The NHL season started almost a week ago, but the New Jersey Devils are playing only their second game of the season tonight against the Seattle Kraken. In this edition of Devils news and notes, we’ll go over some injury news, plus some reinforcements returning to the lineup as early as tonight. We’ll also look at Alex Holtz and the Utica Comets’ start to the AHL season. And to wrap things up, an update on some of the team’s top prospects across the globe.
Severson’s Return Imminent; Smith Getting Closer
The Devils began their season without two of their top-four defensemen in Ty Smith and Damon Severson, who both got injured during the preseason. Fortunately, it appears both are close to returning to game action. Severson and Smith were participants in practice yesterday, with both wearing full-contact jerseys. Severson said he expects to be good to go tonight, while head coach Lindy Ruff said Smith could need another few days.
Getting Severson back should be a significant boon to the Devils’ blue line. He’s one of the team’s top puck-moving defenders and will be able to help them push their offense when Dougie Hamilton isn’t on the ice. The same is true of Smith for whenever he returns to the lineup. Once he’s back, the Devils’ second pair should consist of Smith and Severson, with Jonas Siegenthaler and P.K. Subban on the third pair.
The Devils’ lack of games to this point also played to their advantage. Sure, it would’ve been nice to see more than two Devils games in the first seven days of the season. But that light schedule allowed Smith and Severson to heal up, and the team should only end up having missed them for minimal time.
In the meantime, the Devils’ defense pairs should look something like this until Smith rejoins the lineup:
- Ryan Graves – Hamilton
- Siegenthaler – Severson
- Colton White – Subban
Siegenthaler played quite well in a 4-3 win against the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night. White held his own as well and should fit right in with Subban on the third pair. The Kraken are coming off a brutal beatdown at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers last night and have struggled to generate shots and chances at five-on-five to start the season. So the Devils’ defense should have a favorable matchup, at least for tonight.
Blackwood, Wood Still Not Practicing
Smith and Severson weren’t the only preseason injuries the Devils had to deal with. Miles Wood and Mackenzie Blackwood also missed time, though in different circumstances. Wood got injured in a preseason game against the Washington Capitals, while Blackwood is still rehabbing from offseason surgery on his heel.
Blackwood’s injury is of more significant concern. He was supposed to play the full 60 minutes of the Devils’ final preseason game. But he had an inconclusive COVID test, plus a power outage at the Prudential Center, that canceled those plans. Still, the fact that he was supposed to play 60 minutes seemed to indicate he’d be ready to start the regular season. So did he suffer a setback? That seems like a pretty reasonable assumption to make:
Fortunately, the Devils seem to be in good hands with Jonathan Bernier, who played well in the team’s regular-season opener. At the same time, they’ll need to rely on Blackwood at some point this season, especially once the schedule gets tougher. Hopefully, his setback wasn’t significant and that he’ll be back on the ice sooner than later.
As for Wood, he scored at a 25-goal pace last season, which would’ve been a career-high for him. The Devils’ depth up front is quite solid, but having Wood back in the lineup could really give the team the ability to roll four lines. He played well with Michael McLeod last season, and having Jimmy Vesey as a linemate could again give the Devils a formidable fourth line.
Holtz Shines in AHL Debut
It was a bit of a surprise to see the Devils send Alex Holtz down to the AHL to begin the season. But if his first game with the Comets was any indication, he might not be in the AHL for long. Holtz scored two highlight-reel goals and was denied on two breakaways in the third period. He finished with seven shots on goal and could’ve easily had a hat trick at the very least.
Holtz had a good preseason with the Devils and finished with an expected goals percentage of 52.8 percent and tied Pavel Zacha for the team lead in points. He’s a scoring threat who has an incredible shot and underrated playmaking ability. So if he keeps scoring in the AHL and it’s clear the Devils need some more offensive punch in their lineup, it probably won’t be long before he gets a call-up.
Devils Prospects Quick Hits
- Holtz wasn’t the only Devils prospect to impress in the Comets’ first AHL game of the season. Tyce Thompson and Fabian Zetterlund finished with two assists, while defenseman Reilly Walsh totaled three. Nico Daws made 25 saves on 27 shots in his North American pro debut as well.
- Chase Stillman, who the Devils drafted with the 29th overall pick at the 2021 NHL Draft, has totaled six points in his first six games with the Sudbury Wolves (OHL) this season. It’s his first action in the OHL since 2019-20 after the league canceled its 2020-21 campaign due to the COVID pandemic.
- Samu Salminen, who was a third-round pick of the Devils at the 2021 NHL Draft, has 15 points in 13 games with Jokerit U20 in the Finnish Junior League. He plans to play for the University of Denver during the 2022-23 NCAA season.
- Jakub Málek is up to a .933 save percentage in 10 games with VHK Vsetin in the Czech2 — the Czech Republic’s second division. At 19 years old, he should be a prime contender for the Czech Republic’s national team at the 2022 World Junior Championships.
- After scoring only two points in 12 games last season, Arseni Gritsyuk is off to a strong start in the KHL, with seven points in 14 games. He’s playing on Avangard Omsk’s third line and is seeing regular minutes on the power play.
- Luke Hughes, the younger brother of Devils center Jack Hughes, is already impressing with the Michigan Wolverines, as he has four points in his first four games as a freshman. The fourth overall pick in 2021 is quickly showing why he was worthy of a top-five pick this past summer.
That wraps up this edition of Devils news and notes. Make sure to stay tuned to The Hockey Writers for the latest NHL and Devils coverage with the regular season underway.
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Advanced stats from Natural Stat Trick
Alex Chauvancy is a New Jersey Devils writer for The Hockey Writers who has a penchant for advanced stats, prospects, signings and trades. He previously wrote for Devils Army Blog, a New Jersey Devils fan blog, from 2015-2017