Ahead of the 2023-24 New Jersey Devils season, one of the biggest questions is the team’s defensive unit. New Jersey will be without longtime Devil Damon Severson and the recently departed Ryan Graves. They both joined division rivals in the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins, respectively. Those two players brought veteran defensive play and reliability the Devils will miss. However, there is no reason to think next season that the Devils can’t replicate that success on defense.
Dougie Hamilton and Jonas Siegenthaler
There are many questions about the defense and the eventual pairings. This pairing is not up for debate. Dougie Hamilton and Jonas Siegenthaler will be the top pairing next year and for good reason.
After a lackluster first season with New Jersey, Hamilton rebounded and was his usual self. The offense was there for Hamilton, and at times it was there in ways he’d never experienced. In the modern NHL, you have to understand there are defensemen that will cheat their defensive play to produce on offense. That is how the game is played in 2023 and how it is with Dougie Hamilton. Nobody should worry, however, if the Devils get another season from him like 2022-23, the Devils will be fine.
Jonas Siegenthaler will handle the brunt of the defensive play on this line. That’s how Siegenthaler probably likes it too. He is one of, if not the most reliable defenders on this team. From the smart coverages in the other team’s offensive zone to staying back in the right moments, Siegenthaler is incredibly dependable. Last season, he finished the season +27, for his best +/- in his career. Throw in a career-high four goals and 17 assists, and you see why that extension he signed is a steal.
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John Marino and Luke Hughes
This pairing has the potential to be the fanbase’s favorite pairing. John Marino came to Newark last season and hit the ground running. It didn’t take long for people to realize who won the deal with Pittsburgh when Marino was flipped for Ty Smith and a draft pick.
Marino did more than the Devils could’ve asked for. In the absence of Marino, the Devils and more particularly, the defense struggled. Without John Marino, there wasn’t anyone able to replace his play. Ahead of next season, pairing him with rookie Luke Hughes could be a lethal tandem.
The youngest Hughes brother is a player that Devils fans have anticipated almost as much as they anticipated his brother Jack Hughes. Following a short regular season stint, Luke Hughes didn’t play in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Hughes slotted into Game 3 of the Second Round and looked immediately like he belonged.
Similar to the points made about Hamilton, Luke Hughes focuses a little more on the offensive side. Given his ability, everyone can see why. This isn’t to say Luke is perfect on both sides, though. At only 19, there’s still so much room for improvement and a lot of ways to get better. Luke Hughes isn’t a stranger to poor defensive play. The Devils will have to hope he can learn and limit those mistakes.
Colin Miller and Kevin Bahl
The Colin Miller trade is an intriguing one for many reasons. Some are led to believe that this will postpone the Simon Nemec debut, and some think Miller will take the spot of other players. Miller will look to fill the Damon Severson hole in New Jersey’s defense. The Devils need Miller to go out there every night, play solid defense, and keep the defense afloat. Is Colin Miller the sexiest name the Devils could’ve added? No. It is a player that is more than capable of being the guy for this situation.
Kevin Bahl is one of the most interesting names going into the new season. After what was a 2022-23 season that would stop and start, go up and down, Bahl at times seemed like the odd man out. In the back half of the season, something clicked for Bahl, and the playtime increased. Bahl played 11 of the 12 playoff games but spent way too much time in the penalty box. In 42 regular season games, Bahl had 35 penalty minutes. In 11 playoff games, Bahl had 31 penalty minutes. With an actual role and likely a regular lineup spot, Bahl will need to clean up some areas and play how the Devils need him to.
Devils defense outlook
There’s going to be growing pains. There is no two ways about it. Sometimes, when the Devils are on television in early November, this defense will make you want to rip your hair out. With a few key veterans gone, younger players will find their new roles, and that’ll take time. However, this defense has the makings to be one of the more explosive and exciting groups in the Metropolitan Division. Give it some time, don’t rush to conclusions, trust that the coaching staff can manage them, and you will love this Devils defense.