Kurtis Gabriel

It’s New Jersey Devils Day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New Jersey Devils.

2018-19
31-41-10, 74 pts. (8th in the Metropolitan Division, 15th in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Did not qualify

IN
Jack Hughes
P.K. Subban
Wayne Simmonds
Nikita Gusev
Connor Carrick
John Hayden

OUT
Kurtis Gabriel
Brian Boyle
Keith Kinkaid
Ben Lovejoy
Kenny Agostino
Stefan Noesen
Drew Stafford
Eric Gryba
Eddie Lack

RE-SIGNED
Will Butcher
Mirco Mueller

2018-19 season review

Season grade: F
Offseason grade: A+

Yes, it appears it can all change that quickly for some teams.

Much like the Florida Panthers, who I wrote about last week, the New Jersey Devils can rest easy knowing that last season is going to feel like a distant memory after the summer Ray Shero and Co. put together.

The Devils were very bad last season, so bad that, for the second time in the past three seasons, they were rewarded (thanks to a bit of luck) with the first-overall pick back in June.

[MORE: X-factor | Under Pressure | Three questions]

They came into the draft lottery with the third-best odds but moved up to spots for the honor of selecting Jack Hughes.

They then shook up the hockey world, dropping a massive trade bomb on the second day of the draft as they acquired P.K. Subban to fortify their blue line.

Getting Hughes and Subban in the same weekend helped take the sting off a poor season where they couldn’t score much and couldn’t stop the puck a whole lot at the other end of the ice.

Just two players cracked the 20-goal plateau, only one player hit 50 points and their goaltending was abysmal. It didn’t help that Taylor Hall was limited to just 33 games because of injury and then there were the rumors of his long-term future not being in Newark.

Some of those questions still remain, especially between the pipes, but there’s a reason for optimism after such a big summer.

Aside from Hughes and Subban, the Devils also added some grit in Wayne Simmonds. It’s a one-year ‘prove it’ sort of deal that will keep Simmonds hungry as he goes searching for a longer-term deal next offseason.

And they added a player some consider the best who wasn’t playing in the NHL in Nikita Gusev, a former Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick who was then signed by the Golden Knights last year and then traded to New Jersey in July.

A lot of good has happened since the Devils played their final regular-season game of 2018-19. They’ve had to keep up in an arms race across the Hudson River as the New York Rangers took Kaapo Kakko right after New Jersey took Hughes and added Artemi Panarin in free agency and signed Jacob Trouba to a long-term deal.

Either way, gone should be the days where the Devils aren’t considered a perennial playoff contender.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Fight: Oilers’ Lucic, Devils’ Gabriel engage in marathon slugfest

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Fights are few and far between these days. They just don’t happen with the same regularity as they used to.

The scarcity also means less and less are we seeing two combatants engaging in a lengthy battle. Often, the gloves drop, a couple of haymakers are thrown, someone loses their footing and they’re patting each other on the back.

“Good job, buddy.”

Edmonton Oilers tough guy Milan Lucic and New Jersey Devils thorn-in-the-side Kurtis Gabriel didn’t exchange pleasantries after their battle Wednesday Night Hockey — maybe, perhaps, because they were just too gassed to do so.

Lucic and Gabriel went back and forth for a full minute before Lucic had enough. To Gabriel’s credit, he looked as if he could have gone a few more rounds. He seemed to get better as the fight played out, with Lucic running out of steam near the end. Hard to blame him, Gabriel was sticking him with the left jab pretty good. Lucic popped Gabriel’s helmet off with a hard right hand earlier in the bout.

Most don’t want a piece of Lucic but Gabriel seemed motivated by the challenge. The two had been pestering each other earlier in the game.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Devils’ Gabriel sets bait, Sabres’ Bogosian takes it in warm-up fracas

MSG
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Kurtis Gabriel doesn’t play a pile of minutes, so it’s a little surprising that Zach Bogosian took such an interest in the 25-year-old forward prior to puck drop between the New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres on Sunday.

It must be something he said.

Indeed, Gabriel got under the veteran defenseman’s skin well before the game officially started. A heated conversation at the center line during warmup seemed to spark an extended battle between the two as the usual pre-game skate progressed.

Bogosian took issue with something Gabriel chirped in their first exchange and swatted the latter in the back of the leg before departing, momentarily at least.

Bogosian hooked Gabriel on another pass-by later on, then proceeded to fire a puck his way before the intense death glare. Of course, Bogosian wasn’t finished. He got in a solid cross-check to Gabriel’s arm followed by a quick slash — Bogosian’s version of a 1-2, apparently.

Here’s the tape:

Gabriel didn’t budge. Instead, he mocked Bogosian before Drew Stafford skated between the two to diffuse the situation.

Nothing seemed to come of it during the game and the pair didn’t drop the gloves.

Bogosian finished with nearly 21 minutes of ice time while Gabriel had 7:03.

The Devils got the last laugh, winning 4-1.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Kesler the latest to target Johnny Gaudreau

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If it wasn’t obvious already, it is now — there’s a big ol’ target on Johnny Gaudreau.

Gaudreau, one of the league’s most dynamic offensive talents, is also one of the most diminutive. As such, there’s been plenty of attention paid by opponents this season in the form of hacks, whacks and physical play.

He’s already missed 10 games this year to a broken finger — which, per Flames GM Brad Treliving, happened on the 11th slash Gaudreau received in a game against Minnesota on Nov. 15 — and on Thursday night, Anaheim’s Ryan Kesler shared his strategy on shutting down Johnny Hockey.

“They embarrassed us last time [8-3, on Dec. 4] and we wanted a response,” Kesler said, per the O.C. Register. “I thought our team responded pretty well. We’re good when we’re hard to play against. Particularly me. I thought if I had a chance to get a lick on him, I would.

“Obviously he’s a smaller guy and he likes to have his skating room. Doesn’t like to get touched. You can see the way their team reacted when you do that.”

It’s a telling statement, and not just because of targeting Gaudreau. Kesler also noticed how the Flames reacted.

That’s key.

In the aftermath of slash-gate, Calgary was livid. Players and management talked plenty about the treatment of their leading scorer, and Treliving acknowledged he spoke with NHL Director of Officiating Stephen Walkom about the situation.

Kesler wasn’t the only opponent to notice the Flames’ response.

Two weeks after the Nov. 15 game, Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau said Calgary “made a mountain out of a molehill” over the Gaudreau slash. Boudreau also apparently anticipated a reaction because, in the rematch between the two clubs on Dec. 2, he gave 6-foot-4, 211-pound tough guy Kurtis Gabriel his season debut.

Moving forward, this will be a situation worth monitoring, because teams are realizing that rattling Gaudreau isn’t just about ratting Gaudreau — it’s also about rattling the Flames.

Related: Gaudreau injury a reminder to how star players are defended and treated

Video: Peluso, Gabriel throw down in spirited heavyweight tilt

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The big boys got after it early in Minnesota today.

Wild forward Kurtis Gabriel — all 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds of him — picked one of the toughest opponents in hockey on Friday, throwing down with Jets enforcer Anthony Peluso early in the first period.

And it was a pretty good tilt.

Peluso, one of the league’s most feared fighters, was coming off two pretty heavy scraps — one against Columbus tough guy Jared Boll, and another in which he landed some serious shots on overmatched Canucks d-man Luca Sbisa:

Of course, Gabriel’s no slouch.

He had one previous fight in the NHL this year (against Peluso’s teammate, Chris Thorburn) and five in the American League, where he’s spent the majority of this season.

Given the fisticuffs that occurred earlier in the Bruins-Rangers game, it seem the NHL has really gotten into the spirit of Black Friday.

(All videos courtesy HockeyFights.com)