What Should the Devils Expect From Year Two of Mackenzie Blackwood?

Last season, Mackenzie Blackwood burst onto the NHL scene as the goaltender of the future for the New Jersey Devils. That distinction had been given to goalies of the past that had since withered away, such as Scott Wedgewood and Jeff Frazee, but Blackwood seemed like the real deal. In his rookie season, he posted a 2.61 GAA, which inflated after a few terrible late-season losses, but a very respectable .918 save percentage for a rookie goaltender. His official record was ten wins and ten losses, but those can be ignored due to the extremely weak team in front of him.

Blackwood became a hero to Devils fans real fast, quickly drawing comparisons to Martin Brodeur himself. As Blackwood enters his second professional year in the NHL, what can the fans expect? Well, that’s a mixed bag.

The Sophomore Slump

The first thing to take into consideration is the dreaded sophomore slump: when players overachieve in their rookie year only to fall back down to Earth in their second year after getting accustomed to the NHL lifestyle. Nico Hischier isn’t the best example because he missed time to injury in his second season, so let’s look at then Devil Adam Henrique instead. In Henrique’s rookie year, the season of “HENRIQUE IT’S OVER!”, he scored 13 goals and 35 assists for 51 points, good enough to earn a Calder Trophy nomination. The next season he only put up 16 points in a lockout-shortened effort.

Even if those numbers are adjusted for a full season, that’s only 28 points over an 82 game schedule, even though he missed six games.
Goalies aren’t immune to sophomore slumps. Remember when Andrew Hammond burst onto the scene and single-handedly carried the Ottawa Senators to the playoffs? Look where he is now (an AHLer for the Minnesota Wild, in case you cared). Next year we have to see how history will treat this year’s rookie goaltenders in Blackwood, Philadelphia’s Carter Hart, and St. Louis’ Jordan Binnington, who’s still in the playoffs as of now.

The Brodeur Comparison

Since most Devil fans were eager to compare Mackenzie Blackwood to Martin Brodeur, let’s look at where they were at comparable times of their careers. Entering next season, Blackwood will be turning 23 in December with 23 games of NHL experience under his belt. At age 23, Brodeur was one year removed from his first Stanley Cup championship in 1995. In a sense, Blackwood was more “eased” into the NHL than Brodeur was. Blackwood was called up to serve on the trio of goaltenders Keith Kinkaid and Cory Schneider, both of whom at separate times were the de facto number ones. It wasn’t until really this season was a complete and total loss and after the Kinkaid trade to Columbus that Blackwood assumed a somewhat starter role.

Martin Brodeur makes a save
Martin Brodeur makes a save. Photo From NHL.com

Brodeur began his NHL career with four games in 1991-92, and then spent the entirety of next season in the AHL. In 1994, Brodeur not only earned a permanent roster spot, but displaced Chris Terreri as the number one en route to a Calder Cup winning season. You don’t need to be reminded how that 1994 season ended for the Devils.

Point being, Brodeur was much better in a shorter timetable than Blackwood, although Blackwood is only a year behind Brodeur in terms of earning the NHL starting job. While Brodeur had extensive minor league experience and a short stint in the NHL a few years prior, injuries and trades to the 2018-19 Devils prompted Blackwood to be thrown out of the water and adapt to the NHL at a much quicker pace. In easier terms, he had to grow up a lot quicker.

Lastly, defense is currently the Devils’ weakest position (even the Devils’ best defenseman would fall down depth charts on the NHL’s best teams, and we still have yet to see Ty Smith at the NHL level). The biggest critique against Brodeur and his records was that the Hall of Fame defense in front of him that limited shots and made his job easier. As much as it pains me to agree with them on that front, they’re right, at least for the purpose of this Brodeur to Blackwood comparison. Brodeur was the greatest goaltender of all time that enjoyed the luxury of a Hall of Fame quality shut-down defense in front of him. Blackwood was left exposed by a subpar, borderline AHL defense whose best year round player was Severson (when Vantanen was down with injury). Blackwood can’t expect the same kind of support in front of him from Butcher, Greene, and Santini that Brodeur had with Danyeko, Stevens and Neidermayer.

Final Conclusion

Mackenzie Blackwood
Blackwood continues to have streaky play

Blackwood has all the makings of the next elite NHL goaltender. Take into account this team is rebuilding, don’t expect Vezina trophies and Brodeur-style save theatrics just yet. When the defense in front of him improves so he’s not left hanging out to dry like that first loss in Calgary, he’ll get better. Besides, with Schneider still acting as the number one with a question mark next to it, the Devils have a fall-back option, and that means less pressure on Blackwood as he continues to grow. He’s no Brodeur yet, but if all goes according to planlockout-shortened he’ll enter the same discussion as him one day.

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