Kristy’s Devils Mailbag: Offseason Grades, Palat’s Contract & More

It is time for the second edition of Kristy’s Devils Mailbag. I reached out to New Jersey Devils fans on social media asking for questions, and once again they did not disappoint. Today, I will discuss the team’s offseason, Ondrej Palat’s contract, and which player will be a dark horse when training camp opens up.

Q: What Grade Should Fitzgerald Get for the Devils’ Offseason?

– Josh S.

It has been a busy summer for Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald. He made it a top priority to acquire a goaltender to share the net with Mackenzie Blackwood, and during the NHL Draft made a deal for Vitek Vanecek. He continued to check off boxes on his to-do list, including strengthening the blue line and adding some veteran presence to his locker room. His additions behind the bench of Andrew Brunette, Ryan McGill, and Sergei Brylin actually have fans excited about the coaching staff.

Tom Fitzgerald, general manager of the New Jersey Devils
Tom Fitzgerald, general manager of the New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

This offseason has been all about adding the right players and Fitzgerald seems to be doing just that. Palat bolsters the team’s top six and provides further leadership to the team’s young core. He also addressed the team’s depth by trading for Erik Haula and improved his blue line with the acquisitions of John Marino and Brendan Smith. He may not have landed Johnny Gaudreau or Matthew Tkachuk, but the work he has done simply can’t be ignored. Overall, I give him a B+.

Q: Do You Have Any Dark Horses Going Into Camp That You See Possibly Making the Roster?

-@JerseyJoe11_NJ

I really like this question! The one player I have talked about this summer as being a dark horse is Tyce Thompson. The 23-year-old missed a majority of the 2021-22 campaign with a torn labrum that required surgery and five months of rehabilitation. In his two appearances with the big club last season, he played on the wing alongside Jimmy Vesey and Michael McLeod. At the end of March, he was activated off injured reserve and was assigned to the team’s American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate Utica Comets, where he put up 15 points (6 goals, 9 assists) in 16 games. In the Comets’ postseason, the New York native also registered one goal and one assist in five games.

Tyce Thompson New Jersey Devils
Tyce Thompson, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

There will be an immense amount of competition when training camp opens up in a couple of weeks. A quick glance at the current roster will show that Nathan Bastian, Jesper Boqvist, Andreas Johansson, Tomas Tatar, Miles Wood, Haula, and McLeod will all likely be looking to claim a bottom-six role this season. Additionally, youngsters like Alexander Holtz, Nolan Foote, Fabian Zetterlund and Thompson will be looking to make a lasting impression. There is an expectation and hope that Holtz and Zetterlund will crack the lineup, but don’t be surprised if it is Thompson who winds up impressing the coaching staff and taking the spot instead.

Q: Would Not Making the Playoffs This Season Be Seen as a Failure in Management’s Eyes, or Not Bad as Long as the Devils Play Meaningful Games Into the Spring?

– @NJerseyans

I think anytime a team does not make the postseason, the players and coaches would consider it a failure, but fans also know there are different expectations for different organizations. A couple of months ago, I took a survey asking Devils fans what would define success for this upcoming season, and the majority felt that as long as the club was playing meaningful games in March and April it would be a success.

Having said that, I think it would be difficult for Nico Hischier and Damon Severson to step up to the podium in the spring after missing the postseason and say the season was a success. In fact, this past May it was Severson who said, “next year if we’re standing here talking this time of year while other teams are gearing up for the playoffs, it would be a huge disappointment.”

Damon Severson #28
Damon Severson #28, November 15, 2018 Philadelphia Flyers versus the New Jersey Devils. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Fitzgerald is building towards long-term success, which he has admitted is not an overnight process. I think if the team is in the hunt for a wild card spot in April, management would see it as a positive step in the right direction.

Q: Is Palat’s Contract a Bad Signing?

– @NicoHughesNJ

I actually don’t believe Palat’s contract is bad because he is providing something the team does not otherwise have. I’m not overly concerned that he is 31 years old and signed a five-year contract. The team surrounding him is exceptionally young and the need for a veteran voice became obvious. It’s one thing to bring a player in who has been around the league like a Joe Thornton or Brad Richardson, but someone with Palat’s resume is something different entirely.

Related: Palat Leaves a Legacy of Unexpected Success With Lightning

Before he left for the summer, Jesper Bratt appeared on an episode of Speak of the Devils Podcast and stated that playing with a lead was something they struggled with, and talked about being “a young scared team in the third period.” In 2019, Palat was part of the Tampa Bay Lightning team who earned the Presidents’ Trophy but was swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the postseason. Since that embarrassing elimination, Tampa Bay has captured two Stanley Cups and appeared in three consecutive Stanley Cup Finals. The experience, knowledge and leadership that Palat can bring to this young team will be invaluable in my opinion and should lead to positive results this season and beyond.

Q: Do You See Simon Nemec Making the Team as an 18-Year-Old?

– Matthew Z

To begin the 2022-23 campaign, New Jersey’s defensive core will most likely be Jonas Siegenthaler, Dougie Hamilton, Ryan Graves, Severson, Marino, and Smith. Some of the younger defensemen who played with the big club last season like Kevin Bahl, Nikita Okhotiuk, and Reilly Walsh will also be looking to earn a spot.

While I don’t believe Simon Nemec will make the team out of training camp, I do think there is a chance he makes his NHL debut at some point. Last season, 12 different defensemen suited up for New Jersey. Hopefully, they will not have the number of injuries they previously dealt with, but if there is an opportunity, I can see them giving him a look.

Q: What Are Your Expectations for Vitek Vanecek?

– @BoldCupofJoe11

The bar for goaltending is unfortunately set pretty low at this juncture. With that being said, not retiring in the next couple of weeks and remaining healthy is a good start for Vitek Vanecek. In all honestly, I expect him to provide competition and stability for Mackenzie Blackwood. His numbers the past two seasons with the Washington Capitals have been consistent and I anticipate a similar performance this season.

Q: You Have a Night Where You Can Relax And Enjoy a Pint of Ice Cream. What Show(s) Do You Consider Binge Watching?

– @danbab1981

I am such a homebody and absolutely love binging shows and reading books. My top shows to binge are Sons of Anarchy and Dexter. I honestly can’t recommend either one enough! Season 4 of Dexter is absolutely brilliant and the writing on Sons of Anarchy is as close to perfection as one can get. This past summer, my husband and I binged Schitt’s Creek, and that quickly became a favorite in our house as well.

As always, thank you so much for all your questions and keep them coming via Twitter and Instagram. If you submitted one that I did not answer, it will be part of my next mailbag. The next edition of Kristy’s Devils Mailbag will be out on Oct. 1.


Sign up for our regular 'Devils Newsletter' for all the latest.