Devils’ Acquisition of Ryan Graves Deserves More Attention & Appreciation

The New Jersey Devils made a few splashes this offseason. The biggest move was signing top defenseman Dougie Hamilton. They also landed a backup goalie in Jonathan Bernier and added another top-six option in Tomas Tatar. Big acquisitions are not possible without that first move which helps set the focus for the rest of the offseason. In this case, the first major move made by management was trading Mikhail Maltsev to the Colorado Avalanche for Ryan Graves. Despite his respectable track record, it doesn’t seem like the Graves acquisition is talked about nearly enough compared to some of the team’s other offseason moves. 

Graves’ True Defensive Impact

While he might not be an All-Star like Hamilton or a former Stanley Cup champion like Bernier, Graves still brings a lot to the table for this young Devils team. He played his first three NHL with the Avalanche organization, where he put up solid numbers. In 149 appearances, he scored 46 points (14 goals, 32 assists). While his overall scoring numbers might not be that impressive, Graves has been tremendous at maintaining puck possession during his young career, and his Corsi for percentage (CF%) was an impressive 57.4% last season.

Ryan Graves Colorado Avalanche
Ryan Graves while playing for the Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The stat is calculated based on the sum of shots on goal, missed shots, and blocked shots over the shots against missed shots against, and finally, the blocked shots at even strength. Journalist Kent Wilson stated that the average player will have a CF% ranging from 40 to 50 (from “Wilson: Don’t know Corsi? Here’s a handy-dandy primer to NHL advanced stats,” Calgary Herald, 10/6/14), which means over 55% is considered elite. 

Graves also makes his teammates better when he’s on the ice. He also led the league in plus/minus during the 2019-20 season with a staggering plus-40. Not only that, but he ranked third in the league in defensive point shares with 5.2 in that same season. While he didn’t make the All-Star team, he still received a decent amount of attention and placed 20th after the final vote. So, despite his impact in Colorado, especially during the 2019-20 campaign, many still don’t realize his true potential.

Why Was Graves Underappreciated & How Will He Impact The Devils?

Part of the reason that Graves has flown under the radar for so long is because of the defensemen that surrounded him on the Avalanche, including Cale Makar, Erik Johnson, Devon Toews, and Sam Girard. He may have been in their shadow but had he remained on the Avs’ roster, management would’ve had no choice but to expose him in the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft this summer. Once the organization realized that, they traded him rather than lose him for nothing.

Since the season is fast approaching, Devils fans should be excited and appreciative that Graves is joining the team, especially because he should fill a much-needed void. The Devils had the fourth-worst ranked defense in the NHL last season, and one of their main issues was special teams.

Ryan Graves Colorado Avalanche
Ryan Graves had a quietly impressive impact while playing with the Colorado Avalanche (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Graves contributed effectively on the penalty kill on an Avalanche team that killed 83.1% of their penalties (ranked 8th in the NHL). On the other end, his slap shot is described as “powerful” and could be of great use to the power play. He will be one of the Devils’ top go-to players on defense, and pairing him with Hamilton would be a sight to behold. Graves should also take a lot of the pressure off of the left side for players like Ty Smith and Jonas Siegenthaler, who are still young and trying to find their game.

Despite being 26 years old, he is one of the oldest players on the roster. Given his time in Colorado and also his playoff experience, he should fit in well on a very young team like the Devils.

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