The 2020-21 New Jersey Devils have made it clear that the youth movement is on. After trading away Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac, there is a change in philosophy under general manager Tom Fitzgerald. It is time to see what the future is going to be and let the youth on the team takeover. And while the results may not be there, it is a step in the right direction for the 2020-21 New Jersey Devils to be successful down the road. It is better to see what you have now instead of waiting because by then it could be too late.
2020-21 New Jersey Devils Youth Movement Is Taking Over
It has been a difficult time if you have been a fan of the New Jersey Devils. Year after year it seems the Devils have been in a constant rebuild ever since they forced Lou Lamoriello out of town. And while yes they did make the playoffs during the 2017-18 season, that was only the second playoff appearance since 2012 when they went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. However, ever since making the playoffs in 2017-18, they just could not back it up. Many felt things were heading in the right direction under Ray Shero, as he brought in pieces like P.K. Subban, Nikita Gusev, and others to keep this team a contender. Unfortunately, for Shero, the Devils were just not good enough to compete in a tough Metropolitan and now East Division.
Shero was replaced by Tom Fitzgerald after ownership said they wanted to go in a different direction. It didn’t help that Shero was loyal to John Hynes and the return for Taylor Hall was not ideal. But he did get a first-round pick out of it along with a good defensive prospect in Kevin Bahl. So the jury is still out on that one. Fitzgerald made a heck of a debut during last season’s NHL trade deadline acquiring a first-round pick and several prospects including Janee Kuokkanen, Nolan Foote for Blake Coleman, Andy Greene, and Sami Vatanen.
In the off-season, Fitzgerald brought in Andreas Johnsson from the Toronto Maple Leafs to join the youth on the team which included star centres Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier. Not to mention having players like Yegor Sharangovich, Mikael Maltsev, Tyce Thompson, Jesper Boqvist, and Nick Merkley in the system. And while things have not worked exactly as planned for the 2020-21 New Jersey Devils, having a direction will certainly help the rebuild process.
The Future Is Now
There is a youth movement happening with the 2020-21 New Jersey Devils. And the future is now. From the start of the season, a player like Sharangovich has made an impact with this team. Not to mention Janne Kuokkanen who is coming into his recently when he was playing with Sharangovich and the recently departed Travis Zajac. But now those two are paired with Jack Hughes and it paid dividends right away. This trio has combined for 12 points in two games. The Devils have found something with these three players they can build on going forward.
So-called veteran players like Jesper Bratt and Pavel Zacha are playing with more confidence and are finally coming into their own under head coach Lindy Ruff. Zacha has turned into the player everyone thought he would be leading the team in points with 25. Then there is Miles Wood who has shown to be an effective bottom-six forward especially when he was paired with Nathan Bastian and Michael McLeod. The Devils found themselves a fourth line that not only was physical but could score too. Something you need in today’s NHL. The Devils have players like Nolan Foote and Alexander Holtz coming, to pair with Hughes and Hischier going forward.
On the back end, the emergence of Ty Smith this season has been one of the bright spots for the Devils. Smith is the cornerstone piece for the Devils defence going forward. He was developed the right way. He was given more time in the WHL than probably needed. But it was a benefit to him as he was not rushed. This season in his rookie season, Smith has not looked out of place. He is fourth on the team in points with 21 (two goals and 19 assists). Smith is fifth in rookie scoring and his teammate Kuokkanen is right behind him. When was the last time the Devils had two players in the top 10 in rookie scoring? It has been a while.
Putting the right pieces in place to make the Devils successful will take time. However, eventually, they will need to put a competitive team on the ice sooner rather than later. Having cornerstone pieces like Hughes, Hischier, Smith, and Mackenzie Blackwood, the 2020-21 New Jersey Devils are set to be successful within three to four years. They have the pieces to build around those guys. And if players like Marian Studenic, Dawson Mercer, Aarne Talvittie, Fabian Zetterlund, Reilly Walsh, Kevin Bahl and Graeme Clarke are ready to take the next steps then the future is bright for the Devils.
Again it all comes down to drafting and developing the right players and Tom Fitzgerald knows. The question will be who does he bring to go along with the youth movement happening in New Jersey. Plus with the NHL Trade Deadline right around the corner what tricks does Fitzgerald have up his sleeve to make this team even younger.
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