It’s the most commercialized time of the year! Feb. 14 is a day synonymous with love, but over time Valentine’s Day has become one of the most commercialized holidays of the year. For some, the day and expectations surrounding it result in disappointment, similar to how fans describe the first half of the New Jersey Devils season. Head coach Lindy Ruff’s team has a current record of 17-27-5 and sits seventh in the Metro Division with 39 points. At this point, fans know what the team has done but on a day where love conquers all, let’s look at a few Devils players that fans have fallen in love with this 2021-22 season.
There is no denying that Dawson Mercer has been a bright light for New Jersey this season. Whether playing or taking part in an off-ice interview, he has won the hearts of Devils’ fans everywhere with his on-ice swagger and gleeful personality. The 20-year-old exceeded expectations by making the roster out of training camp and has impressed in all 49 games he has appeared in this season. He may not be as flashy as some other rookies in the league, but he is responsible on both ends of the ice and has a knack for making his teammates better.
“Mercer is the one player I have really enjoyed watching this year,” said long-time fan Leonardo Torres. “His hockey IQ and skills are outstanding for a player his age. He brings energy, and his subtle moves with the puck are amazing to watch, you would not think he is a rookie.”
Coach Ruff has praised his youngest player all season and continues to be impressed with his ability to handle anything the coaching staff throws at him, noting that the physical side of the game has not bothered him. In fact, during a recent game against the St. Louis Blues, he went after Niko Mikkola after he laid a big hit on Jesper Boqvist. The rookie did not shy away from the opposing defenseman, who had a clear height and weight advantage over the Newfoundland native.
He has been a top 10 rookie in the league since October and has earned at least a point in 64.7% of the Devils wins this season. His performance night after night would leave Uncle Jesse saying, “have mercy.”
This season defenseman Dougie Hamilton appeared in 30 games, the lowest among the team’s top six blueliners. He missed time in early November and has not suited up for a Devils game since Jan. 2 because of a broken jaw suffered against the Washington Capitals. It did not take long for fans to fall in love with the 6-foot-6 defenseman, in fact, it’s safe to say for most it was love at first sight.
Hamilton was one of the biggest free agents this past offseason, and locking him up for the next seven seasons addressed a need that the Devils have had for a long time. His offensive skill and ability to quarterback the power play make him a crucial member of the roster moving forward. Before his injury, he averaged over 21 minutes of ice time and notched 20 points (seven goals and 13 assists). He wasted no time making a statement with his new team as he scored 17 seconds into his Devils debut.
Since the 2016-17 season, he has finished in the top 15 of Norris Trophy voting as the best defenseman in the league, and last season finished a career-high fourth. At 28-years-old he is playing in his 10th season and is on his fourth NHL team. With so much buzz around him, it is not a surprise that his jersey is a top seller at the team store in Prudential Center, along with captain Nico Hischier.
“I think fans appreciate Hamilton because it is the first time in almost 20 seasons that the Devils have a bonafide number one defenseman, said Jeremy Knoepfler, who has been a fan of the team since the 1990s. “Despite his injury, he has lived up to the expectations from his first game and is someone New Jersey can build a defense around.”
The young Swede is the guy in the romantic comedy that was there the whole time, but the girl doesn’t realize he is the one until the last 15 minutes of the movie. Bratt has provided consistent offensive numbers with at least 30 points in every season with the Devils. In the past, he has been overshadowed by Taylor Hall and Jack Hughes, but this season he has the undivided attention of Devils’ fans.
The speedy winger had a slow start to the season but has made a name for himself not just in New Jersey but around the league over the past few months. At 5-foot-10, he is not the biggest player, but his speed makes him a threat to the opposing team every night. He leads the Devils in virtually every offensive category and has 121 shots on the season, which is the most among his teammates.
“Jesper had a brutal start to the season but has since become the Devil’s most consistent player,” said fan Jim McGrath. “He is close to being a point-per-game player and is a catalyst on offense. He has always shown flashes of his ability, but to see him put it together this year has been the highlight of the season. At only 23-years-old Bratt will continue to improve, and I’m excited to see what he can do for seasons to come… hopefully in a Devils’ uniform.”
Honorable Mention: Nathan Bastian
They say if you love something, let it go. If it comes back to you, it’s yours forever. The Devils left Nathan Bastian exposed during the Seattle Expansion Draft and was selected, but it was not long until the 6-foot-4 winger was reunited with the fans who were devastated to see him go. Since his return, he has become a crucial member of the Devils’ first power-play unit and has been welcomed back into the lineup with open arms.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and is a credentialed correspondent covering the New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettos_NHL and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.