Devils begin new chapter with Crawford, Murray in bid for playoff return


After the NHL Draft, free agency and other offseason moves, is examining where each team stands in preparation for the 2020-21 regular season, which is targeted to start Jan. 1. Today, the New Jersey Devils:

The New Jersey Devils have generated optimism after hiring a new coach, making three picks in the first round of the 2020 NHL Draft, and adding several players with something to prove in trades and free agency.

The Devils, who failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past two seasons and seven of the past eight, were 28-29-12 (.493 points percentage) last season and were not among the 24 teams to compete in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. 

“Where we’re at, I’m not going to pretend we’re on the verge of winning a Cup. We’re not,” general manager Tom Fitzgerald said. “Being competitive right now is the most important thing to me. Putting a competitive team on the ice that can grow together.”


[RELATED: Complete Team Reset coverage]


Lindy Ruff was hired as coach to replace Alain Nasreddine on July 9. Nasreddine, named coach when John Hynes was fired Dec. 3, will remain as an assistant.

The Devils made eight picks in the 2020 draft, including three in the first round Oct. 6: forward Alexander Holtz (No. 7), center Dawson Mercer (No. 18) and defenseman Shakir Mukhamadullin (No. 20).

They also signed goalie Corey Crawford to a two-year contract Oct. 9, one day after placing goalie Cory Schneider on unconditional waivers for the purpose of a buyout. Crawford will share the net with Mackenzie Blackwood.

“It’s a group that I feel really confident about going to and trying to help win more games,” Crawford said. “They’re very underrated.”

New Jersey added defenseman Ryan Murray in a trade from the Columbus Blue Jackets for a fifth-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft on Oct. 8, forward Andreas Johnsson in a trade from the Toronto Maple Leafs for forward Joey Anderson on Oct. 10, and defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, who signed a one-year contract Oct. 22 after three seasons with the Winnipeg Jets.

Here is what the Devils look like today:


Key arrivals

Corey Crawford, G: The 35-year-old was 16-20-3 with a 2.77 goals-against average, a .917 save percentage and one shutout in 40 games (39 starts) for the Chicago Blackhawks last season. He joins the Devils after 13 seasons and two Stanley Cup championships (2013, 2015) with the Blackhawks, but he hasn’t played more than 40 games the past two seasons because of concussions. … Ryan Murray, D: The 27-year-old scored nine points (two goals, seven assists) in 27 games for the Blue Jackets last season, when he missed almost three months because of a lower-body injury. Murray scored one goal in nine postseason games. … Andreas Johnsson, F: The 25-year-old scored 21 points (eight goals, 13 assists) in 43 games for the Maple Leafs last season. … Dmitry Kulikov, D: He scored 10 points (two goals, eight assists) and had 104 hits and 77 blocked shots in 51 games for the Jets. He turned 30 on Thursday. … Lindy Ruff, coach: He’s sixth in NHL history in wins (736) and seventh in games (1,493).

Video: Top 10 Corey Crawford saves from 2019-20


Key departures

Cory Schneider, G: Was 3-6-2 with a 3.53 GAA and .887 save percentage in 13 games (11 starts) last season. He had two seasons remaining on a seven-year contract he signed with the Devils on July 9, 2014. … Joey Anderson, F: Scored six points (four goals, two assists) in 18 games last season and seven (four goals, three assists) in 34 games as a rookie in 2018-19.


On the cusp

Janne Kuokkanen, F: He has scored three points (one goal, two assists) in five games this season on loan to Karpat of Liiga, Finland’s top professional league, and will join the Devils for training camp. The 22-year-old, acquired in a trade from the Carolina Hurricanes on Feb. 24, has scored 126 points (38 goals, 88 assists) in 164 American Hockey League games. … Ty Smith, D: The 20-year-old scored 59 points (19 goals, 40 assists) in 46 games for Spokane of the Western Hockey League and had three assists for first-place Canada in the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship. … Nolan Foote, F: He scored 33 points (15 goals, 18 assists) in 27 games as captain for Kelowna of the WHL last season. The 19-year-old, who likely will begin the season in Binghamton (AHL), was acquired in a trade from the Tampa Bay Lightning on Feb. 16.


What they still need

Another experienced defenseman. The moves to acquire Murray and Kulikov were good, but the Devils finished tied for 28th in the NHL last season in goals-against average (3.25 per game) and 26th in shots-against average (32.7 per game). Additionally, defensemen scored 16.8 percent of New Jersey’s goals (31 of 185), 25th in the NHL. Damon Severson led the group with eight.


Fantasy focus

The Devils fell way short of fantasy expectations last season, but forward Nikita Gusev was a bright spot with 44 points (13 goals, 31 assists) in 66 games during his first NHL season. Despite frequently being on the second or third line at even strength, Gusev led New Jersey in assists and scored 15 power-play points, their second most behind forward Kyle Palmieri (18). With a chance to be New Jersey’s No. 1 left wing, Gusev is a fantasy sleeper candidate from an overlooked team who should be available in the final round of most drafts. — Pete Jensen

Video: PIT@NJD: Gusev whips home wrist shot for PPG


Projected lineup

Nikita Gusev — Nico Hischier — Kyle Palmieri

Jesper BoqvistJack Hughes — Andreas Johnsson

Janne Kuokkanen — Travis ZajacJesper Bratt

Brett SeneyPavel ZachaMiles Wood

Will ButcherP.K. Subban

Ryan Murray — Damon Severson

Dmitry Kulikov — Connor Carrick

Mackenzie Blackwood

Corey Crawford

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