Perhaps the biggest movers of the offseason, the Devils put themselves in a position to be paid attention to for basically the first time in their history. Even when they were winning Cups, we all pretended it didn’t happen or went about our day doing something else. Is it enough to make them a playoff team? Probably not. But it’s a world where the Devils are fast and interesting, which is the surest sign we’re all imminently doomed. Let’s hop to it.
31-41-10 72 points (8th in the Metro)
2.67 GF/G (25th) 3.30 GA/G (26th)
46.8 CF% (28th) 48.4 xGF% (19th)
17.7 PP% (21st) 84.3 PK% (4th)
Goalies: It would seem just at the precipice of watching his career dispatched off to the Phantom Zone, Cory Schneider might have played his way back into the starter’s role. He was brilliant after returning from yet another injury in February, where he went for a .921 SV% in 17 games. 17 games doesn’t make for a season, but it sure is a hell of a lot better than the utter disaster he had been for the previous two seasons.
If it’s not him the Devils have been hoping to turn things over to fiendishly named MacKenzie Blackwood, who put up a .918 in his rookie campaign. Not bad for a kid who was 21 when the season started. He’s clearly the goalie of the future, but for now the Devils are probably going to have the two split starts. At least in the season’s first half, until one of them takes it.
Defense: It used to be you couldn’t name any Devils d-man unless you wanted to make it clear to anyone around you had outlived your usefulness to society, if you’d ever had any to begin with. That’s not the case anymore, thanks to the guy attached to Lindsey Vonn. The Devils brought in PK Subban for essentially nothing, and he’ll juice a unit that tried to approach solid but was in desperate need of any dynamism. PK and Sam Vatanen will make for a hell of a power play if nothing else. Andy Greene is somehow still here, because nothing ever dies in New Jersey, it just gets left in a swamp. I’m supposed to say Damon Severson is dependable, except I’m fairly sure he’s just a conspiracy and doesn’t actually exist. Also a joke about Mirco Mueller‘s neck goes somewhere around here, though he was surprisingly effective from a third pairing (+3.22 relative xGF%).
Past Subban there isn’t much here, but he should improve it from the top. That is if he isn’t on the decline, which a lot of experts seem to think he is, because he’s not white. And now he’s motivated, and having a PK that’s determined to fuck the world is a weapon you want to have. The joker card here is if Ty Smith, the Devils best prospect before they took Jack Hughes makes the team or not. He dominated the WHL last year, and most think he can skip the AHL and head straight to the Devils. With Subban, Smith, and Vatanen, that’s a lot of get-up-and-go for a team that wants to play that way.
Forwards: Clearly, all eyes will be on Jack Hughes, who will step right into the #1 center role and hopefully can bat his eyelashes at Taylor Hall enough, and pass him the puck enough, to keep Hall in town past this season. With Nico Hischier being bumped down to the #2 center role, the Devils hope they are set down the middle for the next decade. They were also able to pick up the scraps from Vegas and their unnoticed cap idiocy for Nikita Gusev, whom the Knights had been pumping for a couple years but apparently sucks now that they traded him. If he slots in behind Hall the Devils might have a find here. The two Jespers–Bratt and Boqvist–will bring even more speed to a lineup that was already kind of dripping with it. The Devils have filled their lineup with nippy forwards you don’t necessarily know but are getting past people constantly. You know it because you’ve seen them torch the Hawks the past two seasons.
Prediction: Most seem to think the playoffs are going to be just out of reach for the Devils. It might be, but they’re going to get pretty damn close. Hughes is going to step right in and won’t need much of an adjustment period. They’re likely to get no worse than representative goaltending. And they’re in a division where more teams are heading the wrong way or are just confusing as all hell. Adding 23 points seems like a big ask, but it’s been done before. Of course, the drama over Hall could be a distraction, and if they’re not in the thick of it come February the Devils might decide to cash in on what they can with Hall instead of watching him head for the exit in July. Still, the top line is going to be must-see TV, Smith and PK on the blue line could be a blast. There’s a lot to like here, even if it might need another year to really come together.