After months of uncertainty and planning, the National Hockey League announced a 56-game regular season to begin in January and end in early May. Teams had to carry taxi squads of players to account for injured players and those affected by the Coronavirus. A COVID-19 protocol was implemented and, if need be, games could be re-scheduled as needed. All games would be played within a team’s division along with the first two rounds of the playoffs. The goal was simple: Have a truncated, compressed season to set up a full Stanley Cup Playoffs tournament. Then hope things would get better enough to have a full and more normal 2021-22 season in the Fall.
If nothing else, they did it. It was not easy. Especially for the New Jersey Devils. The Devils were one of the most impacted teams by the Coronavirus as their season was put on pause after January 31 until February 16 as a result of an outbreak that impacted as many as 19 players at one point. Games were re-scheduled, the schedule became more compressed, and it took sometime for the Devils to get back up to speed with minimal practices and near constant games. Their season was extended to May 10 for their 56th and final game.
Most of us did not predict the Devils to make it to the postseason. They did not. They were effectively eliminated in March, mathematically eliminated in April amid a 10-game losing streak, and ended up seventh in the East Division by the grace of Buffalo being abysmal. The team finished with a record of 19-30-7, which is ugly to look at and a result of being a Bad team. I think most of us wanted to see a more competitive team. They arguably did not as they will finish either 28th or 29th in the NHL league standings as of this post. If it was not lack of goal scoring, then it was defensive issues. If it was not the defensive issues, then it was an issue with special teams. If not then it was something else. And most of the time, it was more than one of those things happening. There was usually something going awry - even in many of the 19 games the Devils won.
The 2021 Devils were particularly young and inexperienced, so there is a future where several players, in the future, can look back to this season and remembering it as a starting point. Of course, that future is not at all guaranteed. It is not even here yet. The 2021 season just ended. In the meantime, let us look back at the season that was and continue the annual tradition of the All About the Jersey staff of assigning out awards for the season that just finished.
Disclosure: These were decided before yesterday’s game. I’ve updated stats to include yesterday’s game where applicable.
Team MVP: Jack Hughes
The Big Deal was indeed massive this season. The man created more offensive opportunities than just about anyone else on the team. More often than not, if the Devils needed any kind of spark on offense, Jack Hughes and his line would deliver it. There was a reason why Hughes, Yegor Sharangovich, and Janne Kuokkanen remained as a line even throughout the horrible ten-game losing streak in April. Hughes often delivered. While Pavel Zacha ended up with more points and Hughes finished fourth in goals, the results germinated. Hughes led the Devils in shots on net with 142, led all regular Devils in CF% (56.41%), xGF% (55.58%), and SCF% (57.40%) in 5-on-5 play prior to the team’s last game in Philly per Natural Stat Trick, and his 31 points were second only to Zacha. The man created a lot of offense for himself and the team, pushing play forward while often having the puck on his stick. Making this all the more impressive was that Hughes accomplished all of this while being targeted as the Devils’ top center with and without Nico Hischier being available. Give this man a season with practices, a squad with better puck luck, a functional power play unit, and watch the points flow from #86 next season. And, hopefully, the wins and attention will follow. The Big Deal absolutely made a lot of believers out of those who dogged his rookie season in this year’s campaign.
Voting Commentary: This was a near unanimous decision at 8-1. The lone dissenter chose Mackenzie Blackwood. Given how Blackwood (and other goalies) had to stand on their heads for most of the Devils’ wins this season, there is an argument for it.
Best Goalie: Mackenzie Blackwood
Back in, say, mid-February, this would have been somewhat interesting. But by now, there was no real argument. Mackenzie Blackwood entered the final game of the season with the team’s best even strength save percentage at 91.4%. He has remained as the team’s #1 choice. It’s Blackwood. Scott Wedgewood’s impressive started faded as the season went into March and April. Aaron Dell played his way away from the roster and Eric Comrie was just a fill-in for one appearance. I still think the goaltenders were victimized more than their stats would suggest.
Voting Commentary: This was unanimous, 9-for-9 for Blackwood.
Best Defenseman: Damon Severson
This could be seen as condemning with faint praise. Severson’s proclivity for costly mistakes were memorable enough to make one pause before claiming he is good on defense. Just as he is capable of dropping dimes, he is capable of dropping errors. However, Severson has continued to perform better than the narrative he has been responsible for creating. In 5-on-5 play per Natural Stat Trick, when #28 has been on the ice, the Devils have taken 52.78% of the attempts, 50.47% of the shots, 51.84% of the expected goals, 53.11% of the scoring chances, and 50.34% of the high danger chances. These are great numbers for a team that really could have used a lot more happening in the opponent’s end of the rink. These are numbers that either led the team or were just behind Ty Smith or Dmitry Kulikov. Unlike Smith and Kulikov, Severson averaged at least a minute more of ice time than both and often drew tougher match-ups (he led the whole team in average ice time). He also provided 16 even strength points (same as Smith), 21 total points (three behind Smith), and 91 shots (24 more than Smith and eight fewer than Subban). Sure, he will do something (or not do something) that will make you rage at times, but he has been a net positive to the team over the course of the season. Combined with his heavy usage, Severson won out.
Voting Commentary: Severson barely won out, to be more precise. Ty Smith garnered three votes, Kulikov received two, and one voter wanted a tie between Smith and Kulikov, which threw everything off. This was a decision by plurality, so if you disagree, know that you are not alone.
Best Offensive Forward: Jack Hughes
Yes, Miles Wood, Yegor Sharangovich, and Zacha scored more goals than Hughes. Zacha even had more points than Hughes. But Hughes created so many more offensive opportunities and more often than Wood or Zacha, who had some stretches of struggling through the season. Offense is more than just points. Hughes drove the play and was among the most productive Devils on the team. That is something Zacha, Wood, and even Sharangovich cannot claim.
Voting Commentary: There were two dissenters among the nine voters. One was for Sharangovich and one was for Zacha.
Best Defensive Forward: Michael McLeod
This was perhaps the hardest award to vote on for this season. Part of why the Devils have so many defensive issues is because there are not really any standout defensive forwards. While Jack Hughes superior 5-on-5 numbers, a lot of that was driven by his and his line attacking. Andreas Johnsson’s rate stats were far more impressive than he got credit for, particularly defensively - but he never was primarily used in a defensive role and his PK work averaged around 25 seconds per game. Michael McLeod ultimately pulled ahead here because he was primarily used for defensive situations. McLeod had the team’s lowest 5-on-5 offensive zone start percentage by far at 27.39% and had the highest rate of defensive zone starts on the team with 17.81. If the Devils are in the uncommon position of defending a lead in an extra-man situation, then McLeod and his line are usually out there. Especially after Travis Zajac was traded. And, unlike Hughes and Johnsson, McLeod played a significant role on the penalty killing units. Among these facts, McLeod really fits what this award is meant to highlight. But, seriously, the Devils could use a lot of help here in addition to their actual blueline after this season. And McLeod needs to stay out of the box next season.
Voting Commentary: McLeod and Hughes each had two votes. I explained above why McLeod was a better fit. Johnsson had the best case among the single votes. They included Pavel Zacha, Travis Zajac, Nathan Bastian, and Jesper Bratt. One voter wrote “None,” which is its own compelling case.
Best Rookie: Yegor Sharangovich
The Devils had 11 rookie skaters this season. Some really impressed. The most impressive ended up being Yegor Sharangovich. The former overage fifth round pick of the 2018 draft was doing OK in Binghamton. The 2020-21 campaign turned out to be a breakout for him. On loan to Dinamo Minsk in lieu of any pro hockey in North America, Sharangovich was one of his team’s top players and one of goalscoring leaders in the entire KHL. Fans were hyped and hoping it could translate to the NHL. He made the NHL roster, scored his first ever NHL goal in the team’s first win at the last possible second in overtime in the second game of the season, and the hype grew. It was justified with every wrist shot that blasted past or through a goaltender. It was justified with how well he played off the puck with Jack Hughes dekeing and dangling it. It was justified with how he was incorporated on special teams, leading one to wonder why he was not featured on them earlier. It was justified when finished the season with 16 goals, 30 points, and 114 shots on net - all leading among the eleven Devils rookies on the roster. His 16 goals tied him with Josh Norris for the third most among all rookies in the NHL. There were several rookies that did well in 2021, but Sharangovich was the best among them all.
Voting Commentary: Despite 11 rookies on the roster, the votes were split among two players: five for Sharangovich and four for Ty Smith. A good case can be made for Smith, who was New Jersey’s first round selection in 2018. Sharangovich edged him out.
The Sergei Brylin Award for Versatility: Pavel Zacha
Pavel Zacha has had a season of ups-and-downs with his performances. He was hot in February, cold in March, and heated up in April and May. It was enough to make some fans believe he turned the proverbial corner again. What was notable about his 2021 season was where he was used. As with past seasons, Zacha did play for all situations with New Jersey. Unlike past seasons, Zacha ended up on the team’s primary power play unit and led the team in both power play goals (5) and power play points (11). As with past seasons, Zacha spent some time at left wing and at center. Unlike past seasons, Zacha filled in at center on his own line while Hischier was out and the coaching staff leaned on Hughes and Zajac in the top six. When Hischier returned, the coaches lined him up next to the captain and his play flourished. I would like to think this season may answer the question of whether he should play center or wing, but he can be shifted to play either way. That speaks to his versatility, and that earned him the Brylin.
Voting Commentary: This one was another divided result. Zacha got this with just three votes. Sharangovich received two votes and one vote was casted each for Severson, Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and McLeod.
Best Comeback: Nico Hischier
Hischier missed the start of the season with a leg injury that kept him away from the season until February 20. After Hischier was finally getting his rust off on February 27, his fifth game back, he got hit the face by a shot from P.K. Subban that deflected off a Capitals’ stick. It was an accident. It broke his sinuses. Hischier would be out for about six weeks and returned to action on April 13. After a few games to get back into game-shape, Hischier demonstrated his leadership, bravery, and effectiveness in all three zones from April 18 through to the end of the season. He has produced in 7 of the last 12 games prior to Tuesday’s game, his performances with Zacha have been very good for his late resurgence of production, and he makes the Devils deeper at center and special teams. Hischier could have called it a season with the sinus fracture as the Devils were effectively out of the playoff race by the time he returned. Nico did not do that; he knew the Devils needed him.
Voting Comeback: Hischier won this with three votes. The other players brought up all have at least decent cases for this. Miles Wood received two votes. Going from 11 goals and shooting at 7.8% last season to 17 goals and shooting at 13.6% this season would do that. Ryan Murray received a vote, primarily for staying healthy throughout this season. Kulikov received a vote for being signed as defensive depth and ending up being one of the Devils’ better defensemen. McLeod received a vote by going from not impressing at the AHL level to legitimately securing a NHL job for a whole season. Zacha got a vote for turning the corner and ending up as the Devils’ leading scorer.
Best In-Season Move by the Devils: Trading Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac to the New York Islanders for a Package Featuring the Islanders’ First Round Pick in 2021
At the time of the deal on April 7, I was underwhelmed. After 3 PM ET on April 12, it ended up being one of the few trades made involving a first round pick by this year’s Trade Deadline. I was feeling much better about the deal. After seeing Palmieri and Zajac struggle to find a consistent spot in the Islanders’ line up and do anything on the scoresheet, I realized that the Devils really did need to move on and if it helped another team, great, but if not, then so what. Both Palmieri and Zajac were pending unrestricted free agents, so the Devils getting the Isles to give back a first round pick for a “rental” ended up being good business. The Devils’ future was not likely going to involve either Palmieri or Zajac, but the prospect selected with this second pick in the first round could very well be.
Voting Commentary: This vote went 7-2 in favor of the trade. One dissenter highlighted the call-up of Kevin Bahl, as they believe he is a part of the blueline’s future based on his few and recent games with the team. One dissenter went with the deal that brought Jonas Siegenthaler to New Jersey for a third round pick that belonged to Arizona. Siegenthaler may end up being a top four defenseman at best. Or a stable third-pairing defender. Either is generally better than what most third round picks become.
Worst In-Season Move by the Devils: Waiving Sami Vatanen
The Devils signed Sami Vatanen ahead of the season. It seemed like a good move. He played in New Jersey since 2017 prior to being dealt to Carolina before the pandemic ended the 2020-21 season. He was pretty decent. The Devils would benefit from having him. However, Vatanen struggled to stand out. He was just not in sync with the rest of the defense at times. Still, he was a better option than Matt Tennyson, Will Butcher, and Connor Carrick and so he played ahead of them all. Just before the NHL Trade Deadline, the Devils opted to place Vatanen on waivers. Possibly to make him eligible for the taxi squad pending a deal. Not that a trade would garner much but it would be better than nothing. If that was the plan, it blew up when Dallas claimed him on April 12. Not only did the Devils lose Vatanen for nothing, it meant lesser defensemen had to come in right away and play in his place. As underwhelming as his second run with the Devils was, the Devils became worse for it.
Voting Commentary: The decision to waive Vatanen had four votes. The remainder were split between other moves. One voter chose the decision to waive and later mutually terminate Nikita Gusev’s contract as the worst move. One voter felt trading Kulikov to Edmonton was the worst move made as he should have stayed here if all he was going to get was a mid-round pick. One voter went with the claiming of Aaron Dell based on the goaltender’s performances. One voter went with New Jersey ending their AHL affiliation deal with Binghamton a season early and in a season where the AHL affiliate has been in Newark instead of their home rink. I can agree with the last one being a tough pill to swallow.
Best 2020 Offseason Move by the Devils: Tie - Trading for Ryan Murray & Signing Dmitry Kulikov
The Devils knew they needed help on defense, especially on their left side in the wake of Andy Greene’s departure. They needed to go outside of the organization to do it. In October, the Devils moved a 2021 fifth rounder to Columbus for Ryan Murray. Murray was good in Columbus - when he could play. He has suffered some kind of significant injury in each of the prior four seasons. The Devils decided to bet on Murray being healthy given the extra time off from the pandemic. (They also hedged it by bringing in Kulikov and Vatanen.) While Kulikov performed better, Murray was able to be a solid hand on defense and at least do more than Greene did in 5-on-5 in 2019-20. Murray will have played in 85% of the Devils’ games this season, which definitely eases some of the concern over an oft-injured player. And the Devils kept with him beyond the trade deadline, so he can continue to help New Jersey a little longer. This is all well worth a fifth round pick.
Of course, that was a trade. The best signing was easy: Dmitry Kulikov for one season at $1.15 million. Kulikov put up some of the best 5-on-5 rates on the Devils and fit into Lindy Ruff’s aggressive system a whole lot better than I would have expected. I thought Kulikov would just be used for defensive situations; but he earned the trust of the coaches and saw his role expand at times. Kulikov ended up turning into a conditional mid-round draft pick in 2022 from Edmonton, so the Devils got something from him beyond playing well
Voting Commentary: Three voters each chose these two moves. I cannot really break this tie. As this is a site-specific minor award, I went with the tie. The other three votes were split between using all three first round picks in 2020 as opposed to dealing them away; signing Jesper Bratt to a new deal; and drafting Dawson Mercer at 18th overall. They were interesting ideas.
Worst 2020 Offseason Move by the Devils: Trading Joey Anderson to Toronto for Andreas Johnsson
I really liked this trade when it happened on October 10. I called it a good deal. In theory, Johnsson would have been a fine fit at left wing for the Devils top six. In practice, Johnsson was not a fine fit or even an average fit for the Devils at all. Johnsson had some very good on-ice rates in 5-on-5. But it was while averaging fewer than 12 minutes per game in 5-on-5 while producing very little in 5-on-5 or elsewhere. That ice time belied how he fell down amid the lineup as Kuokkanen ascended and Zacha eventually moved to left wing. With two more seasons left on his contract at $3.4 million per season, one has to scratch their head over whether the Devils can really stick with him regardless of his good underlying numbers. He could very well be among the unprotected forwards that meets the contract and games required for the expansion draft later this year. Joey Anderson only made it in one game for Toronto back on January 26, so it is not like he blossomed as Johnsson wilted. In retrospect, I think most fans would have rather see Tom Fitzgerald keep (and play) Anderson instead of getting Johnsson.
Voting Commentary: The Johnsson-Anderson trade did win a majority of votes. There were some other interesting thoughts here. Two voters went with the signing of Corey Crawford as, well, he retired instead of playing a single minute for New Jersey. Related to that, another voter went with the retirement of Crawford, although that had more to do with the player than the Devils making that call. One voter argued that Jesper Bratt’s new deal was the worst move. The argument is that Bratt is really good and with this bridge deal, he is going to command a much more expensive contract in the future than if the Devils were able to pay him a bit more now for what could have been long-term contract. I see it, but that is a move that remains to be seen. Also, technically, it should not have counted as that move was made on January 12, 2021.
Best Surprise: Yegor Sharangovich
Despite the Devils finishing in the bottom five of the league standings, there were multiple positive surprises among the 2021 Devils. The one that stood out was Yegor Sharangovich. Once known as Egor, the Belarussian winger got everyone’s attention when he racked up 17 goals in 34 KHL games on loan with Dinamo Minsk before the 2021 NHL season was announced. Sharangovich quickly established himself as a scoring winger on this team, good enough to play big minutes alongside Hughes, and put up 16 more goals in his NHL rookie campaign. With New Jersey having Hischier and Hughes at center, it is imperative that management finds top-six caliber wingers to make the most of their young talents. While it was his first season in this league, Sharangovich has entered that conversation. I do not think anyone would have honestly expected that back in March 2020 or after either of his two AHL seasons or after he was picked 141st overall in 2018.
Voting Commentary: Sharangovich won with a majority of five votes. Kulikov came in second with three votes for his performances. Scott Wedgewood received a vote, presumably for being fantastic in spot duty in January and February.
Most Disappointing: Nikita Gusev
The winner of last year’s Best 2019 Offseason Move was the deal to bring in Nikita Gusev. The Goose struggled to acclimate to the NHL in his first two months or so, but soared as a productive and skilled offensive winger in the back half of the 2019-20 season. I was excited to see what he would do in his second NHL season. You were likely excited to see him as top-six winger, wondering whether he would flow better with Hischier or Hughes or opposite Bratt or Palmieri. Then the 2021 season happened. Gusev’s lack of quickness and pace fit in terribly with Lindy Ruff’s new systems and emphasis on aggressive play on offense. Gusev fell in the lineup and continued to fail to do much of anything with limited minutes and more favorable matchups. Attempts were made to get him going but ultimately, he ended up back as a healthy scratch. Whereas that led to outcry in October 2019, it was greeted with an accepting shrug in March 2020. Gusev ended up getting into 20 games, he took 45 shots, he scored 2 goals and put up 3 assists and that was it. In 5-on-5 play , the Devils managed to out-attempt their opponents with Gusev but notably get out-shot and out-chanced (especially on high-danger chances). That was both odd and really bad for an offensive player. Despite its expiring nature, no one in the league wanted to take on Gusev and his $4.5 million cap hit when he was placed on waivers. Rather than pay him to not play, Tom Fitzgerald and Gusev and his people agreed to a mutual split. The Devils put him on unconditional waivers to terminate his contract and so Gusev became an unrestricted free agent right before the trade deadline. He signed for $1 million with Florida and has a chance to do something positive this season to salvage his career in the NHL ahead of the Summer. It has seemed to be better with the Panthers as he matched his production in 11 games with them already. We wish him the best. But this is a massive turnaround in less than four months. It was as if plenty of fans, myself included, went from worrying about a contract extension to waving goodbye to the Goose flying South for the Spring can be best described in one word: Disappointing.
Voting Commentary: This one won by a good majority. There were only two dissenters. One voter offered up Crawford retiring before the season as a big disappointment and as a harbinger of the season to come. One voter chose P.K. Subban on the basis of still being bad despite being better than last season.
Best Binghamton Devil: Fabian Zetterlund
The Binghamton Devils moving to Utica was clearly the biggest story involving the team. The second biggest was the announcement that they would be in Newark at the Devils’ practice rink all season. Lost among a shortened and fractured AHL season was that Binghamton got shelled a lot. Whereas last season’s team was making a real push for the postseason, this season’s B-Devils got waxed. It did not help that New Jersey kept Sharangovich, Kuokkanen, Bastian, and McLeod among others while giving long looks to Jesper Boqvist, Mikhail Maltsev, and Nick Merkley. Some like Matt Tennyson and Nolan Foote received more than just a few games in the NHL. Oh, and the B-Devils had at least four rookie defensemen in Kevin Bahl, Nikita Okhotiuk, Michael Vukojevic, and Reilly Walsh. My point is that Binghamton’s roster was not at full strength as it could have been between New Jersey’s new youth movement and the realities of the 2021 NHL season. There were a few that stood out, including team leading scorer Fabian Zetterlund. Here is what Brian, who also voted for Zetterlund, wrote about his season:
Going into this, I didn’t expect to pick Zetterlund, especially given the solid rookie seasons that Clarke, Foote, and [Reilly] Walsh put together. I went with Zetterlund because (as of this writing) he’s appeared in all but one game (most GP on the team), is tied-2nd on the team in goals (6), leads the team in assists (12), leads the team in points (18), and has only 6 PIM. Looking over at Pick224 (min. 15 GP), Zetterlund ranks 4th in even-strength primary points per game (0.29), 1st in powerplay primary points per game (0.21), and 1st in primary points per game (0.50). Pick224 has his primary points per estimated 60 minutes of time on ice at 1.83 which is 2nd on the team. This was his draft+4 year so you would want him to be one of the better players on the AHL team, and by all accounts, the 21 year old prospect put together a solid season and showed enough that he should be on the radar for a job in New Jersey at next season’s training camp. This was his 2nd AHL season and he improved his rate stats from last season to this one, with his goals per game going from 0.17 to 0.19, his assists per game from 0.24 to 0.39, and his points per game from 0.41 to 0.58. Throughout his career he’s been a strong right wing that can play up and down the line up and provide a net front presence on the PP. He seems poised to get a chance in New Jersey sooner than later after this season.
Voting Commentary: Zetterlund won by a plurality of four votes. Three voters went with Graeme Clarke, who jumped to the AHL given the OHL was not playing, and produced at a nice rate of 0.57 points per game. His 16 points was only behind Zetterlund in team scoring. One voter went with Foote, whose play did lead to a call-up. One voter abstained.
Best Prospect: Dawson Mercer
Fans were hyped about the selection of Alexander Holtz, some have hopes for Shakir Mukhamadullin, and most everyone in and out of the fanbase thought the pick of Dawson Mercer was the shrewdest. Holtz had a hot start to his season in the SHL before he hit a slump, his team was not so interested in playing him (or his linemate and 2021 draft eligible William Eklund), and the Devils brought him over on an ELC that begins next season. Mukhamadullin was in the KHL due to Ufa needing bodies in the wake of the pandemic, played in 39 games, and did appear for Russia at the WJCs. He remains with Ufa for next season. These were not bad seasons. But Mercer shined in the limited time he was able to play. Here is how Brian, who also voted for Mercer, summarized his campaign:
This was an easy choice for me as Mercer had a lot of success despite difficult circumstances this season. One of the Devils 1st round picks from the 2020 Draft, Mercer led Chicoutimi in goals (19), was 5th in assists (17), and led the team in points (36). He did all of that in just 23 regular season games. As of this writing he leads Chicoutimi in playoff scoring with 9 points in 4 games and has them up 1-0 in the Quarterfinals in the QMJHL Playoffs. This season, Mercer also helped Canada to a U20 WJC Silver Medal with 2 goals and 4 assists in 7 games, while playing down the line up due to Canada’s quality and depth. Still, Mercer succeeded in that role due to his versatility and he was an asset on the PK. Another reason I chose Mercer for this award was the way he dominated his league unlike any other Devils prospect this year. While Alexander Holtz rightfully gets Devils fans excited, it’s worth pointing out that Mercer compares well to him in Byron Bader’s Hockey Prospecting model. In their draft years, Mercer and Holtz had the same 31% star probability and 62% NHLer probability. This season, they remained on a similar track with both of them having a 22% star probability and 65% NHLer probability. It seems that Mercer should be a contributing player in New Jersey sooner than later and his game is well suited to immediately making an impact on one of the bottom lines, either at center or wing, before earning his way up the line up. His PK game should also help him secure a roster spot before long. Overall, Mercer had a great season and I have to think if the draft was to be re-done today, he would go higher than 18th overall.
Voting Commentary: This one was near unanimous among those who voted for this category. One dissenter chose Holtz instead, and one voter abstained.
These are offbeat awards by the individual writers, identified by their initials. They’re not binding. They are for fun. It is how these award posts are closed out.
Favorite Game to Watch on TV (JF): I was home-bound for the whole season, even after The Rock was opened up to fans and after I received my shots. The schedule did not work out for me, so I watched all 56 games on TV. My favorite was the 5-2 win on February 16 against Our Hated Rivals. On paper, this game should have been a loss for the Devils. This was their first game back from a Coronavirus outbreak that kept the team idle for two weeks. The opponent was active, playing, in form, and at home. Yet, it was the Devils who pushed through all three periods for the win. Yet, it was the Devils who out-willed and out-skilled Our Hated Rivals. Yet, it was the Devils who were triumphant at the buzzer. It was a memorable game, a great first game back from difficult circumstances, and it was over Our Hated Rivals. I loved it then and I love thinking about it now.
Best Prospect Comeback (BF): Akira Schmid - In the past, I’ve held off on prospect related superlatives. I feel like Schmid deserves extra recognition this season though. His entire career since being drafted has included him overcoming adversity. Drafted in 2018 out of Switzerland, Schmid was set to play in the WHL for Lethbridge in 2018-19. After one poor game to start the season, the team cut him, and due to the timing, it was pretty much impossible for another CHL team to pick him up. He went down to the NAHL with Corpus Christi, played well enough to earn a shot in the USHL with Omaha, and became the league’s top goaltender. He struggled through injury in 2019-20 causing Omaha to give up on him and move him to Sioux City. Last offseason, he underwent double hip surgery and really had no training camp or preseason. This past year, fully healthy, he was once again the USHL’s top goaltender with a 92.1 save percentage. He deserves a ton of credit for keeping his development on track despite a rocky road.
The Blake Coleman 2.0 Award (DR): Michael McLeod
The Simple Minds ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ Standout (JF): Janne Kuokkanen. He had a good rookie season! Really! However, Sharangovich and Hughes were the more notable players on his line and Sharangovich and Smith had better rookie seasons. He ended up in the shadows. I basically came up with this so you do not forget that Kuokkanen established himself in the NHL in 2021, and is now the newest hope of becoming the best Finnish New Jersey Devils player ever.
Save of the Year (NP): Mackenzie Blackwood’s toe-save on March 28 that preserved the shutout and a 1-0 win in Boston. To quote Nate: “Just … how?”
Goal of the Year (JF): Sharangovich’s first ever NHL goal on January 16: An overtime winner against Boston for the Devils’ first win of the season and literally with 1.7 seconds left in the game. It was bonkers then and bonkers now in retrospect. I broke it down here. There were a lot of great looking goals scored this season, but this one remains the best among them all.
Best Post Game Interviews (MS): Yegor Sharangovich
The Fluke Flag (JF): Andreas Johnsson’s goal on April 20. Johnsson managed to end a horrid goal drought by putting a puck in the net from behind the goal line off Cody Ceci, which bounced the puck off the back of Tristan Jarry’s leg and into the net. During a 6-on-5. With about 40 seconds left in the third period to make it 6-7. Yes, that was the sixth goal in the six-goal third period in the game where the Devils managed to be the first team to lose a game despite a six-goal period. One cannot get any flukier than that.
Ken Daneyko Award for Most PIMs (AP): Michael McLeod - 42 PIMs in 52 games played. Way to go!
Kenny’s Favorite (DR): Nathan Bastian
The Hüsker Dü Prize (JF): Colton White - Yes, this is his second time getting this superlative award. Yes, he did play for New Jersey this season. Twice, even. I could not possibly tell you what he did in those games either.
Best Goofball Roommates (MS): Jack Hughes and Ty Smith
I’ll Take That (AP): Jack Hughes - Hughes had 56 takeaways in 56 games played. Next best was Sharangovich with 38. No one else was close on the team.
Most Corners Turned in a Career (NP): Pavel Zacha
Shootout Cheers and Jeers (JF): Cheers to Sharangovich for scoring on his one and only shootout attempt. Jeers for pretty much everything else about the shootout as the Devils went 0-5 in them and scored a whopping three goals out of eighteen shots. Boo.
Best Buds Award (MS): Three-way tie: Jack Hughes and Ty Smith, Nico Hischier + Pavel Zacha + Jesper Bratt, and Mike McLeod and Nathan Bastian
The ‘Keep Chopping Wood’ Ribbon for Baffling Coaching Decisions (JF): Alain Nasreddine going with the passive diamond for the penalty kill. Wedge plus one worked for seasons! Why change this? Why keep it after it was clear the team was getting worked over and blindsided by power play goals? Why? I do not understand. Thanks to dr(d)evil for opening my eyes to this development. Runner ups for this award include the on-again, off-again usage of the drop pass on power play breakouts, leaving a man in front on an island on power plays, failing to address how the team got beaten weakside over and over and over in the season, and failing to demonstrate how to defend 2-on-1s for weeks at a time.
Physicality Award (AP): Nathan Bastian - Nate had 136 hits. Next most was McLeod with 89. No one else was close.
The ‘Wait, What?’ Certificate for Most Surprising Results (JF): Just about every game against Boston. The Devils went 5-1-2 against the B’s which included two shutouts (one each for Blackwood and Wedgewood), two overtime wins, and two shootout losses. Out of all of the opponents, somehow the Devils got results against a legitimately very good Boston team more than anyone else in this division.
Dikembe Mutombo Award (AP): Ryan Murray - 73 shots blocked for Murray. Next best? Severson with 50.
The Best Readers (JF): You. After all, if you are reading this, then you matter. That is why the collective ‘you’ are the People Who Matter.
Thanks to Brian, Devin, Dan, Mike, CJ, Alex, Nate, and Jenna for their contributions to this season’s awards. I thank all of the writers for contributing to this site throughout this unusual season. The next few weeks will be more of a post-mortem about the season that just happened and what should happen next. There will be open posts for the playoffs and the World Championships, which will at least have Nico Hischier in them. Before you know it, we will transition to the 2021 Draft class and free agency. As ever, hockey never stops at All About the Jersey.
Once again, thanks to you for reading this site throughout the 2021 season and I hope you continue to visit All About the Jersey in months to come that will hopefully lead to a more normal season cycle starting in the Fall. Please have your say about this year’s awards in the comments. Thank you for reading.