I joined All About the Jersey in 2014. So, it’s been a rough tenure for me.
After the 6th season of miserable-to-mediocre Devils hockey, and in the worst single year of human life on Earth in recorded history, it might be difficult to find things for which to be thankful. That’s why I want to list a few of my top such items in two main categories: the team and the community
1) The Team
I’m thankful that we have a group of young players that are generally pretty exciting. Let’s go position by position.
The forwards, it’s almost hard not to be at least a little optimistic about. I’ve written a ton of words about how much there is to like about Nico Hischier. Jack Hughes is an exciting talent that didn’t pay off last season but has obvious skills that jumped off the screen. Jesper Bratt has consistently improved every year and looks like a long-term top-six forward. And the Devils had the 2nd ranked prospect pool in the NHL BEFORE adding Holtz, Mercer & Co. in the 2020 draft.
The current defense is probably the worst in the NHL, but their is depth and variety to the prospect talent in the system. Ty Smith and Reilly Walsh are puck-movers, Smith of a caliber that projects as an eventual top 4 back. Then there’s recently-acquired Kevin Bahl and 2020-draftee Shakir Mukhamadulllin to give a little size to the defensive future. If just one of those guys turns out to be true top defender, we will be in a better position than we’ve been in years.
And in net, the Devils have a goalie that projects as a top 5 goaltender in Mackenzie Blackwood. For a lot of teams, goaltending is the final mysterious piece that prevents them from the postseason year after year. For the Devils, it’s certainly been a severe liability for years. One that some of us noticed a long time ago (normally I’d link here, but there are too many articles to pick from so just Google it). But now, the Devils have potentially one of the best duos in the NHL in Blackwood and Crawford, and that should also carry us most of the way until 2020’s 2nd overall goaltending prospect Nico Daws is ready to make a run for the NHL. Between the ascent of Blackwood, the acuisition of Crawford, and the drafting of Daws, the most important position has gone from liability to asset in basically just over a season.
The Devils have been bad for a long time, but it’s probably easier to feel good about the future right now than it has been at any point in the rebuild — at least, from an asset standpoint.
2) The Community
In this section I want talk about two big features of “community” that I’m thankful for. The first is the hockey community on the whole for the strides they’re attempting to make towards diversity. The second is this community itself at AAtJ.
In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, the hockey community faced a reckoning that many would argue was long overdue (read AAtJ’s joint statement here). The inception of the Hockey Diversity Alliance as well as the NHL’s Player Inclusion Committee (featuring Devil, P.K. Subban) marked significant, if imperfect, moves towards a more welcoming game. I say imperfect because the HDA (who, themselves, have been criticized for their lack of female and Indigenous representation) broke off their association with the NHL citing “lack of support”. But, between league-run organizations like the PIC, player-run organizations like the HDA, and fan-run organizations like Renee Hess’s Black Girl Hockey Club; things are looking more encouraging than they ever have. And, while my faith in the league hasn’t grown much, my faith in the community to hold them accountable has. Without overstating the progress that’s been made, today I just want to say that am thankful for the increased public consciousness, and for those who have been pushing for it since long before it was a hashtag.
And the last thing I want to say that I’m thankful for is you! I’m thankful for those of you who have been supportive of AAtJ and of those who are supportive of my independent work. I’m thankful for those of you who have been critical of the pieces as well — as many of you have surely noticed, I love a good debate! I’m thankful to our fearless leader John Fischier for not only creating this blog long before it was part of SBNation, but for then having an open audition so that someone with no resume, like myself, would have the opportunity to join the best Devils blog in the world. And, most importantly, I’m thankful to the entire AAtJ community — The People Who Matter — for making the last 6 years so absurdly enjoyable.
What are you guys thankful for this Thanksgiving? What’s your favorite part of this Devils team? What’s your favorite part of this community? What’s your favorite part of this sport? What other random things are you thankful for? Gruyère cheese? Tom Hanks? Star Wars memes? Share it all in the comments below!