The New Jersey Devils defense is set to look a little bit different in 2023-24. With the now former longest tenured Devil Damon Severson sent to Columbus in a sign and trade, and Ryan Graves heading off to Pittsburgh in free agency, the Devils will still see five of last season’s seven returning. In addition, Luke Hughes, who has been in the system and saw some games in 2022-23, is poised to earn a full time spot. Rounding out the group will be newly acquired Colin Miller, who came over in a trade with Dallas.
With the Devils trying to build off of the success of last season, they’ll need their young players to take a step up, and their veterans to have solid to excellent seasons each. Between the addition of Miller, the expectation of two Hughes brothers playing nightly in New Jersey, and the rest of the defending cast coming back, I’ve seen a lot of projections of the pairs that look like this:
Jonas Siegenthaler - Dougie Hamilton
Luke Hughes - John Marino
Kevin Bahl - Colin Miller
Now, maybe there’ some projections out there with Smith and Bahl swapped. I personally think Bahl has the edge over Smith based on their play last season, but would I be mad or surprised if the Devils coaching staff went with Smith on opening night? No, not really; it’s the bottom pair, it’s not a make or break situation, although I don’t think Smith’s boneheaded penalty per game is really needed anymore.
Yet at the same time, I don’t think this is how the pairings will shake out. Like, at all.
The Devils, last season, were heavily reliant on having a shutdown pair, whether it be for penalty killing or for lead preserving situations. Going with the pairings above, the closest thing to a shutdown pair would be the third pair, and I’m not so certain that you want your third pairing on the ice in a situation where the game is on the line.
Instead, I think we’re going to see the pairings get shuffled around from what we were used to last season so that Lindy Ruff has a pairing that features John Marino closing down the opposing team. I think the Devils opening night defense pairs look more like this:
Luke Hughes - Dougie Hamilton
Jonas Siegenthaler - John Marino
Kevin Bahl - Colin Miller
My pipe dream would be seeing Simon Nemec make the team, Miller spends the season as the seventh, and Smith either as the eighth or in Utica. Likeliness of that is low, so I’ll settle for the above instead. The obvious benefit of this lineup is Seigenthaler, who had some struggles last year, seeing a slight minute reduction, but his usage back to the more defense-oriented role he’s used to. Considering some of the warts that surfaced on Graves by season’s end, Siegs honestly might complement Marino better than Graves did.
Jonas Siegenthaler, signed to a 5x$3.4M extension by NJ, is a strong top four defensive defenceman. He put up excellent chance-suppression results in his first two seasons in a small role and then proved himself in a tough top four spot this year. #NJDevils pic.twitter.com/lItin7vsIO— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) July 26, 2022
Now the one thing I could see there being concern over is Dougie/Luke being an absolute adventure on the ice. While the offense would probably be blistering from them, I could see Hamilton’s lapses and the inevitable Hughes rookie mistakes adding up and driving fans insane. I do think there could be some growing pains here, but at the same time, I don’t think either Hughes or Hamilton are as bad of defenders as some make them out to be. The Devils could also swap Luke and Bahl as needed in game; while Bahl still has some growing pains to work through as well, he’s more known for his defending and could better balance Hamilton, while the same effect could be had by Miller on Hughes. I think the Devils will try Dougie/Luke first, but if they struggle (or are redundant playing on the same pair) I could see the switch made.
The one thing that I really feel comes true from all of this is Siegs/Marino; we know Ruff likes to use a shutdown pair, and with Graves gone, Siegenthaler is the ideal and frankly obvious choice. Which young left defender plays with Hamilton and which one plays with Miller could be determined by desire for balance or offense. The Devils will continue to have a chance to make some noise in the East with the roster they have, and how the defense shakes out could play an integral role in determining just how far they go.
What are your thoughts on this projected Devils defense; do you think Marino/Siegenthaler happens? Do you see a shutdown pair where someone else is put with Marino? Would you be worried by a Hughes/Hamilton pairing? Will the Devils experiment with a Quintuple H unit (Hughes/Haula/Holtz/Hughes/Hamilton) unit during the preseason? Leave any and all thoughts below and thanks as always for reading!