As there were a variety of players in the New Jersey Devils lineup on the defensive side this season, all performed in their own ways with good traits and ones that needed to be improved on. This year the team had Damon Severson, Ty Smith, Ryan Murray, P.K. Subban, Will Butcher, Matt Tennyson and Connor Carrick all contribute at least 10 games to the defense. Let’s take a look at each player and what they added, or did not add, to the 2020-21 NHL season.
Damon Severson: B
Severson played the most games of any Devils defenseman this season (56) and was able to get 21 points as well with three-goal and 18 assists. He went on a four-game assist streak from Jan. 28 – Feb. 15, where he collected an assist in each one and had his only multi-point game versus the Philadelphia Flyers on April 29, in which he had two assists. He was decently consistent throughout and added three more assists in the last four games of the season.
The 26-year-old was good to provide some veteran experience to developing players like Smith this season as he has been with the Devils since 2014-15. He played well with Smith, and the two were a good defensive pair when together, but Severson’s overall game was subpar. It would be beneficial for the team to see more from him if he would step up his defensive play a bit and work on creating a more solid defense for a team that would greatly benefit from it. For now, he played okay and is a decent fit into New Jersey’s defensive setup.
Ty Smith: A-
This rookie defenseman was a pleasant surprise to a team that needed better defense. From the minute he stepped on the ice, Smith started to prove his spot on the Devils. Scoring his first NHL goal in his NHL debut was especially sweet and gave him some great momentum to move on with the rest of the season. He was able to total two goals and 21 assists in his first season, ranking 10th in rookie points and staying near the top of that leaderboard in the beginning of the season. He was reliable for getting shots on net from the point, getting it through anyone that might have been in the way.
Smith ended the season with 69 shots in 48 games and provided a bit of offense with his defensive game, but his defense did struggle a bit. The 21-year-old is just starting out his professional career and still has room to grow as a young player, and since he is on the smaller side, he was overpowered on the ice often. Being weak on his stick will improve a ton with size and age, though Smith most definitely had a very strong rookie season.
Some highlights of his play included five nights with two assists, something he had no problem raking up this season. In his first five games, Smith totaled six points, including that first goal and five assists, while running a five-game point streak to start his time in New Jersey. He was consistent in contributing throughout, something the Devils needed this year for stability, and Smith was able to put up assists through the whole season to help his teammates score goals. Looking ahead for him seems promising, and hopefully, his play will only improve from here.
Ryan Murray: B-
Nothing good and nothing bad came from this 27-year-old defenseman. In his first season with the Devils, after coming over from the Columbus Blue Jackets, Murray did not score any goals but was able to notch 14 assists. The highlight of this year for him was the six assists he rallied up in just three straight games from March 30 – April 4, one of which he came away with three assists against the Washington Capitals.
Murray played in 48 games this season and was an okay complement to the Devils defense, but like the other defenseman, it would be nice to see a little more from him, although this one was neutral for him. He has a good amount of NHL time, so he will be another key player to provide some depth and experience to this team.
P.K. Subban: C+
Subban is definitely the most experienced defenseman on this team. The 32-year-old had 19 points this year with five goals and 14 assists in a season where he did step up from the previous season but did not overly achieve either.
He was definitely reliable on defense and was able to work well on each pairing he played with, no matter who that was. His 19 points were one more than what he totaled last season, but we should be seeing more from a defenseman who has so much experience and who we know can put up impressive seasons. Subban adds personality and drive to this team, and that is always displayed, and it especially helped in this season that was much different than most. He was able to keep the team on their feet while trying to stay positive as their season went downhill as games went on.
Subban had a few spurts of points throughout the season, but his points came more consistently than all at once. He had a slow start, only putting up one assist in the first seven, but after that came a three-game assists streak. He notched his first goal of the season on Feb. 20, versus the Buffalo Sabres about a month into the season and after that came a few games with points and a few games without until he had to miss a bunch at the end of the season from contracting COVID-19. As the team’s defense does need some help, Subban playing better will be the biggest stepping stone in this component of the Devils’ success, so hopefully, he can get it together and have a breakout season if not next season, then in the near future.
Will Butcher: C+
Butcher played in 23 games this year and scored a goal along with getting 10 assists. He took a step back this season as well as not playing as much as he did in previous years, but he did have some good offense going in the games he did play with the Devils. He was able to collect 28 blocks to give the team some needed defense while still contributing offensively.
In his first three games of the season, Butcher collected a goal and two assists, leading him on a three-game point streak from Feb.16-20. Although he did not put up many points after that until towards the latter half of the year, on April 20, he had three assists against the Pittsburgh Penguins and then went on to collect five more assists in the last 11 games he played. Making the most out of the games he had was key in having a somewhat satisfying season for him, and he did just that.
Matt Tennyson: C+
Tennyson played in 21 games this season, scoring his first and only goal as a Devil, so far on April 22 at Pittsburgh. He also collected two assists; one in the first game of the season and the other on May 8, against the New York Islanders. As a 31-year-old, Tennyson is also able to provide experience, being around the league since the 2012-13 season. Adding to his defensive play, he had 25 blocks and 32 hits this season, contributing what he could in the games he played. Like Murray, nothing amazing and nothing too bad came from Tennyson. He is a decent veteran to add to the lineup, and hopefully, more points will come from future years.
Connor Carrick: A-
Despite playing not as many games as other Devils defenseman, Carrick definitely made a point to be noticed each time he stepped on the ice. He was really good in the short amount of time he had with just 11 games played near the end of the season and was able to notch a goal and an assist in the process.
He really helped out the Devils defense with the amount of blocks he collected and how he was persistent on each shift with defensive play. The 27-year-old averaged a little over two blocks a game while averaging around 18 minutes of ice-time in each one he played. It would have been good to see him play some more before so late in the season, considering how well he played in the games he did dress for. Carrick was a reliable option and gave New Jersey just what they needed defensively in such a short amount of time.
Rounding Up the Devils Defense
Overall, along with the rest of the team, New Jersey’s defense needs to be better if they want to keep goals out of the net and improve on seasons beyond this year. As there were some negatives intertwined into the defense, there were also some bright spots and adding young, developing players like Smith could be really beneficial for the Devils if all goes well. Combining fresh faces with players who already have NHL experience will fit well for the team if they can up their defensive play a bit while also continuing to contribute to the offense.
Sam is currently Managing Editor, and used to be Sports Editor, of The Montclarion, Montclair State University’s student-run multimedia newspaper. She’ll be earning her Sports Media and Journalism degree from there in Spring 2021. A hockey fan since she was a young girl, she covers the Montclair State men’s team as well as the Metropolitan Riveters and New Jersey Devils for The Hockey Writers.