Once filled with hate, the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers rivalry has simmered over the past few years as the teams’ talent deteriorated. But this summer, the franchises were transformed, injecting new life into the storied Hudson River Rivalry.
For the two historic organizations, everything changed in early April, in the days leading up to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Devils and Rangers completed poor seasons, finishing third and fifth worst, respectively. Then, the outlook for each was altered for the next two decades.
Both teams became draft lottery winners, as the Devils jolted from third to first and the Rangers from fifth to second. This meant the rivals would select back-to-back to kick off the 2019 Entry Draft. With two future superstars in Finnish winger Kaapo Kakko and American center Jack Hughes available for the draft, the lottery results were the perfect formula to reignite one of the nastiest rivalries in hockey.
At about 15 miles apart, the Prudential Center and Madison Square Garden are closer than most NHL rinks. Rangers and Devils fans live amongst each other as neighbors, classmates and sometimes even friends.
As Hughes was selected by New Jersey first, and Kakko second by the Rangers, new life was infused into the rivalry. Fans were buzzing about the upcoming season, and debating which youngster would evolve into a better player.
Playing just across the river from each other, the two talents are destined to be compared to each other for the rest of their careers. Now, each Rangers-Devils clash will not only be a renewal of the rivalry, but also a combat between the one-two punch of the 2019 draft class. Hughes and Kakko are forever linked.
With the teams’ summers off on the right foot, both franchises looked to improve themselves across the board. As the teams made a surplus of major additions, the debate of Hughes against Kakko turned into an argument about which team had the better offseason.
The Rangers kicked it off by acquiring Jacob Trouba from the Winnipeg Jets for Neal Pionk and the 20th overall pick in the 2019 draft. For a stud, top pairing defensemen, the acquisition was a steal for New York. But just a couple days later, on day two of the draft, the Devils countered with an even flashier defensive move. They acquired former Norris Trophy winner, P.K Subban, from the Nashville Predators in exchange for Steven Santini, Jeremy Davies and two second-round draft picks.
This brought New Jersey a top pairing defenseman of their own, while also adding the energy and leadership that team lacked. Subban brings the Devils a true star, both on and off the ice, which is something they have rarely ever had.
New York made the next splash, landing the biggest free agent of the offseason, Artemi Panarin, on a seven year, $81 million dollar deal. The Russian winger, one of the fastest players in the game, is an elite goal scorer who will slot into the Ranger’s top line for years to come. An attack that joins together Kakko and Panarin in the top six is bound to be lethal.
Later in July, the Devils got themselves a star Russian winger too, adding Nikita Gusev in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights. Gusev was the best player in the KHL last season, and should make the Devils a dangerous offensive threat for the upcoming season. It seemed as though Devils’ general manager, Ray Shero, was playing a game of whatever you can do, I can do better.
As training camp is set to start this month, the Devils and Rangers fanbases are eager for the season to start, drooling over the new talent they get to enjoy this year. The mega moves made by both team have lofted expectations after lackluster finishes last year. And when the two young powerhouses face off for the first time in Newark on Oct. 17, the spotlight will be on the newly invigorated rivalry. It will be Panarin vs. Gusev, Trouba vs. Subban, and of course Hughes vs. Kakko meeting in their new colors for the first time.
Dylan Barrett is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.