In their final game of the season, the New Jersey Devils iced a defensive unit that consisted of the likes of Matt Tennyson, Will Butcher, Ryan Murray, and Kevin Bahl.
Fast-forward three months later, the Devils have acquired left-handed defenseman Ryan Graves and right-handed defenseman Dougie Hamilton.
By adding those two, it takes a Devils defense that has been one of the worst units over the last few seasons and has now catapulted them into the upper half of the league’s best.
Graves, 26, was acquired from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for forward Mikhail Maltsev and a second-round pick. He gives the Devils blueline something they’ve lacked for a while now, and that’s size. The 6’5 defenseman who led the league in plus-minus in the 2019 season is also one of the best shot blockers around.
Between ranking dead last in terms of blocked shots per team and having had no size on their back end, Graves helps fill both of those massive holes for the Devils, not to mention he’ll be playing first pair minutes with free-agent signee Dougie Hamilton.
Throughout the Devils’ existence, the first day of NHL free agency has always been one of the most agonizing days of the season. Over the years, New Jersey has watched tons of their star players take their talents elsewhere, along with not being able to land any big-time free agents unless you consider guys like Ryane Clowe and Michael Ryder big splashes.
However, this year, Devils fans celebrated as they were able to sign prized free agent Dougie Hamilton to a monster seven-year deal worth 63 million.
This past year, Hamilton ranked 4th in voting for the Norris Trophy, an award for best defenseman in the league. Not only is Hamilton a top ten defenseman who can do it all, but he’s also best known for his offensive ability as he ranks second for most goals scored by a defenseman since the 2015-16 season.
Hamilton is also one of the best in the transition game, and getting it out of the defensive zone, another aspect the Devils struggle mightily in (watch the series against the Rangers). Additionally, he is arguably the league’s best quarterback for the powerplay, which should help boost a Devils power play which was the 4th worst in hockey.
Considering what their blueline looked like three months ago, the Devils’ front office has made it clear they’re done praying for lottery balls to bounce their way. The additions of Graves and Hamilton are massive as they now have two high-end defensemen who can eat tough minutes against the league’s best talent.
Not that I’m saying this new-look defense will have the Devils back to its glory days, but considering what Devils fans have been accustomed to for the last decade, this year’s defense will sure feel like the Devils of old.
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