A number of draft picks and one of the largest cap spaces to fill always meant a busy offseason for Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald.
With some sleepless nights still ahead, Thursday’s trade with the Colorado Avalanche to acquire defenseman Ryan Graves was the first major move for a team expected to be busy this offseason.
“It’s a box we wanted to check off,” Fitzgerald told reporters Friday morning. “I had a really good night’s sleep, I can tell you.”
Graves bolsters a Devils defense that finished among the five worst in the league in goals against and power play goals against, and finished lowest in penalty kill percentage in the NHL this season. Graves comes from the Avalanche, who were among the teams most often playing shorthanded this past season but still killed penalties 83.1 percent of the time, ranked eighth-best in the league last season.
Experience and veteran leadership
Graves is 26 years old and already becomes one of the older players on the young Devils, but also contributes playoff experience, having qualified for the playoffs in two of his three pro seasons at Colorado.
Graves became disposable to Colorado as teams shuffled rosters ahead of the Seattle Kraken expansion draft later this week. The Avalanche traded away Graves to obtain assets instead of risking him being taken by the Kraken and not receiving anything for it.
While Graves’ trade was to the benefit of the Devils, it might not be the only one as other teams make offers to get the most value out of their players.
“It’s definitely in the back of your mind all year,” Graves said. “You can only protect a certain amount of players. I knew that something was going to happen, but I wasn’t aware if it was going to be me.”
With the trade now complete and Graves heading to New Jersey, the newest Devil is excited to learn his role.
“It’s settling,” said Graves. “Now, you can get into your summer routine and what’s coming for you in the season ahead.”
A standout on both sides of the ice
Graves can be a two-way defenseman when needed but shined in Colorado with his penalty-killing prowess.
Graves also has a powerful slap-shot that won contests in the minor leagues and could be a valuable asset on the power play to spark offenses with a man advantage.
Not only is Graves a valuable piece that can help the Devils now, but he is a player that the team has been looking at for some time.
“This isn’t something that just happened last night or even a few days ago,” Fitzgerald said. “Ryan Graves is a player we have discussed internally for quite some time, probably close to two years, a year and a half.”
Fitzgerald says that discussions involving Graves can date back more than a year, during a time in which the Devils were trading away veteran players to gather pieces for the future. Now that Graves is with New Jersey, Fitzgerald hopes the Devils can shift from being a team trading for the future to a team looking for the final piece needed for a contender.
“I can’t wait to be in those situations, to be quite frank, where you’re just rounding out your team of talent and finding pieces that help you win,” Fitzgerald said.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Why NJ Devils trade for Ryan Graves is strong start to important offseason