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Vatanen injury may consign Devils to 4th round pick

August 13, 2020, 9:05 AM ET [43 Comments]
Guest Writer
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By Gilles Moncour

The February 24 Devils trade of pending UFA Sami Vatanen has looked to be a good one for Tom Fitzgerald and the Devils. Yes, Vatanen was by far the Devils' best defenseman for the first half of the season, but with the Devils going nowhere, and Vatanen suffering a leg injury on February 1, Fitzgerald had to sell as the trade deadline approached.

Now, trading a lame UFA is not optimal, but Tom Fitzgerald did a commendable job in getting a grade A-minus prospect in skilled Finnish forward Janne Kuokkanen, a 22-year old left wing/center that could bolster the big club and challenge for a middle-6 role as early as the 2020-21 season. In addition, the Devils obtained a conditional draft pick based on Vatanen’s ability to participate in Carolina’s playoff drive.

As the pandemic halted play before Vatanen could rehab and take the ice for Carolina, the NHL had to rework the conditions of the deal to conform to the league’s return-to-play format. The preliminary round brought good tidings for Vatanen, the Hurricanes, and the Devils: the Hurricanes ripped the Rangers to shreds as Vatanen stepped in for injured Dougie Hamilton to QB the #1 power-play, leading the team’s defensmen with 3 points. The ‘Canes 3-0 sweep secured at least a fourth round pick for the Devils. (Of course, the Rangers benefitted from their loss as well, but that’s another story…)

While I’ll spare you the details of the entire draft pick scenario ruling from the NHL, the key fact is that the Devils now own Carolina’s 2020 fourth round pick, which will become a third-rounder if Vatanen plays in 70% of the Canes’ post-Rangers playoff games.

It looked like this would be a fait accompli after Sami’s preliminary round performance, but Hurricanes and Devils fans both got a shock Wednesday when, just prior to Game 1 of the Carolina-Boston best-of-7, Vatanen was tagged with the dreaded “unfit to play” designation and scratched. While no injury designation or timetable has escaped the bubble, given Sami’s unfortunate injury history, Devils' and Canes' fans must hope his luck reverses.

If Vatanen plays in tonight’s Game 2 in Toronto, and misses no more games in the series, the Devils will still be on track for the 3rd round pick. If Sami does not play, the series will have to go 7 games (with Vatanen playing the final five) to activate the clause. Now, if Carolina upsets the Bruins and advances, there will be more games to add to the draft pick equation and it will be back to the whiteboard; but for now, the Devils best shot at an extra third round pick this October rests with Vatanen suiting up for the Hurricanes vs. the Bruins in Game 2 tonight.

Devil’s Trivia: what active Norris Trophy winner modeled his style of play and focused demeanor after New Jersey legend Scott Niedermayer?
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