Who is Sami Vatanen and What Does He Bring to New Jersey Devils?

ANAHEIM, CA - NOVEMBER 9: Sami Vatanen
ANAHEIM, CA - NOVEMBER 9: Sami Vatanen /

Who is Sami Vatanen and what does he bring to the Devils? This is what popped into my mind first when I woke up this morning to the news that the Devils had acquired Vantanen from Anaheim for, one of my personal favorites, Adam Henrique, Joseph Blandisi and a 2018 3rd round pick. Putting my mixed emotions aside, lets delve right into what Vatanen brings to the table.

After watching Sportsnet’s interview with Vatanen, I was happy to hear that he’s excited about joining the Devils and reuniting with Kyle Palmieri. It’s always good to hear that a player has a positive attitude after a trade; but it was even nicer to hear that he holds the franchise in high regard and that he is looking forward to taking a leadership role with the team.

I went back and watched tape of Vatanen and reviewed some important stats, as well.  While only 5’10, 183 lbs. Vatanen certainly plays bigger than his size and, when healthy, has averaged between 19-22 minutes of ice time per game. That’s a fair amount of ice time for an undersized defenseman, which certainly says a lot about his play at both ends of the ice.

If you look at some highlights of Vatanen through the years; in Finland, Norfolk and Anaheim, several things immediately jump out at you. Sami Vatanen Highlights

  1. He is incredibly fast and moves well both with and without the puck.
  2. He can quarterback a power play with the best of the best. His ability to move and control the puck shines through on the PP. He seemed to be a huge part of the Ducks PP and always seemed to be at the center of play.
  3. He possess an incredible slap shot and a wicked wrist shot. One goal in particular stands out. A power play slapper from the point to beat a seemingly helpless Corey Crawford of Chicago. The puck literally moves so quickly that I had to run back the tape on slow motion a few times to appreciate the beauty of the shot.
  4. His speed and superior puck possession skills often result in some of the prettiest end to end rushes that you’ll ever see. Watch some the highlights and notice how well he uses his body to shield the puck to advance on defenders, creating some excellent scoring chances and scoring some beautiful goals.
  5. For a guy who’s small in stature, he sure doesn’t shy away from contact, check out this big hit on Gabriel Landeskog. It’s perfectly legal and shows a tremendous sense of on ice awareness.
  6. Vatanen is a right handed shot, something the Devils have desperately needed since the trade of Adam Larsson. People tend to underestimate the need for balance between left and right handed shots, but this is a bigger issue than one might think, especially on the power play. I will go into this topic in more detail in another article but for now, let’s stick to Sami.
  7. Vatanen is terrific on the shootout. If you look at some of the tape, you can see that he has scored some amazing shootout goals; never a bad thing, especially when the difference between making the playoffs and playing golf can be a single point.

Vatanen did miss the first nine games of the season with a shoulder injury, but he has played an average of 21:17 over the 14 games he has played, certainly an indication of his value both defensively and offensively. While his durability has always been a question, should he be able to remain healthy and put in 20+ minutes of ice time per game, he should have a tremendous effect on this team.

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Just to summarize, Vatanen brings a right hand shot to a defense that sorely needs it. He will add another dimension to the power play with his superior puck control ability, passing and elite shooting skills. As a scout, I like this trade because it not only fills an obvious need but opens up a spot on the offense for someone like Pavel Zacha, who has underachieved and now no longer has any excuse not to reach his potential.

Ray Shero has once again managed to make a key trade without giving up too much in terms of talent or draft picks. This trade makes the Devils a better team and certainly increases their chances of not only making the playoffs, but perhaps winning a round or two. As sorry as Devils fans are to see Rico go, they should be extremely enthusiastic about the future of this team. “Trust the process” Devils fans, this team is “all-in” on this season and it should be fun to watch.