Vatanen expected to make Devils debut vs. Avalanche

Three weeks ago, the Colorado Avalanche made a splash with a three-team trade that netted young talent and future draft picks.

General manager Joe Sakic was praised for landing so much and only giving up a disgruntled Matt Duchene in the deal. One of those players, 19-year-old defenseman Samuel Girard, has been a workhorse on the top pairing.

The New Jersey Devils are hoping for the same sort of splash after they made a big trade for a young defenseman on Thursday. New Jersey sent forwards Adam Henrique and Joseph Blandisi and a 2018 third-round draft pick to Anaheim for 26-year-old Sami Vatanen.

Vatanen is expected to meet the team in Colorado, where the Devils will play the Avalanche on Friday night.

Henrique was one of the last players left from New Jersey’s 2011-12 team that reached the Stanley Cup Finals. It was his overtime goal in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals that beat the New York Rangers and sent the Devils on to face Los Angeles.

New Jersey (14-6-4) sacrificed some depth at forward in the trade to bolster their blue line.

“In acquiring Sami, we bring a right-shot, top-four defenseman who can play in all situations,” Devils general manager Ray Shero told The Bergen Record on Thursday. “This move also gives us contract certainty on the back end for the next two-plus years. When acquiring a defenseman like Vatanen, you have to give back quality assets or players in return. That is the case in this situation with Adam and Joe. Adam has been a key member of our organization for nearly 10 years since he was drafted.

Said Devils coach John Hynes: “I think it’s a very good hockey trade. It’s sad to see Adam leave. He’s been a consummate Devil for 10 years and a real important part of the organization. He came into my office, he was a little bit upset right away, just the shock of it. As we talked through some things, he was grateful for his time here and he understands this is a game and a business and he also understands this is a great opportunity for him.”

Vatanen will be thrown into the mix against a Colorado team that is playing well at Pepsi Center. The Avalanche (12-9-2) have re-established home-ice advantage after a poor showing last season. Colorado is 8-2-1 in Denver after beating Winnipeg in overtime Wednesday night.

Friday’s game is the third in a five-game homestand for the Avalanche. They are 1-1 after beating the Jets, which was the start of captain Gabe Landeskog serving his four-game suspension. Landeskog leads the Avalanche in goals with nine, but Colorado was able to rally to win in overtime.

Center Nathan MacKinnon, the team’s leading scorer with 28 points, is a big reason. He had a goal and an assist and finished November with five goals and 15 assists in 12 games. The 20 points are a career high for a single month and the fifth 20-point November in Avalanche history.

His 15 assists are the second most in the month of November in Avalanche history behind Peter Forsberg’s 17 in 1995.

MacKinnon downplayed his productive month.

“I was playing a lot better (earlier) than I did (Wednesday),” MacKinnon said. “My whole life isn’t wrapped around points, goals and assists. I’m focused on playing well, focused on the process whether I get points or not.”

Friday’s matchup will feature strength vs. strength. New Jersey, tied for second in the Metropolitan Division with 32 points, is 8-2-2 on the road. The Devils’ strong road play will be put to the test after the trade, and the players are getting adjusted.

“I can’t comment on the fact that it makes us a contender or if that’s what Ray is thinking,” Taylor Hall told The Bergen Record. “When you trade a good hockey player you’re going to get a good one back. That’s the case here.”