Now is one of the best times in franchise history to be a fan of the New Jersey Devils, a young and dynamic team with serious Stanley Cup aspirations for the first time in many years. Yes, the Devils were very good last season and made the playoffs, but they enter this season poised to make even more noise, challenge for a division title, and potentially capture a Conference title on their way to the Stanley Cup Final. General Manager and EVP Tom Fitzgerald has slowly but surely put together a solid squad by drafting well, extending existing players with fair long-term contracts, signing complimentary free agents, and making big trades involving big players. This season is the first of what will be many “all-in” years in which the Devils are in a position to be a top contender. They have some areas that could be better, and luckily have the cap space to address those concerns should the situation arise. With that said, let’s dive into the season set to unfold a few weeks from now.
How the Season Ended
Just like they did during the regular season, the Devils season ended by them playing second fiddle to the Carolina Hurricanes. New Jersey ended the regular season with 52 wins and 112 points, with the Hurricanes finishing one point ahead. In the playoffs the Devils found themselves down 2-0 in the first round to the New York Rangers after the Blueshirts shocked them on home-ice. The Devils would go on to take the next three games, they dropped Game 6 at Madison Square Garden, and blanked the Blueshirts in Game 7 at Prudential Arena.
Next up was the Hurricanes, and just like the series vs. the Rangers, the Devils dropped the first two games of the series. They rallied back with a decisive 8-4 victory in Game 3, but dropped Game 4 6-1, and lost Game 5 in overtime by a score of 3-2. All in all, it was an impressive showing in the Devils first playoff run since the 2017-18 season, and it provided the young team with valuable experience they can lean on this season.
The Devils roster changed a little bit this summer, and now have a roster that includes a number of key pieces that are locked up for multiple years. Here’s a quick look at who departed and joined the organization this offseason.
Out: Damon Severson (D), Ryan Graves (D), Yegor Sharangovich (F), Mackenzie Blackwood (G), Tomas Tatar (F), Miles Wood (F), and Jesper Boqvist (F)
In: Tyler Toffoli (F), Colin Miller (D), Tomas Nosek (F)
This season the New Jersey Devils are good enough to make it to the Eastern Conference Final, and are one of the top contenders to win the Stanley Cup. As it stands today, the Devils have one of the better top lines in the league with the combination of Jesper Bratt on the left, Tyler Toffoli on the right, and superstar-in-the-making Jack Hughes holding things down in the middle. Both wingers scored at least 30 goals last season, and finished with 73 points in 82 games, and Hughes was one point short of 100 and would have crossed that threshold had he appeared in all 82 games. He was the team’s MVP, and worth 20.9 goals above replacement according to Evolving-Hockey. This line is going to make things hard for opposing defense corps, and that will only make things that much easier for the second line to hop across the boards.
The second line will see last year’s big trade deadline acquisition Timo Meier on the left, youngster Dawson Mercer opposite him on the right, and 2017 No. 1 overall pick and team captain Nico Hischier at center. Meier was having a strong season with San Jose, and it took him time to find his footing with the Devils. He ultimately finished the year with 66 points in 78 games.
Hischier had another fine season for himself as one of the league’s more underrated two-way players, and with 80 points in 81 games was oh-so-close to being a point per game player. He was worth 20.3 GAR, and it’s just wild that the Devils have a talent like that on the 2nd line. Lastly is Mercer who completed his sophomore season with the Devils. He was quite impressive during his rookie year, he finished with 17 goals and 25 assists for 42 points, and ended the 2022-23 season with a line of 27-29-56 while averaging just two more seconds per game. This line had the potential to be very good for New Jersey, and on some other teams in the league would be an amazing first line. That just speaks to the talent the Devils have, and that’s something that will come in handy come playoff time.
The last forward line of note, we really don’t need to be breaking down the fourth line at this point, is the Devils third line of Ondrej Palat, Erik Haula, and what should be forward prospect Alexander Holtz. This line offers a lot of upside, mostly because it features a center with 50-point potential on the third line, and two wingers who should be better than last year.
Palat was limited to 49 games and finished with a line of 8-15-23. During his time with the Lightning he showed to be a 40 to 50 point player who ultimately topped out at 63 points during his second full season in the league. Palat isn’t going to get that much playing time with New Jersey, but still can be effective in his role.
Then there’s Alexander Holtz who is looking to break out and show why the Devils selected him No. 7 overall at the 2020 draft. He is a sniper with an elite shot, and during his first full season with the Utica Comets he tallied 26 goals and 51 points in 52 games. Last season he had 6 goals and 11 points in 14 AHL games, and just 3 goals and 4 points in 19 NHL games. If he can figure things out this season in a reduced and sheltered role, that will be a major benefit to the Devils who would love it if he’s able to take the next steps during the coming seasons. Toffoli is under contract for this season, and if he’s a one and done player, the Devils would be thrilled if Mercer and Holtz can each slide up a spot and then hold down spots in the top-six.
Defense is a little more straightforward as the team is returning the majority of their squad with top prospect Luke Hughes now in the picture full time, and Colin Miller joining via free agency. The top pair should continue to be a duo of Jonas Siegenthaler, one of the most underrated defenders in the league that Washington should have never allowed to get away, and Dougie Hamilton on his right. Siegenthaler was worth an impressive 14 goals above replacement, and Hamilton ended the season with 74 points in 82 games while also being the team’s 3rd-most valuable player worth 14.4 GAR.
The second pair will likely see Hughes on the left with John Marino on the right, and this could be an interesting pairing. Marino is a very talented defender who seemingly fell out of favor with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and he had an excellent season defensively.
This makes him the perfect partner for Hughes who is known for his offensive contributions, and will need a steady partner as he acclimates to the NHL. Hughes posted a line of 27-60-87 in In 80 NCAA games at the University of Michigan as a defenseman, and the Devils have high hopes for him as a puck mover and offensive facilitator.
Lastly, the Devils can skate a third pair of Kevin Bahl and Colin Miller, a very underrated addition this summer. Miller is a very steady defender, and someone that probably could play higher in the lineup on other teams. That he “only” has to be a third pair guy for the Devils is a privilege for them. Here’s a look at his most recent player card.
Now there’s the goaltending position, and the only area that is somewhat questionable for New Jersey. I say somewhat questionable because Vitek Vanecek did have a fine season last year, but couldn’t be trusted in the playoffs. He ended the season with 7.65 goals saved above average, and 13.28 goals saved above expected. He finished 15th and 14th in the NHL in those respective categories, and with the team in front of him… that should be good enough for New Jersey.
It was a small sample, but in the playoffs he posted a -10.04 GSAA, and a -8.08 GSAx, which is why Akira Schmid took the crease from him. In 9 games Schmid posted a 4.27 GSAA, and a 4.51 GSAx which is very decent especially when you consider he was thrown right into the thick of it without any real preparation. Schmid spent the majority of his season in the AHL with the Comets, and logged just 18 games with the Devils in which he went 9-5-2 with a 2.13 goals against average, a .922 save percentage, a 6.57 GSAA, and a 8.47 GSAx. It is possible that Schmid could steal the crease again. And the Devils have the luxury of trying things out to see if they have a No. 1 goalie of the future. In the league you don’t need an elite goaltender to win it all, so with goaltending being the one potential area of concern, I guess you can say the Devils have it pretty easy.
Prediction for Season: 1st in Metropolitan Division
Many people will say that the Carolina Hurricanes are the team to beat in the Metropolitan Division, but this should be the Devils’ year. They have put together a very impressive squad and I think that they will win the division, and will make it to the Eastern Conference Final. New Jersey has a roster that’s primed to score a lot of goals, they are a fast team that skates well and can shut down the opposition, and has a defense that can limit offense against which should help insulate their one area of mild concern which is stability between the pipes… although that’s a situation that is fluid if Schmid gets a chance to take the No. 1 job and run with it.
It isn’t going to be an easy run by any stretch given the talent in the division, but the Devils should be the team to beat when all is said and done. The only thing that can doom them is injuries, but that’s the case for any team in this league. If all goes well, the Devils have a chance to start a mini dynasty, and this could be the first year of the future for their franchise. Time will tell, but the Devils appear to have that “it” factor, and are poised to be a menace in the NHL this season.