In a Friday night preseason finale, the New Jersey Devils traveled to Long Island to face the New York Islanders. Most of the Devils’ expected roster received the night off in the last exhibition before the regular season. The JV Devils topped a heavy NHL Islanders roster 3-0 to kick off the weekend, while sweeping the preseason.
New Jersey got the party started as they opened the scoring early in the first period. A faceoff win by Curtis Lazar sent the puck to the blueline for Santeri Hatakka. The Finnish defenseman led Max Willman streaking through the slot who deflected the puck past Ilya Sorokin to take a 1-0 lead. Sorokin locked down the remainder of the first period. However, Dawson Mercer created room and dumped a pass to Kevin Bahl at the high circle who rifled the rubber past the Islander goaltender to make it a 2-0 game. Shortly after, Simon Nemec took advantage of a turnover and scored a shorthanded breakaway to give New Jersey a 3-0 lead.
Akira Schmid closed the door in the second period to earn the shutout. He made 31 saves on 31 shots as the Devils went 7-0-0 in the preseason.
Santeri Hatakka stuck around with New Jersey for the entire training camp and preseason. A throw-in piece in the Timo Meier trade, New Jersey didn’t even realize they were receiving a serviceable NHLer in return until they saw him on the ice. He showed out at New Jersey’s development camp this summer and he’s continued to impress the Devils brass in the preseason.
New Jersey deployed Hatakka on the top defensive pair during Friday night’s matchup. He skated alongside veteran Brendan Smith. It was a strong first period for the 22-year-old. He ended the opening frame collecting a primary assist on Willman’s goal and helping the Devils create 11 scoring chances versus allowing just two, per Natural Stat Trick.
Hatakka’s strong play didn’t stop in the first 20 minutes. For the rest of the game, he played well in his own end of the ice, limiting the opposition to low-danger scoring chances. The Devils prospect showed impressive skating ability and edgework as well, transitioning the puck from New Jersey’s end of the ice to the offensive zone.
In one instance, Kyle Palmieri used his speed to push past Brendan Smith behind Schmid’s net. Hatakka, picking up Smith’s man, stuck with Palmieri, negating his scoring chance with excellent positioning and stick-on-puck defense.
Hatakka finished the night at the top of the Corsi leaderboard with a 69.23 CF% (18 chances for, eight against), first among Devils skaters. He added an impressive 71.32 xGF%.
Many are looking for Simon Nemec to break through and claim a spot on the Devils roster. However, Hatakka has given Nemec a good run for his money as a dependable defenseman who does all the little things right. To this point, Hatakka has certainly been more impressive than Smith and Colin Miller on the blue line. He’s waiver-exempt, but he’s certainly given Lindy Ruff and Tom Fitzgerald something to think about on whether he stays in New Jersey or heads to Utica.
Schmid Rebounds vs. Islanders
In his last start, Schmid faced the Islanders at home and didn’t have a very strong performance. He allowed five goals and ended the night with a .750 SV%.
Schmid flipped the script on Friday night against a heavy Islanders NHL roster. The Islanders had a strong first period, putting 11 shots on net, all of which he turned aside. However, in the second period, the Islanders pushed the gas pedal even harder. New York finished the middle frame, outchancing New Jersey 18-2. Out of 18 chances, four were created in high-danger zones. Regardless, Schmid turned aside all 12 shots he faced in the second period to help maintain the Devils lead.
The rebound performance is encouraging. Schmid tracked pucks very well. He had excellent vision through traffic. The Islanders couldn’t overcome his rebound control, and he was even lights out 1on1 when Casey Cizikas was sprung for a breakaway chance.
Earlier, Oliver Wahlstrom snuck into the Devils slot and put a high-danger shot on Schmid. He stopped the initial shot, as well as Anders Lee’s follow-up chance for an impressive back-to-back save sequence.
Schmid accrued a 100% HDSV% and an expected goals against of 1.83 in the shutout performance.
Following the strong preseason finale, New Jersey can feel confident in both Vitek Vanecek and Schmid heading into the regular season.
Can Max Willman Earn a Contract?
The only player the Devils brought in on a professional tryout this fall was Max Willman. The former Philadelphia Flyer had his last chance to prove himself and earn a contract after the preseason.
Willman had a strong game, whether it was an act of desperation or not, helping get New Jersey on the scoresheet first. His deflection goal was a signal of his positional awareness as it was an impressive deflection in the slot while moving his feet. He’s not going to rack it up on the scoresheet, but after the Devils won the offensive zone draw, Willman found himself in the right place on the ice. Keeping it simple and doing the little things right on the ice is the way he’s going to earn himself a contract.
Willman ended Friday night’s contest toward the top of the analytical leaderboard. He was fourth among skaters with a 58.33 CF% and third with a 72.13 xGF%.
The Devils have 41/50 contracts on the books. They could afford another one at the league minimum. They could do worse than Willman as he’d be an effective depth player that can float between New Jersey and Utica when necessary.
- Trying to earn a contract, Max Willman was excellent in his final chance to impress New Jersey. He scored the opening goal on an impressive deflection and was one of the top Devils skaters on Friday analytically. He could be a scrappy addition as a depth forward between New Jersey and Utica.
- Nemec’s offensive prowess is obvious. However, he could still use some work on his defense. While on the ice, he was outchanced 11-18 skating alongside Kevin Bahl.