Despite the overwhelming success the New Jersey Devils sustained last season, they come into 2023-24 looking quite different. Eight players wore black and red last season who are donning new sweaters this year. Some left via free agency, and others were traded away. New Jerseys accrued a 6-3-1 record thus far after losing to the St. Louis Blues on Friday. Some of it has been pretty, the rest, not so much, especially losing Jack Hughes in the process. Hopefully, it’s a quick recovery. Now that we’re a month into play and hovering around the 10-game mark for each team, we checked in with reporters from each city on how former Devils are doing with their new teams.
Pittsburgh Penguins – Ryan Graves
Although the organizations are at different points of their championship windows, the expectations for the Penguins this season are raised, much like in New Jersey. That’s mostly due to new general manager Kyle Dubas adding the reigning Norris Trophy winner, Erik Karlsson. However, Ryan Graves was seen as a big add as well, signing a six-year, $27 million contract and skating as part of Pittsburgh’s top defensive pair.
Pittsburgh Hockey Now’s Dan Kingarski explains it hasn’t exactly been the smoothest transition from the Devils to the Penguins.
“Graves had a good preseason but has been shaky on the Penguins’ top pairing with Kris Letang. Graves has made a few mistakes in coverage leading to goals against and he’s been caught pinching a few times. He admitted to PHN the Penguins system is dramatically different than the defensive system in New Jersey. He appears to be pressing to find his footing with the Penguins.”
The Devils’ defense hasn’t exactly been without a blemish or two either. Fortunately, they’re finding more success than the last-place Penguins who continue to have problems.
San Jose Sharks – Mackenzie Blackwood and Fabian Zetterlund
It’s been a historically bad start for the Sharks this season. They’re currently 0-9-1, last place in the entire NHL.
Two of the regulars in their lineup suited up for the Devils last season. Believe it or not, without Mackenzie Blackwood and Fabian Zetterlund, Sheng Peng of San Jose Hockey Now says things could actually be worse.
“Where would the 0-9-1 and -34 Goal Differential Sharks be without the former Devils? Worse, if you can believe it. Zetterlund is currently on the top line with Tomas Hertl and leads the Sharks with 3 goals. Blackwood was the well-deserved Sharks Player of the Month, his 51-save Sharks debut against the Avs the lone reason why the sad sack Sharks even have a point.”
Although his numbers don’t jump off the page, it appears Blackwood has regained some form in San Jose that Devils fans have seen before. It hasn’t been enough to get the Sharks in the win column, but it’s amazing what a change in scenery can do for a player.
Zetterlund leading the Sharks in scoring comes as a surprise at first glance. San Jose possesses players like Tomas Hertl and Anthony Duclair. However, the Sharks aren’t potting many goals this year. It’s most interesting to see San Jose would be worse off without the former Devils.
Colorado Avalanche – Miles Wood and Tomas Tatar
Blackwood and Zetterlund are having far less fun than they did last season in New Jersey. However, Miles Wood and Tomas Tatar signed up with the Avalanche who are attaining similar success to the Devils. The Avs are 7-2-0 to start the season and according to Evan Rawal of Colorado Hockey Now, the former Devils are having vastly different transitions with their new clubs.
“Alright, let’s start with Wood. He’s generally been good, and done a lot of what the team expected him to do. There were two concerns with him. One, the penalties, and he’s only taken two so far this season. On the flip side, he’s drawn four, so as long as he stays on the positive side, things will be okay. The other concern was speed after his hip surgery, but he looks really fast to me. He’s negated multiple icings, off some defensive zone face-offs, the team almost has a set play to just chip it out and let Miles go get it. I know he didn’t kill penalties in New Jersey, but the Avalanche have used him there this season and he’s actually looked good. The offense is really the only thing that hasn’t been there, and he’ll need to start chipping in eventually, but he’s come pretty much as advertised so far.”
As for Tomas Tatar…
“Tatar is a little more complicated. He admitted to me yesterday that he’s thinking on the ice right now, as opposed to reacting, and still getting used to the system. It sure looks like it. For the majority of the games, he’s been pretty invisible. He’s had really small flashes when he’s been put in the top six, but they’re short and sweet. His shot generation (or lack of) is pretty concerning. He has just one shot on goal in eight games, and that lack of play driving is part of the reason why he was a healthy scratch on Wednesday. Bednar likes ‘mental resets’ for players, and I imagine he’s looking to wake Tatar up a bit with that scratch. He was back at practice on the second line yesterday, so I’m guessing he plays on Saturday.”
“Tatar has been a disappointment, but it’s still really early, and six of the 12 forwards on the Avalanche are all new, so chemistry is still developing, in addition to all the new guys adjusting to the system and the pace the Avs like to play with.”
It sounds a lot like the Wood Devils fans were used to. Maybe he’s a little more disciplined in Colorado, it must be the altitude. Tatar’s game appears much more concerning. This is something fans of New Jersey were used to seeing in the postseason. However, regular season struggles appear new.
Boston Bruins – Jesper Boqvist
When Boqvist signed in Boston, it made total sense. The Devils were ready to move on from the former second-round selection and the Bruins were in need of centers following the retirements of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. Yet, the majority of Boqvist’s season has been spent in the AHL with Providence. He’s played one game this season with the Bruins, skating for a total of 6:02. Jimmy Murphy of Boston Hockey Now explains he’s shown flashes of potential, but hasn’t taken advantage of opportunities.
“So far, he’s been a mystery. Has the speed but lacks finishing skill. He was given a chance to maybe be a PK guy, but he didn’t seize that opportunity.”
It’s interesting to see Boqvist take a step back considering he said he needed to “work his b*alls off” over the summer coming into this season to take a step forward. Although, the emergence of Matt Poitras certainly hasn’t helped keep roster spots open for Boqvist. Losing a roster spot to a 19-year-old sounds like Boqvist’s own doing.
Columbus Blue Jackets – Damon Severson
Was there a more polarizing player than Severson for New Jersey last season? Maybe. Brendan Smith, however, has certainly become the whipping boy for New Jersey this season. Some of it justified other times not so much. Regardless, Severson was traded to the Blue Jackets last season as Columbus attempted to shore up their blueline in 2023-24. Severson arrived in Columbus with Ivan Provarov and suddenly, the Jackets defense didn’t look all that bad. Mark Scheig of The Hockey Writers explains that, like his time in New Jersey, Severson’s had his ups and downs.
“Severson’s performance early on has been up and down like the rest of the Blue Jackets. The good? Since being paired with Zach Werenski, the two have found some chemistry. Until Monday night’s loss in Dallas, they were one of the best defensive pairs in terms of goals against/60. The bad? Severson was benched for the third period of a game after a costly turnover that gave momentum to the Red Wings for good. He’s had issues with turnovers that have cost his team. But at the same time, you can see the offensive influence he will eventually have once he gets more time playing with Werenski. It is an adjustment for sure but one in which progress is being made.”
It sounds a lot like Severson has picked up right where he left off. This time, just in a new city.
Calgary Flames – Yegor Sharangovich
Of all the former Devils who departed in the offseason, Devils fans seemingly had the hardest time coping with Sharangovich moving to Calgary. That feeling did a quick 180 when Devils fans learned that New Jersey acquired 30-goal scorer, Tyler Toffoli. Toffoli has certainly worked out well with the Devils as part of a dynamic duo with Jack Hughes. However, according to Randy Sportak of The Hockey News, Sharangovich is struggling much like the rest of Calgary.
“He’s hardly alone on the struggling Flames, but Sharangovich has underwhelmed so far. He was put on a line with Jonathan Huberdeau and Elias Lindholm to start camp, and it didn’t click. Sharangovich found a spark at center on the fourth line, but the Flames want him in a bigger role and continue to try him in a variety of spots, with the hopes his game will elevate. The potential is there, and maybe being on a line with Nazem Kadri will do the trick. So far, though, Sharangovich is like the vast majority of the Flames forwards in falling short of expectations.”
Those familiar with Sharangovich know he’s easy to root for. He’s a former fifth-round pick who comes from a non-traditional hockey background that scratched and clawed his way to the NHL. He impressed in his sophomore performance scoring 24 goals in New Jersey. Unfortunately, he didn’t find that success with a crowded forward group with the Devils last season. It appears there’s a lot more opportunity to move up in the lineup in Calgary. We’ll be rooting for Sharangovich from afar.