The New Jersey Devils have played two games this season. The team has won both matchups, and these victories are the result of a team effort. There are nine different Devils players with at least a point. Both Jack Hughes and Ryan Graves lead the team with three points. I decided to focus on three players who have been rock solid in their position so far, beginning with a player who has so far delivered on everything that was expected when he signed with the club.
It seems like the Devils have been looking for a reliable goaltender to complete their tandem for years. It may be too early to say, but it appears they found him. Jonathan Bernier has been in the league for 14 seasons and has the experience that a young player like Mackenzie Blackwood can utilize and learn from. While Blackwood starts the season on injured reserve, the spotlight has been on Bernier who has delivered in his first two appearances.
“He’s fantastic. Great guy, I’ve gotten to know him a little bit off the ice as well, and nothing but good things to say about him there,” said Damon Severson. “On the ice he has been rock solid for us. His rebound control is great, and he plays the puck well and gives us confidence to play in front of him, so it’s been fun.”
Over the first week of the season, he has faced 56 shots and made 51 saves. At times it may have seemed he was not fully tested in net, but during last night’s game against the Seattle Kraken, he made a couple of saves that got fans out of their seats.
“He has given us a chance to win,” said head coach Lindy Ruff on Bernier. “I mean we won both games, and he made the save at crucial times. I like his game.”
It could be said that Tom Fitzgerald’s trade for Graves was overshadowed by the signing of Dougie Hamilton. While Hamilton has delivered in his first two games as a Devil, it has been Graves who has impressed me the most on the Devils back end. He has quietly played a defensively sound game, and play-by-play announcer Steve Cangialosi described him best: he is subtle but effective.
Related: Devils’ Acquisition of Ryan Graves Deserves More Attention & Appreciation
In the Devils opener against the Chicago Blackhawks, Graves earned the lone assist on Jack Hughes’ impressive overtime goal to seal the Devils’ first victory of the season.
“I mean just give it Jack early, and kind of let him do it,” said Graves with a chuckle when asked about the overtime goal. “I was trying to open up a lane, drive the net, and keep the defenseman honest and push him back. It was a really nice play by Jack, so it was cool.”
Last night Graves continued to make subtle and effective plays. Notably his long pass to Tomáš Tatar who set up Dawson Mercer for his first NHL goal. He added his second assist of the night on Severson’s goal. In addition to Graves point production, he leads all Devils with a plus-7. I am confident in saying the modest 6-foot-5 defenseman is the stay-at-home defenseman New Jersey has been desperately looking for.
Mercer is the kid who keeps on impressing. In his first career game, he earned an assist on Andreas Johnsson’s first goal of the season. In his second career game, he scored his first NHL goal during the first period against the Seattle Kraken. He has quickly quieted any doubters who thought he needed more time to develop before entering the NHL.
Graves, Hamilton and Johnsson immediately swarmed Mercer in celebration while Tatar made sure to get the youngster the puck from the Kraken’s net. The milestone was even more special knowing his parents were in the stands to celebrate. Mercer joins both Hughes and Hischier who all scored their first NHL goal on October 19.
“It was great. When the defenseman went down, and I saw the pass coming I tried to get it off as quick as possible, ” said Mercer after last night’s game. “It worked out in the end, and I’m pretty happy I got that one out of the way.”
Within this very small sample size, the Devils have been an exciting and fun team to watch. Obviously, there are things that need attention, but overall fans can see a difference between last season and now. The best part of the past two wins is that they have been from a team effort. I could have picked a few other guys to focus on, and it is refreshing to have options. Leave a comment below and tell me who you have been impressed with so far this season.
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.