Akira Schmid is a name that most NHL fans did not know until the 2023 NHL Playoffs were underway. In the season prior, he shared the net with Vitek Vanecek and Mackenzie Blackwood (when healthy). All 3 New Jersey Devils goalies ended the season with winning records. Now, with Blackwood headed out to San Jose, there is a serious opportunity at hand. While most would say that Vitek Vanecek is the Devils starting goalie, Schmid has a chance to continue his first round playoff performance and become the newest star goalie in the Metropolitan Division. With Igor Shesterskin and Ilya Sorokin named as the best goalies in the division, many did not notice at the NHL All-Star break, Vanecek had the best numbers of all of them. The NHL All-Star Game has become a popularity contest and not a skill showcase as it used to be. The high-scoring Devils only had one representative at last season’s ASG, and some wonder how that is even possible. By that time in the season, New Jersey had five or more players worthy of getting the All-Star nod compared to some unnamed players that may or may not have been voted in. Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and Dougie Hamilton were all easy picks for All-Star weekend to join the obvious Jack Hughes. It’s my opinion that Vitek Vanecek should have also been in that game in place of Sorokin, who could hardly keep his team in a wild card spot. Let us not forget that the Devils goaltending kept the team above 4th overall throughout all 82 games in the season. This is something that cannot be overlooked. Let’s start with Vitek Vanecek.
2022-2023 NJ DEVILS GOALTENDING STATS
- VITEK VANECEK: GP-52 W-33 L-11 SV%-.911 GAA-2.45
- AKIRA SCHMID: GP-18 W-9 L-5 SV%-.922 GAA– 2.13
- MACKENZIE BLACKWOOD (SJ): GP– 22 W-10 L-6 SV%-.893 GAA– 3.20
VANECEK was new on the scene this past season for the New Jersey Devils. Fans weren’t sold on him at first. Playing a short time in Washington and an even shorter time in Seattle (0 games), there is not a large sample size of play to see how he would handle a starting position. Mackenzie Blackwood did what he was known for doing and got injured, so Vitek got the nod. This injury may have accidentally solidified the Devils future goaltending duo by bringing Akira Schmid to the backup role.
VITEK VANECEK started his NHL career in Washington D.C. in the 20-21 season. At age 25, he was a late bloomer, but many goaltenders take a lot longer to prepare for the big time after being drafted by an NHL club. In his first season with Washington, he started 36 games. He had 21 wins, 14 losses (4 extra time), a .908 SV%, and a 2.69 GAA. Those numbers are surprising for a goalie who had no hype going into his first NHL season. His second NHL season was almost identical to his first. Vitek played 42 games, ending the season with 20 wins and 18 losses (6 extra time). His save % was exactly the same at a .908, and his GAA was a difference of .3, ending the season with a .911 in his sophomore effort. After movement through Seattle, Vitek Vanecek landed in New Jersey with the fans wondering who they had on their hands. Just a look back at the numbers I just discussed was enough to excite me for the season, as we thought Mackenzie Blackwood would be the starter, and Vanecek, with seemingly great numbers, was there to take the off nights. We should have guessed, with the Devils goaltending horror show in the past few years going through Corey Crawford and Jonathan Bernier, that things weren’t going to be what we expected. Along came Vitek. That should be the name of a book written in the future about this era of Devils hockey. Maybe I’ll write it, but until then, Vitek doesn’t have his feet cemented in the Starting role for the Devils. Another star may emerge; he’s shown glimpses of greatness; his name is Akira Schmid.
AKIRA SCHMID isn’t a new name to Devils fans. He was one of the multitude of goalies the team went through in the 2021-2022 season, playing six games with no wins. At that point, no one could find a glimpse of hope in any goaltender who took the ice. Luckily, the tides would turn for Akira Schmid with the almost expected injury-riddled season for Mackenzie Blackwood. All the Devils goalies finished the season with a winning record. It wasn’t until the planets aligned and a Hudson River Rivalry came to fruition in the first round of the 2023 playoffs that we would really see Schmid under pressure and how he handles it. Vitek Vanecek, being the starting goalie, was shaky and put the Devils in a quick hole against their most hated rival. After all, the last time these teams met in the playoffs, the Devils won in an exciting fashion. Any Devil fan you tap on the shoulder knows the term “Henrique! It’s Over!” so the Rangers weren’t going to go down without a fight. What no one knew was the Devils had a secret. It was such a well-kept secret even the Devils didn’t know about it. After dropping the first 2 games by a large margin, Akira got the nod. With Akira Schmid in net, the Devils went 4-1, with two shutouts, and won the series in game 7. That all-encompassing game 7 was one of Akira Schmid’s two 4-0 shutouts. Although they were ousted in the next round, that performance has Devils fans and hockey fans altogether excited to see what Akira can do this season. Last season, Vanecek, Schmid, and Blackwood backstopped the Devils through 82 games, where they never dropped below 3rd overall in the entire league. I like to remind people of that because that is proof of consistency and, in my opinion, proof that the Devils goaltending going into this next season is underrated. Leave a comment below with your opinion on the Devils goaltending to start the season.
OTHER GOALTENDING OPTIONS
THE New Jersey Devils have a few other options in case of emergency. If and when the Devils have to break the emergency glass here are a few goaltending options this season, including a familiar face from the recent past. Let us start with that familiar face. His name is Keith Kinkaid, and some Devils fans would say that he single-handedly brought the Devils back to the playoffs in 2018. The signing of Kinkaid came as quite a shock to the fans but also gives them that warmth of familiarity if he ends up taking the ice this season. Nico Daws is out until at least December which was the catalyst to bringing in goaltender Erik Kallgren. Kallgren has played some NHL games himself with the Toronto Maple Leafs. When looking at his small sample size in the big league, it isn’t so bad. In the 2021-2022 season, he played 14 games, going 8-4-1, and in the 2022-2023 season, he played in 10 games and had a disappointing but not horrible three wins, two losses, and four extra time losses. With Kinkaid, Kallgren, and Daws down in Utica, the Devils seem to have a pretty good line of goalies if they need to make that callup. At first, if anything happens, who will they bring up? Kinkaid or Kallgren? Will one of them make the team over Akira Schmid? Below, let me know what you think will happen if and when this situation arises.
“The future of the Devils goaltending all comes down to how Akira Schmid matures” – @BrianGerhauser on XX/twitter 9/20/2023
All in all, the season is looking bright for the Devils franchise. Some fans think the goaltending needs to be upgraded, and some fans like myself believe that the team is ready to take the next step with what they have now. I personally have a lot of faith in both Vitek Vanecek and Akira Schmid; however, I can see why some would want an already solidified goalie like Connor Hellebuyck. Making a move right now for a goalie in his position would be a disaster if he didn’t sign an extension immediately, and he hasn’t shown much in the playoffs himself. Another problem with making a move like that is that Hellebuyck’s contract is astronomical and would offset the future the Devils are building. Fans of the New Jersey Devils take pride in making their own picks and players the stars and leaders of the team. It has always been a big deal to die-hard fans, from my experience, especially when comparing them to their rival Rangers, who take the approach of signing every free agent and seemingly ending many stars careers in the process. You can see videos on this subject on the YouTube channel Devils Joint. The video series is called “The MSG Curse.” After seeing just the few players mentioned in these videos, you will see what I mean. I hope this season is a successful one for every Devils goalie, whether in New Jersey, Utica, or wherever else they may be. For more from me, check out @DevilsJointYT_ on X or Devils Joint on YouTube. Here’s to a great season Devils fans!