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Where Would the Devils be Without Sami Vatanen?

The Sami Vatanen trade has been Ray Shero’s boldest acquisition to date for our New Jersey Devils. With how poor some of the other defenders have played, we ponder where the team would be without Sami.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The New Jersey Devils entered the 2017-18 season knowing full well, that even with the additions of Will Butcher and Mirco Mueller this offseason, the defense was going to be a question mark. The team started the season off hot despite injuries and said question marks, but General Manager Ray Shero still wasn’t satisfied; he decided to make a bold move. At the end of November, Shero sent fan-favorite Adam Henrique to Anaheim along with Joe Blandisi and a draft pick to acquire Sami Vatanen.

The move, when originally made, was polarizing; some fans understood that you have to give to get and the Devils really needed to get a quality defender. Others felt that Vatanen was being added to the side of the defense that was arguably stronger, and that he wasn’t going to return to pre-injury Vatanen form.

Now 46 games later, I sit here and ponder exactly where this year’s Devils team would be without Vats; while he got off to a bit of a slow start with New Jersey (which can be attributed to a traditional adjustment period), he’s been worth every penny of his contract since. If you exclude his first 8 games in Jersey where he went without a point, Vatanen since has posted 23 points in 38 games (0.6 ppg for 38 games, still a respectable .5 for all 46), including 9 points in his last 10 games.

Vatanen has been the stabilizing presence that the Devils have craved on the back end; he leads the team in ice time with almost 22 and a half minutes per game, a full minute and a half more per game than Andy Greene. Greene is certainly beginning to decline, and the rest of the defense can not handle over 20 a game, so the Vatanen acquisition was a necessity in this sense.

And without Sami’s puck moving abilities, hockey sense and defensive abilities, I shudder to think of where the team’s season may have gone. As the schedule got progressively more difficult, the team was able to stay in and even win a number of the games they played, due in large part to Vats and his ability to help our goalies keep pucks out of the net. He also is one of the few Devils defenders who can help to get the puck out of the zone when the team is hemmed in and needs to relieve pressure, especially in the final minutes of a close game. He doesn’t always bail us out, but there’s a reason we’ve gone to significantly less overtime games this year.

Is Sami the perfect defenseman? No, but he’s been amazingly good for a team starving for quality defenders at the start of the season. Will he be the difference between a Stanley Cup and missing the finals? Again, probably not, but if this team can work on getting another defender or two that is the quality of Vatanen, then those players collectively could be the difference makers we need.

What do you think of the Vatanen trade three and a half months later now? Would you still rather have Henrique, Blandisi and the pick? Have you enjoyed his play and ability? Do you think he meshes well with this Devils team? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading.