The New Jersey Devils season has finally and officially ended. Although to be honest, it really ended a long time ago. As I’ve said plenty of times before this was going to be a youth evaluation and development type of season. We all knew that going into the season that there would be painful times ahead. There definitely were some highs and lows as the season went on. There was a 10 game losing streak which was really hard to watch. Sadly the Devils were only ever able to put together a three game winning streak. New Jersey definitely faced adversity such as Jesper Bratt’s delay to starting his season (due to contract/visa issues), COVID-19 outbreak on the team, & injuries at times to captain Nico Hischier as well as Pavel Zacha. Despite all of the adversity, there were definitely some very good positives amongst all the struggles. Let’s take a look at what went right for the New Jersey Devils:
Positives for the NJ Devils
–Emergence of Jack Hughes: the off-season work of Jack Hughes certainly paid off and it’s why he had a very good sophomore season. Hughes put on more muscle and was more confident with the puck on his stick. He drove the play more and was very adept at creating offensive chances for himself and his line mates. As Hughes continues to improve and he gains more skilled line mates, his numbers and potential will go through the roof. The sky is the limit for Jack Hughes and I can’t wait to see what is in store for this young Devils star.
–Pavel Zacha greatly improved: Zacha has faced criticism since he was drafted 6th overall in the first round back in 2015 and that criticism was absolutely fair. Zacha hasn’t been playing up to his potential. This season, Zacha has proved his doubters wrong and showed he is capable of being a top six winger or center. Zacha led the Devils in scoring (17-18a-35pts). You can tell Pavel Zacha was more confident in the way he would shoot and pass the puck. He needs to keep the momentum he built this season into next season and all seasons going forward.
–Letting the kids play: it was really nice getting to see a lot of the young prospects getting their chances to play this season. You had youngsters like Yegor Sharangovich, Ty Smith (Devils best defenseman), Janne Kuokkanen, Michael McLeod, Nick Merkley, Nolan Foote, and Kevin Bahl crack the lineup during the season. Yegor Sharangovich showed he has a knack for being a pure goal scorer in the NHL. He was a lot of fun to watch. Ty Smith wowed us with his play as a great two-way defenseman. His offensive instincts are as good as his defensive instincts. Michael McLeod was impressive especially taking over as a bottom six center after the trade of Travis Zajac. Finally, it was great getting a small glimpse of Nolan Foote and Kevin Bahl who both really excite me. In a small sample size, Foote showed he definitely has the skill to play at the NHL level in a top six role. Next season, Foote needs to be playing with either a Jack Hughes or Nico Hischier. Out of the two in a small sample size, Kevin Bahl impressed me the most. Yes, he did struggle a bit and took some time to adjust down in Binghamton but once he got the call up to the NHL he started to shine. Bahl showed in a small sample size he is a tough, physical, nasty, and positionally sound NHL defenseman. That is the kind of defenseman the New Jersey Devils need going forward.
Areas for improvement
–Defense: this was the biggest weakness still for the New Jersey Devils. Despite adding Ryan Murray & Dmitry Kulikov on the back end (they were pretty solid), it still wasn’t enough to help improve the defense. PK Subban is past his prime and is a mirage of the former Norris Trophy winner he used to be. It’s sad because he still does have a great shot from the point yet he doesn’t play good enough defense anymore. New Jersey needs to find a way to get out from underneath Subban’s contract. Last off-season, Tom Fitzgerald worked on a lot at improving the forward corp. This off-season, he needs to work on getting the rest of the defense right. Ty Smith & Kevin Bahl are very good starts to rebuilding the defense of the New Jersey Devils. The addition of Jonas Siegenthaler from the Washington Capitals should help on the bottom pairing. Fitzgerald needs to improve the right side of the defense and add a defenseman that is capable of creating offense and especially on the power play. Ideally, I’d like to see the Devils spend some of their cap space on Dougie Hamilton. That would be a great addition to the Devils D corps. David Savard would be another welcomed addition as well.
–Backup goaltender: New Jersey thought they had this taken care of by signing Corey Crawford away from the Chicago Blackhawks. Unfortunately, we never got to see him play in a Devils uniform as he shockingly retired before the season started. Going forward, the Devils had to use Scott Wedgewood, Aaron Dell, & Eric Comrie as backups to MacKenzie Blackwood throughout the season. I’m not going to sugarcoat it here… those names aren’t good enough to back up Blackwood. At best they are AHL caliber goaltenders. Besides fixing the defense, Tom Fitzgerald needs to add a capable NHL backup goaltender to his shopping list. Fortunately, there are plenty of good ones for Tom Fitzgerald to choose from.
Thank you for following my coverage of the New Jersey Devils this season and it’s been a blast covering Jersey’s team! Please stay tuned to what may happen in the off-season as the Devils keep building towards being Stanley Cup contenders. See ya soon Devils fans 😃