Before we get into Ryan Graves, let’s rewind. It’s the 2019 NHL offseason, and the New Jersey Devils are raising their hands in victory. They screamed from the rooftops how they won the offseason, and nobody was particularly close. Often Devils fans would hear how the team added the “best prospect, the best non-NHL player, one of the best defensemen, and more” that year. Then, the season started. The Devils never addressed the left side of the defense or the backup goaltender position, putting too much pressure on Cory Schneider.
The season fell apart pretty quickly. P.K. Subban was not the monster minutes eater he was in Montreal or Nashville. Schneider got hurt pretty quickly. The season’s first game was a nightmare, and nothing got better from there. That shows the importance of filling all holes.
That brings us to today. The Devils are once again “winners of the offseason” after making a flurry of moves to add veterans and stars across the lineup. They filled crucial positions at right-handed defense, backup goalie, and top-six winger. The Devils are a much different team now than they were at the beginning of the offseason. Dougie Hamilton himself changes the expectations of the team, but before the Devils even made it to free agency, they brought in left-handed defenseman Ryan Graves.
Ryan Graves plays an important role for New Jersey Devils.
Graves was pretty clearly the odd man out of Colorado Avalanche blue line heading into the Seattle Kraken expansion draft. They had Cale Makar, Sam Girard, and Devon Toews with only three spots to protect defensemen. Graves was likely going to be the choice, so the Avs and Devils came up with a trade so the Avalanche could get some value. They added a 2nd-round pick and Mikhail Maltsev for Graves’ services.
Graves fills another major weakness on the Devils roster. The left side of the D has its issues. Without Graves, the Devils would likely be looking at Ty Smith, Will Butcher, and Jonas Siegenthaler. There would probably be an addition there as well, but it’s likely it wouldn’t be as good as Graves.
That would put the Devils in a strange spot. They have Hamilton, Subban, and Damon Severson on the right side. They need to match them with players of similar caliber. They tried playing Severson on the left side to play with Subban before, and it did not work. That wasn’t an option. Instead, they now have a really good defensive option to allow Hamilton to focus on his offensive impacts.
Graves is the most likely option on the Devils top line. After years of missed defensive responsibilities, he will need to show he can fix the team’s problems. On top of that, the Devils desperately need a better season on the penalty kill. They had one of the worst seasons of all time when it comes to special teams. Graves was the top guy on the Avalanche penalty kill, a penalty kill that ranked in the top ten. There were a lot of other parts that helped in Colorado, but Graves played a key role. His advanced stats on the PK do leave some to be desired, but his pure minutes and the success of the unit show he’s able to be “the guy”.
Graves is going to play a role that might be irreplaceable. That’s a scary concept because injuries can derail those plans. There really isn’t someone who can replace Graves, so it’s very important the Devils don’t overwork him. Let him do what he does best, but make sure that he stays as healthy as possible.