New Jersey Devils’ New Look for the 2020-2021 Season

After making significant changes to hockey operations last spring, hiring Lindy Ruff as the team’s head coach in July, and changing the team’s on-ice personnel, the Devils look very different at the start of their 2020-2021 training camp.

Training camp began yesterday and will run through January 13th. The Devils brought in 38 players (including Nico Hischier, who is injured and will not be on the ice to start camp, but not including Jesper Bratt, who has yet to sign a contract). After medicals and a meet and greet with the media (over Zoom) yesterday, on-ice work started today.

But, before we get to the specifics of camp, let’s first review the changes that were made to the Devils’ organization, both on and off the ice, over the last six months.

Hockey Operations Changes

The Devils’ changes actually began early last season, with the parting of the ways between the team and both Head Coach John Hynes and General Manager Ray Shero. Alain Nasreddine and Tom Fitzgerald were both promoted and named interim head coach and interim GM, respectively. In early July, Lindy Ruff was named head coach and Nasreddine remains on staff as his assistant coach. On the same day, July 9th, the word “interim” was removed from Tom Fitzgerald’s job description and the title of Executive Vice President was added. In the early fall, the Devils filled out their coaching staff–Mark Recchi was added as an assistant on September 8th, and Chris Taylor and goaltending coach Dave Rogalski were added on October 23rd.

Trades and Free Agent Signings

Prior to the trade deadline last February, it was obvious that the Devils had to make a change on direction. It was not just the team’s won-loss record at the time that necessitated the pivot, it was a change in how the game was being played in the NHL. An up-tempo game played by younger skaters was the way to win in the new new NHL and New Jersey was just not built that way. It was time for a big change. And so, first, Taylor Hall and Blake Speers were traded to Arizona in December of 2019. What followed were four significant trades in February, sending long-time captain and defenseman Andy Greene, offensive defenseman Sami Vatenan, forward Blake Coleman, and RW Wayne Simmonds to other clubs in order to obtain young talent. In came RW/C Nick Merkley (age 23), C Nathan Schnarr (age 21), D Kevin Bahl (age 20), LW Nolan Foote (age 20), D David Quenneville (age 22), and LW Janne Kuokkanen (age 22), as well as Arizona’s 1st round selection in 2020 (the 18th overall pick—RW Dawson Mercer), Carolina’s 3rd round pick in the 2020 draft (84th overall pick—G Nico Daws), Arizona’s 2021 3rd round pick, New York Islander’s 2nd round 2021 pick, and Buffalo’s 5th round pick in 2021.

In addition to stocking up on young prospects and picks with these trades, on October 8th, 2020, the Devils acquired top-four defenseman Ryan Murray from Columbus. At age 27, Murray, who was injured for most of last year’s shortened season, is in the prime of his career. He was exchanged for a 2021 NJD 5th round pick. With lots of cap room, this trade was a boon for the Devils, who were able to use the Blue Jackets’ lack of cap room to New Jersey’s best advantage.

On the same day that Murray was signed, the Devils waived long-time New Jersey netminder Cory Schneider, for the purposes of buying out his contract. By the end of the next day, October 9th, the Devils had signed veteran goalie Corey Crawford to a two-year contract. Crawford could serve both as a solid influence between the pipes and as a mentor to the younger Mackenzie Blackwood.

Over the next two weeks, New Jersey made three more trades: (1) sending Joey Anderson to Toronto for LW Andreas Johnsson; (2) the trade of Blake Coleman to Tampa Bay for LW Nolan Foote (age 20), G Scott Wedgewood, and a 2020 first round pick (Vancouver’s pick number 20–D Shakir Mukhamadullin–which had been previously acquired by Tampa Bay); and (3) the signing of free agent D Dmitry Kulikov to a one-year deal.

Which brings us up to date. But….

Who Is in Training Camp?

Of the 38 players in training camp, five are goaltenders, 13 are defensemen, and 20 are forwards.

As to goalies, both Mackenzie Blackwood and Corey Crawford are expected be the netminders on the Devils’ roster to start the season. Of Gilles Senn, Evan Cormier and Scott Wedgewood, who are also in camp, it is organizational returnee Wedgewood who will likely be on the “taxi squad” for New Jersey.

There are 13 defensemen in camp, including all the presumed starters for the team. Expect Ryan Murray, PK Subban, Dmitry Kulikov, Damon Severson, Will Butcher, and Connor Carrick to take the starting roles. Although there will be competition from the outstanding prospect Ty Smith.

Where there are open spots though with the Devils is up front. Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, Travis Zajac, and Pavel Zacha are sure things down the middle, with Andreas Johnsson, Kyle Palmieri, Nikita Gusev, Jesper Boqvist, Miles Wood, and the unsigned Jesper Bratt on the wings. But that leaves at least three spots open. Leading contenders on the wings are Nick Merkley and Janne Kuokkanen, but the competition is wide open.

Taxi Squad

Remember, there are a total of four to six players that are allowed to be on the “taxi squad,” in addition to at least 13 forwards on the roster. One of those slots will almost certainly be Wedgewood, and one will be a defenseman. That leaves a lot of good competition happening over the next two weeks up front.

We will be covering the competition. Plus, the Devils are providing interviews, live programming, and analysis on New JerseyDevils.com.

About the Author

Leslie Treff

Leslie Treff is NY Sportsday's Hockey Editor. She has been covering the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils for more than 15 seasons. Leslie is a recognized expert in hockey prospects and has served as a scout for several independent agencies. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, in her former life, Leslie was an attorney in the judiciary in New York City.

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