An article appeared on NHL.com this evening by Wes Crosby stating that according to Devils’ General Manager Tom Fitzgerald, the “Devils could trade their first-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft.”
While this is not a strange thing to report, since, really, the Devils can do anything with their own pick, it is an interesting look into where the Devils want to go this offseason.
Fitzgerald told Crosby that the pick could be traded to “allow the Devils to acquire an established player to complement a core of young forwards.”
As Fitzgerald noted: “I said this two drafts ago (2020), when we had the three first-round picks, I’m open to whatever can help our team improve. If that is using a pick like that, wherever it may be, to help bring in a player that we know, and feel, will help impact the results that we are looking for, absolutely.”
Fitz continued by saying, “That’s my job is to improve our hockey club thorough all the assets that we have.”
Crosby brought up the team’s goaltending situation over the last two seasons.
In 2021-22 in particular, the Devils “used a team-record seven goalies” with Mackenzie Blackwood – the projected Devils’ “one-A” goalie – finishing with a 9-10-4 record and a 3.39 goals against average and .892 save percentage over 24 starts and 25 appearances.
Jonathan Bernier, who was signed to be the team’s latest “one-B” goalie, played just ten games total with eight of those starts and had a 4-4-1 record (3.08 GAA and .902 save percentage) prior to having his season end on December 3 with a hip injury and surgery.
Fitzgerald, according to Crosby, said: “I’ve never hid from it. I’ve never dodged any bullets on where we need to improve. I’m still on that path. Both these goalies know where I stand. Competition will be part of that department going forward, whether Jonathan Bernier is 100 percent come that time. I’m not sure that’s going to be real.
“There will be competition in goal. I owe that, not only to the players and coaching staff, our fanbase, our ownership, everybody who’s invested in our team. … We need another NHL goalie to challenge and be able to play lots of games for us. I don’t know who that is.”
Crosby also talked about Lindy Ruff returning as Devils coach next season.
Ruff, who owns a 46-76-16 record with the Devils, is expected to come back behind the bench for 2022-23. Fitzgerald, however, said that “[t]here are areas that have to grow and develop. That’s something that Lindy and I had a very frank conversation about. Supporting him at this moment is something I believe is important because of the snapshot of all the positives I’ve seen from our players, how they respond to him. It’s something I can’t ignore.”
Crosby then segued that into a discussion of Jesper Bratt’s contract situation. Bratt is set to be a restricted free agent this summer and Fitzgerald sees signing him as a “priority.”
Fitzgerald said “Jesper Bratt is a big part of our future. We want Jesper Bratt here long-term. That’s my job is to work out a deal with his agent at some point. Offer sheets, I can’t control that. He has arbitration rights. We know that. So again, the goal is to get Jesper Bratt under contract and be part of the puzzle that we’re building here.
“Realistically, prices are also part of the puzzle. That’s where we have to figure out where we’re at with him. But absolutely, we need Jesper Bratt in our lineup. We know what kind of player he is. He makes us better.”
Where Fitzgerald said that the Devils need to switch things up is at forward. He acknowledged that with smallish skill players like Bratt, Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, the Devils have “a lot of the same up front.”
Crosby mentioned that the aim for New Jersey would be “to surround the young talent with a heavier lineup, one that could consistently reach the playoffs and compete once there.”
Fitzgerald told him: “No more excuses, ‘Oh, we’re the youngest team in the League. Guys know how ot play. Guys know what the standards are and the expectations of what we’re trying to build here and the culture we want to build. We all have to be pulling the same way.
“You may not like like certain things, but you have to be good teammates. You have to challenge each other. We need to take that step.”
The NHL Draft Lottery takes place on May 10 at 6:30 PM ET on ESPN and ESPN+ in the United States and SN, SN NOW and TVA Sports in Canada. According to Crosby, the “Devils have the fifth-best odds (8.5 percent) for the first Lottery Draw.”