The New Jersey Devils finished the 2015-2016 season with a 38-36-8 record, which placed them seventh in the Metropolitan Division and two points behind the Carolina Hurricanes. The Devils scraped together a measly 184 goals last season and allowed 208. This is typical for a team in the midst of a rebuild, but it’s hard not to be disappointed by what’s going on in the Garden State.
Coach John Hynes is pushing the idea that the Devils will be a competitive hockey club and that’s nice in theory. The acquisition of former Oiler Taylor Hall should help, as the slick forward has scored more than 20 goals four times in his six NHL seasons. He led Edmonton in points last season with 65 in 82 games, which put him ahead of Kyle Palmieri’s Devil-leading totals by eight points.
And make no mistake about it, New Jersey has the goalie it wants in Cory Schneider. The 30-year-old gives his club a chance to win every single game and he’s made a full recovery from a May surgery, so the Devils will once again bank on him to take the lion’s share of the starts and pile up some serious wins.
Hall immediately jumps to the front of the line in terms of New Jersey’s offensive prowess. He’s a quick skater and boasts an organic goal-scoring ability, with four of his 26 goals from last season coming on the power play. He chewed up an average of 19:12 of ice time and had 286 shots on goal, but there’s a reckless side to his game that could find him on the shelf more often than Hynes and Co. would like.
25-year-old Palmieri had 30 goals last season and shouldered the bulk of the Devils’ offensive load, so he might be looking forward to Hall more than anyone. He had 11 goals on the power play and managed 22 shots on goal, plus he has the energy and speed to pull an awful lot of magic out of an average of 17:48 of ice time a game. He’s not the best skater in his own end, however, and the opposition likes to knock him around.
Travis Zajac is still tops down the middle, at least in theory. The 31-year-old had 42 points last season, including 14 goals. He’s a long way removed from his flashy 2009-2010 season, where he picked up a career-high 25 goals and 67 points. But he could see a numbers spike with Hall, which means he could be a nice little pickup for fantasy owners looking for a few surprise points. Zajac is also a staple on the man-advantage and he slotted in for six power play goals last season.
It wouldn’t be wise to sleep on Devante Smith-Pelly. The 24-year-old had 25 points last season, including 14 goals. He didn’t see much ice time at 12:17 a game, but he joined the Devils after a tenure in Montreal and seemed to gel with top line centre Adam Henrique. Throw Hall in the mix and it might be time for a quality spike in Smith-Pelly’s numbers. Look for him to double his totals this season. No, seriously.
Once upon a time, the Devils were the most threatening defensive team in the NHL. They trapped, they contained, they hit. Now, things are a little different and the blueline hasn’t exactly seen a resurgence. Andy Green tops the depth chart and he’s a good low maintenance pick. He eats ice time, averaging nearly 23 minutes a game, and he plays with a sense of control.
The addition of Ben Lovejoy gives the Devils some layering. The 32-year-old had 10 points in 66 games last season and remains a decent, reliable player. He’s sizable at 6’1, 206 pounds, and he can play the body. But there’s little by way of significant upside, even if he can jump in for about 10 points a season and pulls up his socks in the post-season.
John Moore is another steady but unremarkable defenceman. The 25-year-old has a big frame and can shoot the puck, with 106 shots on target registered last season. He had 19 points in 73 games and averaged almost 20 minutes of ice time, but there are issues with consistency. Damon Severson fleshes out the top four and he loves to shoot the puck from the point. He was good for 21 points last season.
Schneider makes up for what the uninspiring Devils defence lacks and that’s a good thing. He’s been a consistent goalie in terms of individual numbers and has never posted a save percentage lower than .902 in a season in which he played 20 or more games. Schneider is entering the prime of his career and could backstop New Jersey through a hockey revolution of sorts.
Keith Kinkaid is the backup for Schneider. He’s one of those serviceable netminders that will likely never reach the starting post in the NHL. The 27-year-old has great lateral movement for a netminder with his frame, but there are issues with committing to shots and he tends to lack the positional dependability to stand fast against the league’s better shooters.
It would be nice to find another defenceman worthy of note in New Jersey’s prospect pool and that’s where Steven Santini comes in. The 21-year-old should push for a roster spot this season and could turn heads with his hitting ability. He can play a shutdown game and Albany coach Rick Kowalsky loves his knack for catching dudes with their heads down. Sound familiar?
Centre Pavel Zacha is at the top of the list for most and he could find himself footing the bill for the third or fourth line this season. He registered two points in one game last season and can play centre or wing despite his natural acumen down the middle. The 19-year-old has a notable mean streak, which will serve New Jersey well.
The Path Ahead
This is still a team in rebuild mode, but there’s a silver lining in Taylor Hall. The former Oiler could give the Devils the jumpstart they need in terms of offence, which should put them in line for more wins. They’ve got the goaltending, too, but their defence is still lacking. If Santini pans out in a few years, the Devils could finally have the total package.