In this writer’s most recent article, we went over the created stat Sasq Score and how it’s really hurting the New Jersey Devils on the ice. The defense has been a stain, and it needs to be addressed. There is a player who has become available that could help add that grit this team needs.
Over the past few seasons, players like Nikita Zadorov bring back memories of a young Anton Volchenkov and Chris Neil who fit that category of physical no-mercy skaters that helped scare off opponents and made them think twice about getting comfortable in the neutral zones.
Realizing the Need
In the playoffs last season, the Devils were good enough to get by with Ryan Graves and Damon Severson. Both led the charge defensively and physically. But, the stats show Zadorov can replace their impacts. Going back from 2019-20 to now, Zadorov played in 287 games with 24 goals and 69 points. Meanwhile, he has rendered a +22 on defense with 370 shots (6.5 shooting percentage) averaging 18:06 Time On Ice. His hits are 744, and blocks with 274 giving him a Sasq Score of 1,018 Sasq points which is phenomenal. His hit rate is 2.59 hits per game so expect him to go 2-3 hits easily per game.
In his playoff career, Nikita Zadorov has 138 hits and 53 blocks over 33 games. That gives him a 5.79 SiD Rate. If you are an opponent of the Russian Sasquatch he yields 4.18 hits per playoff game throughout his career. In 2021-22, Nikita Zadorov averaged over 2.67 hits per game in 12 games with the Calgary Flames at age 26.
Who Are The Sacrificial Lambs?
As someone who loves scouting and watching players develop, one of the problems when coming off a playoff run is you may have to leverage one of your young players like Alexander Holtz. Players become expensive, and hard decisions must be made. Personally, it would be a big pill to swallow to move a young top-six sniper with so much upside from a roster that is trying to add grit and sandpaper to this team.
No way in hell should the Devils move Kevin Bahl or Daniil Misyul, and Simon Nemec is untouchable obviously. It could be Alexander Holtz, Topias Vilen, and/or Santeri Hatakka who realistically could be up for grabs if the Calgary Flames GM Craig Conroy makes some sort of demands from Tom Fitzgerald in a possible deal.
Again, this is all hypothetical, but from an amateur scouting perspective, the Devils need to keep their first-round pick around because of the conditions from the Timo Meier deal. This 2024 NHL Draft is so deep with defensive players, especially left-handed defensemen, Tom Fitzgerald should keep all his other draft picks in all the other rounds.
"Conditions on Devils 2nd-round pick in Timo Meier trade:If NJD make the 2023 Eastern Conference Final (ECF) and Meier plays in 50% of the games, or NJD make the 2024 Eastern Conference Final, the pick becomes NJD’s 2024 1st.If 2024 1st is top 10, NJD have the option to instead transfer their 2025 1st."
Under coach Ryan McGill, a player like Nikita Zadorov would be a huge veteran presence, no pun intended for his size is actually a big asset. Kevin Bahl has learned a bit from past teammate Ryan Graves about being a big defenseman, along with being around Ryan McGill as his defensive coach. Zadorov would teach the proper positioning skills, and how to start playing the body much properly and staying in position.
The Devils need to start utilizing the 1-3-1 Blueline Trap. This is a scheme like the 1-2-1 Neutral Zone Trap that the 1995 New Jersey Devils utilized on their way to the Stanley Cup. However having a forward up top spearheading the forecheck, the other two forwards are joined by a defenseman in the middle. That leaves the other defenseman waiting for the puck to retrieve or to knock the opposing puck carrier with authority while everyone slows him down.
Zadorov is the kind of guy you want to have making the big hits and being able to kill off any opposing offensive zone time. Players like Luke Hughes will have someone watching their back and will waste no time throwing his full weight on opponents like a Sasquatch coming out of the wild and pounding on his prey.
Potential Defensive Pairs
Jonas Siegenthaler- Dougie Hamilton
Nikita Zadorov- John Marino
Kevin Bahl- Luke Hughes
This has a balance of three LHD that can throw their weight around, and play a more stay-at-home style of hockey. Yes, Luke Hughes is left-handed, but he’s an offensive defender who can play well on his right flank (just like he did often at the University of Michigan) who would do well with Bahl watching him. Siegenthaler has been the big thumping defenseman that most teams worry about when facing New Jersey, but with Zadorov, the 1st and 2nd line opponents need to realize hits like the below can happen in an instant.
Then opponents realize Kevin Bahl is just turning the corner in his defensive stride and have to deal with another Sasquatch that can bully around opposing skaters outside the crease, and outside the bumper. This possible addition makes far too much sense to pass up on and GM, Tom Fitzgerald needs to take matters seriously and reconstruct the Sasquatch Squad similar to last year but far better. There’s a lot of great talent on this defense that has not even untapped their fullest potential not even a quarter of it and change is needed to bolster the defense.