New Jersey Devils Send Down Santeri Hatakka, But He Still Might Be A Gem

In just a handful of NHL games with the New Jersey Devils this season, Santeri Hatakka has proven to be a reliable bottom-pair defenseman.
Seattle Kraken v New Jersey Devils
Seattle Kraken v New Jersey Devils / Elsa/GettyImages

On February 26, 2023, the New Jersey Devils and San Jose Sharks completed a blockbuster deal. Nine players and four draft picks later and the Timo Meier trade was completed.

Outside of Meier, the Devils acquired four other players; Scott Harrington, Zacharie Emond, Timur Ibragimov, and Santeri Hatakka. At the time, these four were nothing more than throw-ins to make the contracts work. Fast forward a year later, and one of those "throw-ins" has turned into a quality NHL piece. That man is Santeri Hatakka.

Hatakka is currently in his third professional season playing in North America. Since coming over from Finland, he's worked his way up the professional ranks. In his time with San Jose, he played in nine NHL games, accumulating two points, in addition to his 49 games of AHL experience.

Since joining the Devils, it took Hatakka just 31 games (and a few NHL injuries) to earn a call-up. And so far the results have been positive. Despite only featuring in seven games so far, Hatakka has put up two points, but more impressively has been a rock defensively. The 6'1", 191-pound defenseman has provided a physical presence on a Devils backend that severely lacks any snarl.

The Devils surprised many on Tuesday when they announced that Hatakka would be sent down to the Utica Comets, but we don't think it will last long. Hatakka has earned a spot in the lineup even when healthy.

What Hatakka has also brought is a steady, simple game. He doesn't wow anyone with his skating or puck skills, but he uses his stick and body to break up rush plays while taking up good positioning when in-zone defending. Hatakka is strong in front of his own net and doesn't let too many players get to the crease without taking a bump.

He may have played the best game of his Devils and NHL career in a 3-1 win against the Seattle Kraken. In 15:10 TOI he recorded an assist and two hits, but most impressively, scored the second-highest GameScore Impact next to Jack Hughes.

Could Hatakka Be A Long Term Piece?

While he doesn't project to ever be a point-producing defenseman, Hatakka plays a style that lends itself to a long NHL career. With the flash and style of Luke Hughes, Simon Nemec, and eventually Seamus Casey, the Devils need guys like Hatakka to round out their defence core.

With some question marks surrounding Kevin Bahl's play as of late, Hatakka has a chance to steal a spot down the final stretch of the season. Also, with both Brendan Smith and Colin Miller being pending UFA's, the Devils will need a number six/seven defenseman next season.

The Devils will need steady, and most importantly, cheap contributors over the next few seasons, which is exactly where Hatakka comes in. He is an RFA this offseason but shouldn't see much more than a slight raise from his $850,000 salary. It's been a small sample size, but the 23-year-old Hatakka has made a strong case to be a regular in the lineup for the rest of the season and possibly in the years to come.