New Jersey Devils: Stop Worrying About New York Rangers

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 09: Tony DeAngelo #77 of the New York Rangers makes his way back to the bench after scoring his hat-trick goal at 15:02 of the second period against the New Jersey Devils at Madison Square Garden on January 09, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 09: Tony DeAngelo #77 of the New York Rangers makes his way back to the bench after scoring his hat-trick goal at 15:02 of the second period against the New Jersey Devils at Madison Square Garden on January 09, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

Yesterday, New Jersey Devils fans learned their cross-river rivals the New York Rangers won the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery. New York now has the privilege to (and likely will) select young hockey phenom Alexis Lafreniere first overall, just one year after selecting winger Kappo Kakko with the second-overall pick. The unwelcomed news didn’t sit well with Devils fans, who threw fits online. While the displeasure exhibited is understandable, it sheds light on the crippling decades-old inferiority complex Devils fans have with their longtime divisional adversaries.

And frankly, it’s time for New Jersey Devils fans to stop obsessing over their metro-area counterparts.

Seeing the Rangers picking first overall should put matters in perspective for Devils fans. Yes, New York is acquiring a top-tier talent in Lafreniere who will join a talented pool of forwards (and prospects) in Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Vitali Kravtsov, and Kakko. This, of course, comes in the wake of New Jersey’s sky-high expectations going into the 2019-20 season blowing up in their face, over which they parted ways with foundational talent Taylor Hall, Head Coach John Hynes, General Manager Ray Shero, Captain Andy Greene, along with fan favorite Blake Coleman.

The New Jersey Devils are essentially starting from scratch again and likely a few years away from vying for playoff contention, while New York’s lottery luck will accelerate their rebuild. This comes after the Rangers went on an astounding late-season run that put the team on the cusp of playoff contention, and qualified them for the post-season’s preliminary round. It’s easy to become immersed in the gloom-and-doom surrounding New Jersey after suffering such costly setbacks, while their despised Manhattan counterparts have enjoyed a barrage of bountiful victories.

Beating such improbable odds to draft Lafreniere may put New York’s rebuild well ahead of schedule while the New Jersey Devils seem eons away from turning that corner, but there’s plenty of potential upsides being overlooked in the Garden State.

Devils fans were very quick to forget their team won the draft lottery two of the last three years from 2017-2019, drafting centers Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes. Although neither will probably eclipse the generational skillsets possessed by renowned talents like Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, or Auston Matthews, both have the ability to be stars in this league. Hischier has shown consistent improvement since breaking into the league. He’s well on his way to becoming an impactful two-way center, who will only get better in the coming years.

Yes, Hughes’ inaugural season was a disastrously discouraging flop that’s got the especially ignorant section of New Jersey Devils fans already labeling him a bust. We’ve made some evident realizations in that the 19-year-old center might not have been nearly as physically or mentally ready for the NHL (a belief that would have been met with rabidly vicious opposition if ever proposed a year ago at this time). Hughes and the Devils know what he must do moving forward for him to continue acclimating. Especially now that he’s got an NHL season under his belt, Hughes should continue to build off his first-year experiences. He’s going to be fine.

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Granted New York will have two top-tier wings for the next 10-plus years, the New Jersey Devils are also in a promising position. Look at any of the league’s regular playoff contenders—Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Colorado Avalanche, St. Louis Blues—they all have at least one franchise-caliber center their offenses are built around, most of which are homegrown. The Devils have two young up-and-coming centers they picked first overall General Manager Tom Fitzgerald declared they will build around, which is a rare luxury most teams don’t have.

There’s still much work to be done in New Jersey, but one major takeaway this era of hockey has shown is having stability and genuine talent down the middle is paramount for success. This is something the New Jersey Devils possess in their revamping foundation, and will (if developed properly) for the next several years.

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Let’s not forget the Devils currently have three 1st-round picks—an exceptionally rare situation that could revolutionize an organization’s long-term plans. In what’s being considered a relatively deep draft, New Jersey is selecting seventh overall with their own pick, while their next two first-round selections are contingent on how the Vancouver Canucks and Arizona Coyotes make out in the playoffs (likely to be in the mid-teens to low-twenties). The Devils can select three blue-chip prospects, or make some groundbreaking deals that significantly bolster their roster. Looking back at how Fitzgerald handled the trade front after succeeding Ray Shero, Devils fans should be confident in their new general manager’s judgment of identifying emerging young talent, along with wheeling and dealing assets.

Simply put, while the Rangers will obtain the cream of the crop, having three 1st-round selections gives the New Jersey Devils an enviable balance of quality and quantity when picking in this year’s draft that could be just as (if not more) propitious as picking first overall.

Other insecure sentiments Devils fans have toward the Rangers were rekindled in the wake of yesterday’s news that definitely complimented the bitterness—New York’s irresistible allure to star-quality players, their ruthlessly loyal fanbase that routinely fills Madison Square Garden even in the worst of times (while the Devils struggle to sell out even when playing well), and being the face of the Tri-State Area’s hockey media outlets.

These are circumstances I personally have (and sometimes still) dwell on, but at the end of the day, the New Jersey Devils will always fall in the Ranger’s shadow. The apparent reality is the New York Rangers will always be on a higher pedestal when it comes to popularity, media relevance, and desirability (from a player’s standpoint). It’s something the Devils have fought through before, and will continue to persevere against, even in this frustratingly dismal era of their history. Not much can be done about it, this won’t change any time soon (if at all), and accepting this is the only way to help alleviate the Ranger’s seemingly cumbersome hold on Devils fans.

Just remember, the most important results are what happens on the ice.

Worrying more about what a rival organization does than the team you’re supposed to love ultimately defeats the purpose of being a sports fan in the first place. The New York Rangers are fortunate to be in the hopeful position they’re in, whereas New Jersey is presently in the midst of uncertain times, but there’s plenty that’s happened and will occur in the coming months that should have Devils fans excited and hopeful about the future. New York will always have the upper hand in certain aspects of the rivalry, but these seeming advantages don’t guarantee on-ice victories any more than Devils fans obsessing over them will magically fix their team’s shortcomings.