Record: 19-30-7 45pts
Playoffs: Did not qualify
C/W-Nathan Bastian (taken by Seattle Kraken in expansion draft)
D-Ryan Murray (signed with Colorado Avalanche in free agency)
D- Dougie Hamilton (Carolina Hurricanes, free agent signing)
G- Jonathan Bernier (Detroit red Wings, free agent signing)
LW- Tomas Tatar (Montreal Canadiens, free agent signing)
Last season had a nice a nice little start, but unfortunately the rest of the season was very painful to watch unfold. There were some injuries, poor play due to glaring weaknesses, as well as the team having to shut down games for a while due to a CODID-19 outbreak on the team. After that, things continued to spiral downwards for the Devils. New Jersey had a tough time of putting several wins in a row and did better at doing the opposite in losing. They had two nine game losing streaks last year which were the roughest times of the season. In spite of all that, it wasn’t a completely lost season as there were some good things to be happy about if you’re a Devils fan. The main thing to be happy about was it gave a chance to the young players and prospects of the team to play and show what they can do at the National Hockey league level. Former number one over all pick Jack Hughes took a big step forward and showed he’s very capable of being an elite number one center in this league. Hughes was second on the team in scoring right behind former first round pick Pavel Zacha as he put up thirty one points in fifty six games (11g-20a-31PTS). Pavel Zacha finally started to show why he was a former fourth overall pick as he was more dangerous with the puck, shot more, and was a creative playmaker. I think it definitely benefited Zacha playing at left wing where he doesn’t have to bear the huge responsibility that a center has to do in order to be successful. Ty Smith was the New Jersey Devils best defenseman by far and absolutely shined in his rookie season which resulted in some Calder trophy votes. He is the best Devils defenseman that has come up in a long time. Smith can provide offense and play very solid shutdown defensive hockey as well. Yegor Sharangovich as a rookie showed he is capable of playing in the top six forward group and being a very reliable goal scorer with the speed and shot he possesses. We also got to see the NHL debuts of up and comers in defenseman Kevin Bahl and winger Nolan Foote who both showed in limited action that they have the potential to contribute in a major way offensively and defensively for this Devils team.
Let’s fast forward to July before the expansion draft and when free agency began. GM Tom Fitzgerald went out and made moves this offseason that really helped address major weaknesses the Devils had. First, he went out and acquired top four pairing defenseman Ryan Graves in a trade from the Colorado Avalanche. Then, in free agency he went out and picked up the best free agent defenseman on the market in Dougie Hamilton, reliable backup goalie Jonathan Bernier, and top six forward Tomas Tatar from the Montreal Canadiens. Tom Fitzgerald sent a strong message to his Devils team and the rest of the Metropolitan division that the New Jersey Devils are looking to accelerate their rebuild process and make the Stanley Cup playoffs this season which will lead into my thoughts on this upcoming season.
Last season was a disaster and painful to watch, plain and simple. This season I see more bright spots ahead. The Devils greatly improved in areas where I thought they had to improve and addressed those concerns. Defense was one of the three culprits as their defense wasn’t good enough, lacked size, physicality, and defenseman that can get the puck out out of the defensive zone to help create more offense for the forwards and themselves. Bringing in Dougie Hamilton and Ryan Graves will certainly help with all of those aspects. The second culprit was not having a capable backup goaltender after Corey Crawford retired which was taken care of this offseason by signing Jonathan Bernier who had a great season despite playing for a very bad Detroit Red Wings team. Whenever MacKenzier Blackwood isn’t in between the pipes, the Devils will now have a goalie who is capable of playing the position well, and can fill in for stretches if there are injuries and needs to “be the guy”. Finally, adding a top six forward that can score was another issue. Picking up Tomas Tatar could be a great pickup and may have the same impact like when Tyler Toffoli signed with the Canadiens last offseason. New Jersey needed another player that can score and contribute offensively that will go with their two top young centers in Jack Hughes and captain Nico Hischier. I do legitimately think the New Jersey Devils have a good shot at making the playoffs. I say that because they’re young, skilled/talented, fast, and the major weaknesses they had were improved by GM Tom Fitzgerald. Secondly, some of the usual top of the division teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins or Washington Capitals may slip and it could be the Devils who take advantage and get in. All I know is this season will be a much more exciting one than last season to watch if you’re a New Jersey Devils fan. The team is looking to take a big step forward in the process of becoming Stanley Cup contenders and champions that this franchise was accustomed to when winning three Stanley Cups back in 1995, 2000, & 2003. It sure will be exciting to watch for sure…stay tuned!
Projected lines for Opening Night
Janne Kuokkanen — Jack Hughes — Yegor Sharangovich
Tomas Tatar — Nico Hischier — Jesper Bratt
Miles Wood — Pavel Zacha — Michael McLeod
Nolan Foote — Jesper Boqvist — Andreas Johnsson
Ryan Graves — Dougie Hamilton
Ty Smith — Damon Severson
Jonas Siegenthaler — P.K. Subban