Sami Vatanen Trade Is a Good One For The New Jersey Devils

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - JANUARY 10: Sami Vatanen #45 of the New Jersey Devils skates against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Prudential Center on January 10, 2019 in Newark, New Jersey. The Maple Leafs defeated the Devils 4-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - JANUARY 10: Sami Vatanen #45 of the New Jersey Devils skates against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Prudential Center on January 10, 2019 in Newark, New Jersey. The Maple Leafs defeated the Devils 4-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /
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Sami Vatanen’s days with the New Jersey Devils were inevitably numbered as the 2020 NHL trade deadline rapidly came to a close. Devils fans, like many hockey fans on deadline day, were vigorously refreshing Twitter to find out where Vatanen would be headed. News hit close to 3 p.m. that Vatanen was heading down south to the Carolina Hurricanes for prospect Janne Kuokkanen, a conditional 4th-round pick and fringe roster player Fredrik Claesson.

New Jersey Devils Twitter and message boards alike don’t seem to be too enamored with the return in the Sami Vatanen trade. The reality is a soon to be unrestricted free agent who has been hampered with injuries over the duration of his career was not going to garner a king’s ransom. Speaking with the media after the deadline, Interim General Manager Tom Fitzgerald conceded Vatanen’s injury caused some trepidation from general managers. Vatanen is a well-respected defenseman, but there simply wasn’t a high demand for him as a rental. For many teams, the risk didn’t outweigh the reward.

That is not to say that the Devils did not fair well in the trade. They received an intriguing prospect in Janne Kuokkanen; who for all intents and purposes got lost in the shuffle in Carolina’s deep forward prospect pool and became expendable. Kuokkanen is described as a talented hockey player with tremendous vision and hockey IQ. Prior to the trade, he led Carolina’s AHL affiliate the Charlotte Checkers in points. His skating could use improvement and is raw defensively, as many young prospects are. At 21 years of age he is closer to being NHL ready than say a 2nd round pick, which many Devils fans were clamoring before the trade was official. He projects to be a left winger at the NHL level, and with the skill set that he possesses could be a middle six forward.

The Devils also received a conditional 4th-round pick, which could become a 3rd-round pick if he plays either 12 regular season games or 70% of the team’s playoff games. The conditional 4th could be a valuable asset, as the Devils have used mid-round picks as part of trade packages to acquire NHL ready talent (Kyle Palmieri/Marcus Johansson).

In a perfect world, Sami Vatanen would be a fixture in the Devils’ rebuild. Vatanen’s age, injury history and looming big payday wasn’t par for the course in the rebuild, and the Devils had no choice but to deal him. By no means is this a sexy trade, but the trade brings in another young, skilled asset to the pipeline. Sami Vatanen was a solid defenseman for the Devils, but will always be remembered as the player the Devils received in exchange for fan favorite Adam Henrique. Now, hopefully Vatanen will be remembered as the player traded for future fan favorite Janne Kuokkanen.