What players, both good and bad, have stood out on this disappointing Devils team?
After a decent start to the season, the New Jersey Devils have fallen back down to earth and more. Halfway through 2021-22, they’re last in the Metropolitan Division and are one of the worst teams in the league.
They take a six-game losing streak into the All-Star break and have won just game in their last 10.
The team is far from perfect, but it’s a miracle that head coach Lindy Ruff hasn’t been fired yet. It’s becoming clearer by the day that his presence on the team isn’t helping anyone and most players could benefit from a coaching change.
The midway point is always a good time to look at players and discuss how they’re doing. The Devils are a team that’s had several players succeed so far and others who have struggled and looked disappointing.
The fact that New Jersey is having a poor season and have no chance at making the playoffs indicates that more players have been bad than good.
With that being said, it’s time to give out mid-season awards for the 2021-22 Devils.
MVP: RW Jesper Bratt
The Devils have one clear-cut MVP and that’s Bratt. Bratt has been, hands down, the team’s absolute best player and is having quite the season.
The young winger had a solid 2020-21 season and looked extremely promising in the shortened campaign, so much so that expectations for him were raised. Bratt exceeded these expectations exponentially.
No one expected him to be the Devils’ best player this season, but here he is. In 42 games so far, Bratt has 14 goals and 41 points. His 27 assists as well as his point total so far are already career highs.
Bratt has been tremendous from the get-go and the coaching staff has recognized that. It’s no coincidence that Bratt is the only common factor between what’s been each of the Devils’ top lines this season.
He played with Andreas Johnsson and Dawson Mercer when that was the best line and then was moved to the Jack Hughes and Yegor Sharangovich line when that became the best.
Few would have expected anyone not-named Hughes to be the team MVP halfway through the season (possibly newcomer Dougie Hamilton, but that’s about it), but Bratt stepped up and has been New Jersey’s undisputed top guy.
The future is unbelievably bright for the youngster and the Devils are incredibly lucky to have such a late-round talent turn out like this.
LVP (Least Valuable Player): G MacKenzie Blackwood
As we mentioned earlier, several Devils have just not been able to get it done so far this season. The worst of them, though, has definitely been the starting goaltender.
According to MoneyPuck, only three goaltenders in the league have a worse goals saved above expected than Blackwood (-10.3).
Blackwood has been nothing short of a complete mess this season, primarily at even-strength, and the Devils have to be worried. He’s currently on IR, to make matters worse, but his starting job is in serious jeopardy once he returns.
The Devils were projected to have one of the best goalie tandems in the league this season after acquiring Jonathan Bernier but now, Bernier is out for the year and Blackwood is a disaster.
The situation has been so bad that the Devils had to call up prospect Akira Schmid and get a goalie from outside the organization, Jon Gillies.
Gillies has already been much better than Blackwood and could permanently take the job as the starter when Blackwood returns.
The regression we’ve seen from Blackwood is extremely alarming, but the hope for him to turn it around remains, given how talented he looked not long ago.
But for now, Blackwood is, unfortunately, the worst player on the Devils.
Most impressive: RW Jesper Bratt
For the reasons we mentioned above, Bratt has absolutely been the team’s most impressive player. No one ever expected this from the sixth-rounder and he just keeps getting better.
Bratt has gone from being a promising youngster within the organization to their best player this season and that’s just about as impressive as you can get.
Two honorable mentions for most impressive are C Dawson Mercer and LHD Jonas Siegenthaler. The rookie Mercer has definitely cooled down since his incredibly hot start to the season during which he was a key member of the team’s best line, but his mere presence on the team is impressive.
It came as a shock when Mercer made the team out of training camp, but he’s been able to show the league why he did so well during his development and what made the Devils like him so much.
Calling him up was the right thing to do and he plays like he belongs in the NHL.
When Siegenthaler came over from the Washington Capitals last season, no one expected him to become one of the team’s most important players. He’s been just that and has actually also been one of the best defensive-defensemen in the league!
This was quite the pickup for New Jersey and locking Siegenthaler up long-term would be wise. He’s been tremendous.
Most disappointing: G MacKenzie Blackwood
Again, for the reasons mentioned above, Blackwood has definitely been the Devils’ most disappointing player. His fall from one of the most promising young goalies in the league to one of the worst netminders seemingly overnight has been shocking.
The Devils thought they had their goalie of the future, but that’s all changed. What happened?
LHD Ty Smith is an honorable mention here. Smith had a promising and impressive rookie season in which he was one of the better rookies in the league, but is following that up with a disastrous sophomore campaign.
Smith’s defensive play, in particular, has been alarming and he’s a key reason why the Devils’ defense has been significantly underperforming.
The hope is that Smith will eventually bounce back and that he’s just in a second-year slump. If not, the Devils will find themselves in a predicament similar to that of Blackwood’s.
Best new guy: LHD Ryan Graves
Dougie Hamilton, Dawson Mercer, Tomáš Tatar, and Jimmy Vesey are among the most notable Devils’ newcomers this season. They’ve all had their ups and downs, but each has had made an impact in his own way.
The best of all the team’s newest additions, however, has been Graves. Graves’ play has declined along with the team’s as of late, but he’s done a great job of helping stabilize what was an atrocious blueline not long ago.
Hamilton has obviously been better than his partner offensively (he’s one of the best offensive-defensemen in the game), but Graves has been much better in his own zone and even his offense has been impressive.
Graves has scored three goals and 17 points in 40 games this season. He’s three away from tying his career-high of 17 assists and nine away from tying his career-high of 26 points. He should be able to accomplish both feats.
Graves hasn’t been perfect- no one has- but what he’s doing in the Devils’ defense is noticeable. This was and remains to be a great trade for New Jersey, who will benefit greatly from having this defensive talent in the future.