Fantasy Take: Devils make deal with Vatanen

Michael Clifford

2021-01-07

The New Jersey Devils continued a stellar offseason – even though we're in camp now – with the addition of Sami Vatanen for one year at $2M (as of now, it is still uncon. Remember that Vatanen played with them for the last two seasons before being traded at the 2020 trade deadline to Carolina. He was injured, though, and never suited up for a regular season game. He only made his appearance for the 'Canes in the postseason.

It was a long time ago, but I'll remind people that Vatanen was playing to a 40-point pace before his injury (23 in 47) and that was in conjunction with over one hit per game and about 1.6 blocks per game. Those are good numbers for a depth blue liner in fantasy. There are problems, though.

First off, Vatanen posted a 40 percent IPP, or the rate at which he garners a point when the Devils scored a goal with him on the ice. He had posted four straight seasons of 33.3 percent or less, and has never been above 39 percent. That is going to pull back, and going from 40 percent to 30 percent cuts a quarter of his production. It is a lot.

The good news is there is room for improvement elsewhere. Vatanen has ranked in the top-third of the league's defencemen in terms of shot assists/60 the last three years, per Corey Sznajder's data. He also posted zero first assists at 5-on-5 last year. Yeah, he only played 47 games, but also averaged one such assist basically every eight games through his first two NJD seasons. Losing a quarter of his production to an IPP drop brings him from 23 points to about 18, but adding 5-6 assists basically balances out that drop. If his IPP and first assists return to relative normalcy, the fall of the first and rise of the second should effectively cancel each other out.

All this is predicated, of course, on power-play minutes. He led the team's defencemen in this regard last year. Seeing as he's signed with less than a week until games start, and PK Subban is already in that role, it appears Vatanen lost that production. He got 10 such points last year so if that declines by half (which is being generous), we're back to a loss in production roughly equivalent to his original IPP drop. This is all to say that if nothing else changes, Vatanen's production should drop.

The question is if New Jersey can start scoring more. They did add Andreas Johnsson, have