The New Jersey Devils have themselves a new goaltender in Vitek Vanecek, with the Washington Capitals trading the 26-year-old for second and third-round picks during last week’s draft. Washington also let New Jersey have the 46th pick of the draft in the same trade in what has become a key move for the Devils.
The Czech player was a restricted free agent with arbitration rights, having gotten drafted by the Capitals in 2014 and has since posted a 41-22-10 overall record with the team.
He started 449 games last season, as well as the first two games of the playoffs before losing the spot to Ilya Samsonov for the final four contests.
“We’ve been trying to change our goaltending up a little bit, and this is the first step in doing that,” Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan was quoted as saying by the Washington Street Journal. “We got some work to do to fill out our goaltending duo and have further decisions to make as we go forward here.”
A rookie for the Capitals in 2020/21 before being selected by the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft, Vanacek was traded back to Washington in exchange for a second-round pick the following week.
He is expected to pair up with Mackenzie Blackwood in net for the Devils, who New Jersey Sports betting won’t have anywhere near the top in terms of favorites for the Stanley Cup. Some of the most popular NY sportsbooks have them 66/1 to go all the way next season.
Vitek’s move left Samsonov, who was also a restricted free agent with arbitration rights the sole goalie in Washington at the time. He was drafted No.22 overall in 2015 but lacks the consistency the Capitals would have wanted from him.
He struggled to make simple saves last season, posting 23-12-5 with a save percentage of .896 and a 3.02 goals against average.
McLellan indicated the team’s intent to extend a qualifying offer to the 25-year-old Russian prior to the deadline but they ended up not keeping him and he has since signed a one-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Washington, meanwhile, has reached a five-year deal worth $26.25 million with goaltender Darcy Kuemper, wasting no time once free agency kicked off.
Kuemper posted a 2.54 goals against average and a save percentage of .921 during the regular season, before helping the Colorado Avalanche win the Stanley Cup. He suffered an eye injury in the Western Conference finals but came back in time to continue the silverware charge.
“Super excited for the new opportunity,” the new Capitals goalie said after inking his deal. “This is a team that can win it. That’s always a lot of fun to be a part of. Really looking forward to getting started. It’s going to be a short summer, but I can’t wait to get down there and meet the guys.”
As for the Vanecek deal, it should work out well enough for the Devils. While it might not seem that way off the stick, New Jersey was much better than the Capitals defensively in some key areas and allowed the fifth-fewest High Danger Scoring chances against 5-on-5 in the league.
Vanecek, though, was superior to the two goalies New Jersey played last season and, given that they allowed fewer high-danger scoring chances and now have a better goaltender, they should have an even better defense next term.
The left catcher will also bring his impressive work ethic to the Devils. He has always been a player who fights the hardest when the odds are stacked against him. He fought to make it to the NHL the hard way and would go on to earn his starts despite Samsonov being tipped to be the starter in goal.
He will definitely provide competition for starts in New Jersey, which should be good for Blackwood, who hasn’t shown consistency in his role.
The latter should see some of the load come off his shoulders as Vanecek can provide a steady presence in goal while pushing him to make improvements. The Devils will be all the better for it if both of their keepers could force each other to be better.