Coming out of their internal meetings this summer, the Devils brass noted areas upon which needed improving. One of those areas was the team's defense.
"I'm not going to shy away from telling people I wanted to upgrade the backend," Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald said. "I wanted to get bigger. I wanted to get more mobile. I wanted to be harder to play against.
"We believe Ryan does that."
Ryan, would be Ryan Graves, formerly a member of the Colorado Avalanche. But as of late Thursday night, via trade, the 26-year-old blueliner is now the newest addition to the New Jersey defensive corps.
"Size, skating, the edge that he plays with, the simple puck moving, he gets shots through," said Fitzgerald, who packaged forward Mikhail Maltsev and a 2021 second-round pick (61st overall) to Colorado. "We're thrilled about him. I know he's thrilled about being with us for this opportunity."
Video: Ryan Graves 07.16.21 | 1-on-1
Graves, who stands at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, filled a lot of what the team wanted to add to their backend: a young defensive defenseman that plays with grit, toughness and kills penalties. His characteristics are the epitome of what the Devils covet. And his addition immediately improves New Jersey's blue line.
"There's nothing fancy about him," Fitzgerald told the media Friday afternoon. "He's a hard-nosed, puck-moving, big bodied guy that can skate. Things that we admire. We want to be a team that's tough to play against. We want to be a team that can close gaps quicker. He does that. He helps elevate our D.
"It's a box that we wanted to check off. That's for sure. I had a really good night's sleep last night I can tell you checking that box."
The Avalanche has a plethora of quality defensemen. With the expansion draft looming and Seattle ready to pluck a player from the roster, the Avalanche preferred to get something in return for a player like Graves as opposed to losing him for nothing.
Fitzgerald, armed with assets and plenty of cap space, was more than happy to oblige. In fact, it's a deal that had been nearly two years in the making.
Video: Tom Fitzgerald 07.16.21 | 1-on-1
"This isn't something that happened last night or a few days ago," Fitzgerald said. "Ryan Graves has been a player that we'd been discussing internally for quite some time. Close to two years, a year and a half, Colorado and us have been talking about certain players and certain trades. He's a player that we're very familiar with, very excited to talk about even in the past and to nail it down and acquire a player like Ryan, we're very ecstatic."
For Graves, it's a chance to be a part of a young team that's up-and-coming. And a chance to put the uncertainty of the expansion draft and his future to rest knowing that he will be in New Jersey next season.
"It's been a crazy couple of hours. I was excited," he said. "At first it comes as a shock. You're with a team and organization, you're fully bought into being there. You're not looking elsewhere. When that happens you take a step back and look at what's to come and what your life is going to be like next year and you let it set in. Then you get excited about it thinking about the opportunity and think of where you're going.
"I'm genuinely excited for the opportunity and to get there and get things going, and be a part of a team on the rise."
Video: Ryan Graves 07.16.21 | RAW
Though he is young at 26 years old, he is one of the older players on the Devils' roster. He brings with him two-plus seasons of NHL experience and, most importantly, 25 games worth of playoff hockey.
"He's got good experience. That's important to what we're trying to do," Fitzgerald said. "We're not just going to start sprinting to the playoffs. We have to continue to walk and slow jog and acquiring players like this help us because of their own experience."
It's been a busy week for Fitzgerald and company, who have also signed restricted free agents Michael McLeod and Colton White, adding to the previous signings of Nathan Bastian, Jonas Siegenthaler and Scott Wedgewood. And with the expansion draft, the NHL Draft, and free agency all on the horizon, more moves are likely to occur, if possible.
"You also need a dance partner. You can't just do this yourself," Fitzgerald said. "We're very well prepared for free agency. Communication with other GMs via potential trades. If something comes up that benefits us and improves us I'm obligated to upgrade the team and listen and make hard decisions and hockey trades that you have to do. I'm obligated and responsible to continue to upgrade the organization and round it out and allow our kids to continue to grow and develop at their pace and improve the club.
"So, that's my job."
Video: Tom Fitzgerald 07.16.21| RAW