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New Jersey Devils 2023-24 Season Preview Part 3: The Goalies

With opening day closing in, we take a look at the third part of the AATJ’s season preview, a recent sore spot in New Jersey before last season: the goalies.

Philadelphia Flyers v New Jersey Devils
Vitek Vanecek will be a big part of the Devils crease again this season.
Photo by Rich Graessle/Getty Images

For a team who built a dynasty from the net, goaltending had been a constant thorn for the New Jersey Devils side since Martin Brodeur retired and Cory Schneider got injured. That changed last season thanks to the stabalizing presence of Vitek Vanecek and the rise of Akira Schmid. This post overviews the Devils crease. Let’s dive in.

What Happened Last Season?

After an epically bad season in net for the Devils in 2021-22, the Devils finally found consistency for most of last year. Vitek Vanecek led the way for the Devils last season earning the lionshare of starts. Vanecek’s 33 wins tied him for 7th in the league to go along with a very respectable 2.45 GAA and .911 SV%. Many pundits and commenters on this site opined that if the Devils got just average goaltending they could be a playoff team. Vanecek was better than average and the Devils broke their single-season win record.

It may be hard to remember but Mackenzie Blackwood played 22 games last season earning a 10-6-2 record, 3.20 GAA and .893 SV% before suffering another injury. That injury paved the way for Akira Schmid, who ended the season 9-5-2 with a ridiculous 2.13 GAA and .922 SV% in 18 games. With the Devils high-powered offense and mostly steady goaltending the Devils finished with a positive goal differential of 67 good enough to tie for 3rd in the league.

The playoffs brought different challenges. Vanecek looked tired posting a 1-3 record, 4.64 GAA and .825 SV% in parts of 7 games. On the other hand, Schmid saved the Devils in their opening series against the Rangers posting two shutouts including one in Game 7. Though the Carolina Hurricanes ran over the Devils in most of Round 2, Schmid still finished the playoffs with strong overall numbers due to the Rangers series: a 4-4 record, 2.35 GAA and .921 SV%.

Overall, other than Mackenzie Blackwood and most of the Carolina Series, it was a very solid season in net for the Devils.

What Changed?

In a couple words: not much. At least not at the NHL level. Oft-injured Goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood is gone after signing a two year contract with the San Jose Sharks. Absent any injuries (fingers crossed), the Devil’s crease will be manned by Vitek Vanecek and Akira Schmid as it was for the playoffs and most of the latter half of the NHL season.

The organization has prudently added some other goaltending options into the mix should the need arise. With 3rd string goalie Nico Daws requiring surgery that will make him miss a large portion of the season, Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald brought in some depth to the crease this summer. Let’s take a look at them.

Erik Kallgren

Erik Kallgren is a 26-year-old former 7th round pick, who played 24 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs over the past two seasons. Kallgren’s numbers don’t exactly pop off the page in either the NHL or the AHL. Last season, Kallgren posted a 10-9-2 record, 3.26 GAA and .883 for the Mapleleaf’s AHL-affliated Marlies and a 3-2-4 record, 2.67 GAA and .898 SV% in 10 games with the big club.

Kallgren is very much a depth option while Nico Daws recovers.

Keith Kinkaid

Devils fans should be very familiar with Keith Kinkaid, who last suited up for the Devils in 2018-19 posting a 15-18-6 record with a 3.36 GAA and .891 SV%. Since his Devils career, Kinkaid has bounced around quite a bit splitting time between the NHL (Candiens, Rangers, Bruins, Avalanche, Blue Jackets) and the AHL (Loval Rockets, Hartford Wolfpack, Colorado Eagles and Providence Bruins).

Last season Kinkaid suited up the most for the Bruins (one of four teams), posting a 8-7-4 record, 3.10 GAA and .909 SV% before signing with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL this offseason.

Due to the Chicago Wolves becoming independent from the Carolina Hurricanes, Keith Kinkaid will likely play for them rather than the Utica Comets this season. However, Kinkaid’s season may start late as he suffered an injury in camp.

Tyler Brennan

At only 20 years old, something would have to go drastically wrong for Tyler Brennan to be called up to New Jersey this season. The Devils 4th round pick (102nd overall) in 2022, Brennan has been developing in the WHL for the defensively-challenged Prince George Cougars. Brennan improved his numbers from 21-10-3 record 2.86 GAA and .898 SV% from 11-25-2 3.58 GAA and .899 SV% the previous year.

Brennan will be looking to adjust to the pro game in the minors this season.

What To Expect This Season

In short: expect the unexpected. That’s the best way to look at the goaltender position, which tends to be one of the more voodooish positions in hockey. The buzz this summer was whether Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald would bring in another goaltender, such as Connor Hellebuyck. Thus far, Fitzgerald has decided to stand pat, wisely in my view. However, that could change as the season progresses and it’s not hard to imagine the Devils acquiring someone at or near the deadline as extra insurance at the very least.

As highlighted above, Vanecek’s track record in the playoffs has been less than stellar to put it mildly and if he starts to tire down the stretch, it may be too risky to put all of the Devils eggs in the Schmid basket. In short, the only thing one should expect this season is a continuance of the debate (and buzz) on whether the Devils should seek another goaltending option down the stretch.

Your Take

Now is the time to tell us what you think? Are you comfortable with the goalie situation going into this season? Let us know in the comments below.