New Jersey Devils making key moves now and for the future

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Jul 7, 2022; Montreal, Quebec, CANADA; Simon Nemec after being selected as the number two overall pick to the New Jersey Devils in the first round of the 2022 NHL Draft at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

The New Jersey Devils were in on Johnny Gaudreau before he opted to join the Columbus Blues Jackets. In response, GM Tom Fitzgerald went out and signed two-time Stanley Cup champion Ondrej Palat from the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The former seventh round pick in 2011 has forged quite the career. In 628 regular-season games all for the Tampa, he registered 412 points. More importantly are his 12 game-winning goals in the playoffs that highlight his 94 postseason points in 138 contests.

“We wanted a top six support type winger, with the two centers that we have, checked that box with Palat,” Fitzgerald said, “as well as championship pedigree, somebody who can lead, who understands winning, plays the right way. Someone that can help our young players navigate to the phase in the area where you need to go.”

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Palat, 31, is signed for 5 years with an AAV of $6 million.

On Saturday, the Devils acquired defenseman John Marino from the Pittsburgh Penguins for defenseman Ty Smith and a 2023 third round pick.

Marino, 25, recorded 25 points in 81 games last season.

“John is a competitive, highly mobile defenseman who strengthens our back end,” Fitzgerald said. “He takes pride in his game away from the puck and his puck management and ability to transition play will fit in nicely with our style and the strengths of our forward group. This is another move focused on improving our club today, while also providing certainty and stability for roster flexibility as we continue to build.”

New Jersey Devils

New Jersey Devils make key moves

Adding Palat was just one of the steps the Devils took to get themselves and young star Jack Hughes to the playoffs. The last time they were in it was 2018 and that’s the only time in the past ten years.

For Palat, who was once the young guy trying to find his way, he’s now being looked at to lead this team.

“It’s gonna be different, but I’m excited for that, for that role,” he said. “I think New Jersey has a great, young team that they’re ready for the next step and I’m excited for it, to be there and help them.” 

new jersey devils ondrej palat
Jun 7, 2022; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat (18) reacts after scoring a goal against the New York Rangers in the third period in game four of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The Devils also added another veteran in Erik Haula by trading pending restricted free agent Pavel Zacha to the Boston Bruins.

Haula, 31, recorded 44 points in 78 games last season.

There’s also been speculation that head coach Lindy Ruff could be on thin ice. Those rumors will gain more steam now with the hiring of Andrew Brunette to the staff as an assistant coach.

Brunette, 48, was the runner-up for the Jack Adams Award after taking over for Joel Quenneville, who resigned 7 games into the season. He led the Florida Panthers to the Presidents’ Trophy with a franchise-record 58 wins and 122 points in 2021-22 but watched his team get swept by Palat and the Lightning in the second round.

If the Devils hit a rough patch, Fitzgerald could make the switch in season to his former teammate when they played together in Nashville.

Devils sign Simon Nemec

When the Devils selected defenseman Simon Nemec with the No. 2 overall pick of the 2022 NHL Draft, a lot of eyebrows were raised. It remains to be seen if passing up on Shane Wright was the right move, but the organization obviously believes in their new prospect.

On Thursday, they signed him to a three-year, entry-level contract with an AAV of $950,000.

Nemec, 18, picked up 26 points in 39 games with HK Nitra in Slovakia’s top professional league, Tipos Extraliga in 2021-22.

“I want to try and play in North America,” Nemec said. “Maybe the American Hockey League or, you never know, maybe the NHL with the Devils.”

Nemec raised a lot of awareness with his performance on the international stage which included helping Slovakia win bronze at the 2022 Beijing Olympics.