In the 2015-16 season, Oliver Bjorkstrand made his debut for the Columbus Blue Jackets. The third round selection from the 2013 draft put up four goals and four assists in 12 games, including a brace in his second ever NHL game against the New Jersey Devils. From then on, it seemed like Bjorkstrand constantly was a thorn among the many the Blue Jackets put in the side of the Devils. His last two games against the Devils featured a brace on January 8, 2022 and another goal on March 1, 2022 and he scored a total of six in his last six games against the Devils (not consecutive, still six goals). To that end, I was very pleased to see that Columbus dumped Bjorkstrand to Seattle for picks and major cap relief shortly after the massive extension they gave to Patrick Laine on this past Friday. At most, the Danish forward can only hurt the Devils twice next season. I loved seeing it.
This brought a question to my mind: Who has really done the most damage against the Devils since 2015, when Bjorkstrand entered the league? There are three ways to measure the production against the Devils in my view. It turns out Bjorkstrand was not quite the most damaging of opponents. But he did cause plenty of woe, just not to the level I thought he did.
Devils Killers by Goals
Goals against the Devils are the ones that directly hurt the Devils. That is what goes on the board. That is what gives points to others. That is what everyone is working for in some way or form in even strength and power play situations. For the purposes of this post, I will bracket each group of “Devils Killers” to a top ten from 2015-16 to 2021-22. Except for this one because five players tied for seventh place, including the newest member of the Kraken, Oliver Bjorkstrand.
As you may have guessed, this list features plenty of Metropolitan Division mainstays. Washington’s and Vladimir Putin’s favorite goal machine leads the way with 20. Believe it or not: Just five PPGs for him. Still, #8 has the solid lead on being the biggest Devil killer by way of scoring goals. Which is not something that is seemingly going away anytime soon
Chris Kreider actually has six in this time period among his 15, tied with James van Reimsdyk for the most PPGs - but JVR has just put 9 past the Devils since 2015. Kreider has been a royal pain on the scoresheet. Like Ovechkin, he has over 100 shots on net in his 31 games against the Devils. Like Ovechkin, he scores plenty of goals. Unlike Ovechkin, its five fewer than him.
The remainder of the list is a mix of top players on other teams. Sidney Crosby has a slight edge up on Mika Zibanejad, Ryan Strome, Bryan Rust, and our first non-Metropolitan scorer on the list in Patrice Bergeron. Zibanejad, Strome, and Rust are certainly not stars but they have been effective players for Our Hated Rivals and Pittsburgh. Fortunately, this Strome brother is now a Duck so the Devils do not need to see him. Bergeron has been the center of the Perfection Line and his appearance here reflects that line’s effectiveness against the Devils. At least for two-thirds of it since Brad Marchand is here and David Pastrnak and his 5 goals against the Devils is not.
This is where Bjorkstrand is and he is easily the least of the names on this list. He is the definition of a secondary scorer. But with 12 goals in 19 games against New Jersey, games Columbus mostly won, he sticks out just a bit more. Seeing Auston Matthews or Marchand (yes, he’s done more pain than cheap shots to Will Butcher or Marcus Johansson) or Nicklas Backstrom (Ovechkin’s favorite teammate) put up 12 on the Devils is annoying but somewhat expected. Matthews doing so in 12 games is, well, frighteningly good. Bjorkstrand and even Atkinson potting that many makes you wonder if they have some special “thing” against the red, white, and black of New Jersey. At least Bjorkstrand is across the country. The Devils will still get to see the other four more than twice in 2022-23.
By the way, three players missed the cut with 11 goals: Jake Guentzel of Pittsburgh, Sean Couturier of Philadelphia, and Anders Lee of the Islanders. They will have multiple chances to climb up to this list soon. Still, Bjorkstrand was one of the major damage dealers - but not the one who has done the most. Even by goals per game, where he finishes just behind Ovechkin and well behind the ludicrous Matthews.
Devils Killers by Points
Of course, goals are direct causes of pain. Points can reveal who has been involved in those goals. Perhaps it is not the finisher but the set-up man. The one who creates the rebound or finds the seam through the ‘D’ or makes the final pass for the goal against. The opponent’s straw that stirs the drink, so to speak. If you want to stop the goals in hockey, then you often have to stop how the scorer is supplied the puck. In other words, what about goals and assists? Who has racked up the most points against the Devils? Is Oliver Bjorkstrand on this list too? Here is the top ten point scorers against the Devils since the 2015-16 season.
Bjorkstrand is not here. Ovechkin still reigns at the top a list full of players who play in the Metropolitan Division. He has the most and perhaps should be seen as the real Devil killer. Again, Ovechkin has done this to a lot of teams over the years which may explain why he does not have this specific reputation. As Nicklas Backstrom often plays with Ovechkin, seeing him at fourth on this list is no surprise. The same applies to Crosby, who comes in second on this list with 35 points. He is constantly involved in Pittsburgh’s offense for so many years even if it is not being a shot-machine like Ovechkin on Washington. He has caused a lot of pain for the Devils, although the Devils have had some successes against the Penguins and, like Ovechkin, Crosby produces a lot against other teams.
While Bjorkstrand is not here with his 19 points, there are two Blue Jacket connections here. Artemi Panarin has been all over the scoresheet for the Devils in this time frame. First in a few games with Chicago, then with Columbus, and now for Our Hated Rivals. Panarin has been a top-tier scoring forward for years and combined with him being in the division, he has certainly made his mark in games against the Devils. He is not the longest tenured member of Our Hated Rivals here. That belongs to Zibanejad, who was a Senator in 2015-16 and went to Manhattan shortly thereafter. He has been a real pain from the team’s biggest rivals. Combined with his work with Kreider (who missed out on this list) and Panarin, it is no shock to see him here.
The other Columbus Blue Jacket connection is Jakub Voracek, who was traded to Columbus before last season. The longtime Flyer has the weirdest stat line here with two goals and an astounding 30 assists. It is not like Voracek was not trying to score himself. He took 75 shots in 32 games against the Devils. Only eight players have taken more shots on net against the Devils since 2015-16 (Ovechkin, Crosby, Bergeron, Kreider, Zibanejad, David Pastrnak, Jeff Skinner, Kris Letang). But whatever Voracek has done in setting up others, it has paid off big time. And I would expect him to keep slinging passes to his teammates for scores in Ohio, even with Bjorkstrand gone. Laine, for example, can absolutely finish them.
Continuing down the list, two surprises sandwich former Philadelphia (and now Ottawa) scoring machine Claude Giroux and another Capital in Evgeny Kuznetsov. First is another Capital but a defenseman. John Carlson. The one who grew up a Devils fan, whose favorite player was Scott Stevens, and was absolutely available for the Devils in the 2008 NHL Draft. It is not quite Pass Up on Brayden Point Three Times in 2014, but Mattias Tedenby over Carlson was a huge miss. Carlson has emerged as the main provider from the back end and someone who has absolutely stepped up against the Devils. Second is a second appearance of Brad Marchand. The thuggish man smaller than Jesper Bratt has been a pain in things that matter on the scoreboard too. It surprised me that he has outscored his Perfection Line partners against the Devils all these years. All the more reason to continue to boo him every time he touches the puck. If you’re unsure, then give it a few games, and when he blindsides, say, Jesper Boqvist with a dirty hit, then you’ll get a reminder that form is temporary, class is forever, and Marchand has none of it on the ice. He does score quite a bit against the Devils regardless.
Devils Killers by Points Per Game
Of course, the previous two lists had a Metropolitan Division bias. The schedule may have become more even in recent seasons, but there have been some seasons where the Devils had five or six games against the likes of Columbus, Washington, and the New York teams and such. Those players had more opportunities. It would not reflect those outside of the Metropolitan Division who have lambasted the Devils over the past seven seasons. What would reflect that? A point-per-game average against the Devils from 2015-16 to 2021-22. As to remove the players who just had one or two games that were productive (e.g. Brandon Hagel) against Our Favorite Team, I set a minimum games played of seven. Here are the top ten players by points per game against the Devils. You may have heard of the first guy. You may be sick of him now. Get ready to get more sick of him in the future.
Here’s Johnny! Gaudreau and Calgary have pounded the Devils in their 11 games over the last seven seasons. It does explain Sean Monahan’s spot on the list. But Gaudreau has been especially productive in games against New Jersey. He is now a Columbus Blue Jacket. Bjorkstrand out, Gaudreau in, Laine signed, and Voracek dishing out assists to anyone. To quote Charlie Brown, good grief. I do not think games against the Blue Jackets are going to get any easier any time soon.
Following Gaudreau is Patrick Kane, who was just a few points from cracking the top ten in points. Solely as a Chicago Blackhawk, while the Devils have had some wins over them, Kane had more than made his mark in those 12 games. I really hope he does not get sent to the Eastern Conference. Like Gaudreau, I fear he would continue the damage with an extra game or two against New Jersey instead of being kept to a simple two games.
Coming in third is someone who should not surprise you: Connor McDavid. Arguably the best hockey player in the world, I see those 20 points in 11 games and rationalize it like I do with Ovechkin and Crosby. Yes, it is a lot. Yes, I do not like it. He does that to most everyone in the NHL. If you can hold him to just one point, then call it a win. Unless it is a winning point, then no. Anyway, the surprise is Mark Schiefele in fourth here. I know he is a very good player. I know the Devils have had some rough trips to Manitoba. But a 1.8 point per game average? That many? Yeesh. Good thing both of these players will just get two games against the Devils.
Unfortunately, the next three will have a couple more. Auston Matthews returns here with his ridiculous 12 goals in 12 games against the Devils. He lights up, well, most everyone but this is especially rough. The next two is more of a pain as both Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov play for Tampa Bay. It is not like Toronto or Edmonton or even Winnipeg lack for talent. But Tampa Bay and Calgary are the only teams on this P/GP list represented more than once. It speaks to how challenging those Devils games against them have been; if you stop one, then the other is still available to make the night bad for New Jersey. I fear it will continue. As it will continue for the pair of games against St. Louis provided Vladimir Tarasenko stays there. Tarasenko has been the main man for a solid Blues team. In those Devils-Blues games, he just has found ways to get on the list that, say, David Perron has not.
The list ends with two players who are not as concerning going forward. Monahan suffered from a serious hip injury last season, which has led to him being dropped from the top six to an extra forward. He did have surgery last season and will likely get a chance to prove his worth in Calgary again. But it is unknown if he will given how the injuries have mounted over the years. (Aside: Pay attention, Miles Wood fans.) As for Alexander Radulov, he is going to play in the KHL for the next two seasons. He will be with Ak Bars Kazan so he cannot hurt the Devils anymore. The other eight on this list. Well, I am not looking forward to more of them. Especiallythe top guy.
I wrote this post in the hopes of highlighting Bjorkstrand and being pleased he is now gone to Seattle. And I am. I am ending it more bummed that Voracek could be feeding Johnny Gaudreau, who has lit up the Devils in past New Jersey-Calgary games, for heaps of goals. Something to really make those Devils-Columbus games one to continue to dread. Great. For the Devils to take a step forward, they are just going to have to rise above their divisional opponents and hopefully limit the likes of Ovechkin, Crosby, Backstrom, Rust, Kreider, Panarin, Zibanejad, Matthews, and Marchand in future games. There can be a theory that keeping everyone else on their respective teams may be enough, but good luck with that.
If nothing else, I hope this post recognized who the real damage dealers have been - and likely will continue to do so for the next few seasons. Who among this list worries you the most? Who does not? Who surprised you among these players? Who’s a “killer” in your eyes that may be was not productive but seemingly a thorn in the Devils’ side in recent seasons? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about who has been giving the Devils fits for years in the comments. Thank you for reading.