Return Of Ryan Graves A Welcomed Addition To New Jersey Devils Lineup

Ryan Graves #33 of the New Jersey Devils. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Ryan Graves #33 of the New Jersey Devils. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

The New Jersey Devils came back to the ice on Wednesday night after 10 days without hockey. It was a nice break for a team that was circling the drain before the Christmas Break. They needed some time to reflect on what has been a pretty terrible season. The Devils came into the break with a six-game losing streak, and the team was being ravished by injury and COVID protocols (although, that was happening with pretty much everyone).

One of the biggest cogs to leave the lineup was Ryan Graves. The defenseman was sent into COVID protocols on December 11th. He ended up missing five games, and the Devils lost all five of those games. The defenders basically fell apart without him and P.K. Subban in the lineup.

This especially impacted Dougie Hamilton. He looked like a Vezina Trophy candidate for most of the year (the Devils record notwithstanding). Through December 10th, the New Jersey Devils had the 10th best CF% in the NHL at 5v5. With Graves in protocols, they were 20th from December 11th to now.

Graves is helping the Devils on both offense and defense. However, what he’s really doing is lifting Dougie Hamilton to new heights. With Graves out of the lineup, Lindy Ruff didn’t want to separate the line of Damon Severson and Jonas Siegenthaler. Since Graves left the lineup, Hamilton has at least been loosely paired with seven different defensemen. Some he spent barely any time with (two minutes with Christian Jaros, which likely is just the result of line changes). Others he spent a lot of time with (43 minutes with Ty Smith and 19 minutes with Kevin Bahl). None of these partners really helped Hamilton play on his strengths.

With Graves out of the lineup, Hamilton was about average with Smith and very below average with Bahl as his partner. Hamilton is great in a normal partnership, but we can’t ask him to lift a third liner to being a top line. That’s why the Devils have relied more on the Severson-Siegenthaler pairing. Over the past five games, Severson has played north of 26 minutes four times and north of 29 minutes once. Ruff is playing Severson like a superstar defenseman. Meanwhile, Hamilton is playing around 23 minutes over the past few games.

Graves returned to the lineup on Wednesday against the Buffalo Sabres. Hopefully, he can stay in the lineup for the rest of the season. He is a crucial part of the team’s plan. The only way the Devils can actually play decent hockey is to be good defensively. Graves is key to making that happen.