The New Jersey Devils made serious waves this summer, boosting their roster with the acquisitions of P.K. Subban and Wayne Simmonds while also drafting Jack Hughes with their number one draft pick. Will the moves result in a reversal of fortunes for New Jersey, who’ve only made the playoffs once in the past eight seasons? Or should the fans gear up for more of the same?
The Devils have no lack of electrifying prospects. Hughes will join Nico Hischier among their number. The latter was New Jersey’s top pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft and he saw production drop somewhat in his sophomore campaign. Hughes, meanwhile, dispatched 112 points in 50 games with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 team.
Loading the roster was, naturally, designed to win hockey games and put the Devils back in the playoffs. But New Jersey also has it in mind to win over Taylor Hall, who can become an unrestricted free agent come July 1 of 2020 and is up for an extension before then. The Devils are hoping he’ll sign, particularly since he can re-up for as many as eight more years.
Having that kind of contract extension on the books has to be on the minds of management and could be a cloud hanging over the season. That said, it could also be a great motivator. Hall, who missed the last 47 games of the 2018-2019 season, hasn’t played NHL hockey since December 23 of 2018.
The Devils did not score much last season. In fact, they were the least offensive team in the Eastern Conference and would’ve been the least offensive team in the NHL were it not for the fruitless goings-on of five blundering Western Conference squads. Veteran Kyle Palmieri led the club in scoring with 27 goals. He’s one of just two players to score over 20 goals last season. Blake Coleman had 22.
Hischier finished second in points with 47, including 17 goals. The 20-year-old is capable of so much more at the NHL level. He scored 20 goals in his rookie season for a total of 52 points in 82 games. Still, Hischier did fortify his power play presence last season. He put up three power play goals, tripling his rookie season tally.
Hall has to be looked at as a serious offensive threat, but his health is still kind of a question mark. He’s working his way back from a knee injury and does not seem likely to suit up for much pre-season play. Getting him back to Hart Trophy form may not be practical, but you better know the Devils are a much, much, much better team with him in the lineup.
When Hall did appear in a scrimmage earlier this month, he was skating with Palmieri and Hischier. That should be the line to beat, but fantasy owners might want to take a run at Hughes. The 18-year-old should be a secure Calder Trophy candidate and he might even see some hockey with Hall, plus puck prognosticators like me think he could put up at least 60 points. For a dude on the Devils, that’s good.
Imagining the perfect world in which New Jersey has Hall back in the fold and generates about 60 points from a debuting Hughes is beautiful and all, but what about defence? The Devils were dreadful last season, allowing 275 goals against. That put them near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, with only the Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Philadelphia Flyers, and Ottawa Senators doing worse.
The Devils scored fewer goals than those clubs, which made their lack of D all the more conspicuous. Enter Subban. He’s capable of buttressing the second-worst goal differential in the Eastern Conference, plus he can produce offence from his own end. He’ll quarterback the power play and, after Hall, he’s the surest bet for point collection.
24-year-old Will Butcher will head into his third NHL season after taking a step back last season. He finished a sub-standard minus-17, a shame after running up a plus-one for his rookie year. The Sun Prairie native did shoot the puck more last season and he can quarterback the power play.
The goaltending in New Jersey can best be exemplified by a deep, laborious sigh. To say Cory Schneider had an off year last season is an understatement. The 33-year-old booked 23 starts and won all of six games, posting a .903 save percentage and a 3.06 goals against average with one shutout. He hadn’t played that poorly since a few stubborn starts in Vancouver about a decade ago.
Schneider did pick up the pace when he played for the United States at the 2019 IIHF World Championship tourney and Devils fans may want to cling to that. And honestly, he had hip surgery in May of 2018 and hasn’t been the same since. That’s where Mackenzie Blackwood comes in, as the 22-year-old won 10 of his 22 starts last season and put up better overall numbers.
Naturally the situation in goal is a massive question mark for the Devils, but Schneider and Blackwood could tandem themselves into some reputable hockey. Should that occur, New Jersey might have the coverage they need to get a little daring with defensive breakouts. But they’ve improved overall anyway and the future, it has to be said, is bright.
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