty Smith has made the roster and will likely be the team’s number two LHD come opening night.
The 20-year-old first-round pick from the 2018 draft has played great hockey in the WHL and stood out during training camp, earning him a spot on the team.
Everyone’s excited to see what the youngster can do at the NHL level but the question remains: who will he be paired with?
Enter P.K. Subban. It isn’t guaranteed, but the veteran Subban playing with Smith makes the most sense.
The Devils made a huge splash when they acquired Subban last offseason.
Subban had been one of the best defensemen in the league for several seasons and, even though he was coming off a down year with the Nashville Predators, was expected to be a game-changer for the Devils. That didn’t happen at all.
Subban had the worst year of his career, both offensively and defensively, and was one of the team’s biggest disappointments of the season.
Even so, he’s an experienced veteran who’s had success in his career and can help in Smith’s development. And if Smith is as good as advertised, he can help Subban get back on track.
Subban is one of the biggest names to watch this year as he tries to rebound as a top-four defenseman.
Like Carrick, Matt Tennyson shouldn’t be seen as anything other than an extra defenseman who will serve as an emergency fill-in.
Lastly comes Vatanen, who signed a deal to return to the Devils on Jan. 7th. Vatanen had a pretty average season last year before being dealt to Carolina, but he brings good depth to a Devils defense that needs it.
The 29-year-old will likely slot in alongside Butcher on the bottom pair.