Just 30 minutes before the start of the second day of the 2022 NHL Draft, the New Jersey Devils announced a significant move. The Devils have traded the 37th overall pick, their second rounder, and their 70th overall pick, their third rounder, to the Washington Capitals for the signing rights to goaltender Vitek Vanecek and 46th overall, which was Washington’s second round pick they acquired from Winnipeg last July for Brenden Dillon.
It is no secret to anyone who has paid any attention to the Devils last season that they need help at the goaltender position. The only thing related to free agency, which begins next Wednesday, that General Manager Tom Fitzgerald spoke to was a need to upgrade the goaltending position. He repeated there is no timeline for Jonathan Bernier to return. He stated he did not think it was fair for the young guys (Nico Daws) to play as much as he did with New Jersey last season. With multiple teams needing help at the position, some are not waiting to address it. Detroit moved a third round pick this year to St. Louis for Ville Husso and promptly signed him to a contract earlier this morning. Clearly, Fitzgerald decided to be proactive and get a goaltender now instead of hoping someone good was available on July 13. He can focus on other improvements next Wednesday.
Vanecek worked his way up through Hershey for the better part of four seasons before breaking through with the Capitals in 2021. He played in 37 games that season. He was arguably Washington’s better goaltender compared with Ilya Samsonov as he posted a 90.8% save percentage in all situations and a 91.8% in 5-on-5 situations per Natural Stat Trick. His Goals Saved Above Average for both with the Capitals were above 1 and, again, better than Samsonov. Last season went even better for Vanecek. He played in 42 games, posted a 90.8% save percentage in all situations, a very good 92.6% in 5-on-5 hockey, and posted GSAAs in the 6 range in all situations and the 8 range in 5-on-5 - all better than Samsonov per Natural Stat Trick. In other words, the 26-year old Vanecek was quite good for the Capitals.
It remains to be seen how the Devils will see him. We will get some answers for that soon as Vanecek is up for a new contract. He is a pending restricted free agent, so the Devils should be able to sign him. Given that he has played just 79 NHL games and he is in his mid-20s, there is still some possibility that he may not be able to repeat what he did in D.C. The Capitals and the Devils are different teams. Yet, if there’s someone to place a bet on being a 1A/1B with Mackenzie Blackwood - someone Fitzgerald at least publicly said he’s looking forward to seeing what he could do this season - then Vanecek was one of the few options. Ville Husso is in a similar situation career-wise and received a $14.25 million ($4.75 million cap hit) contract over 3 years from Detroit, who also has another, younger goaltender they hope will rebound next season. I would expect the Devils to give Vanecek a similar contract.
If nothing else, assuming they get a deal done with Vanecek (they should), Fitzgerald addressed his team’s biggest need ahead of free agency and did not lose a lot to get it. By getting Washington’s second round pick in addition to Vanecek’s rights, that eases the loss in draft capital - which is not that much on Day 2 anyway. The team moves back 9 spots in the second round and a third round pick is well worth getting a current need addressed. As of now, Fitzgerald has done well in this trade in my view. Need met with a player who has done well recently, team can commit to him without shunning Blackwood, and all at the cost of two picks - one of which was just a move back. I like it.
Now I want to know what you think. Are you pleased with this trade for the Devils? Do you like Vitek Vanecek in New Jersey? How much would you want the Devils to sign him? Please leave your reactions to the deal in the comments. Thank you for reading.