A lot of the talk regarding the Metropolitan Division lies with the top-tier contenders. Those are the New York Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes, and Pittsburgh Penguins. Despite those being at the top, a team that could surprise the hockey world is the New Jersey Devils. Management did what they needed to do to improve the team, and that success can translate on the ice. Here are some bold predictions for the New Jersey Devils season.
Five Bold Predictions For The New Jersey Devils Season
As the season draws near, there is a lot to look at regarding this hockey club. They have been the laughing stock of the league the last few seasons. However, with the current constructed roster and prospect pipeline, there is room for optimism.
Jack Hughes Hits Century Point Mark
This is the year of young Jack Hughes. Hughes has gotten better with each passing season. Despite having a rough rookie season which saw him tally 21 points in 61 games, many wondered if he would live up to the number one selection. While there is room for more improvement, he most certainly has.
Devils > Sens in terms of a young team with playoff hopes
Hughes played at a 94 point pace last season, Bratt, Hischier, Mercer, Palat, Sharangovich is a great top-6
D is miles better with Hamilton, Severson, Siegenthaler, Marino, Graves and Luke Hughes coming at end of season
— Harman Dayal (@harmandayal2) September 16, 2022
This past season saw Hughes take his game to the next level. Despite being injured and only suiting up in 49 games, he had a career year with 26 goals, 30 assists, and 56 points. He led the Devils with points per game (1.14) which was also tied for 24th in the league. Hughes was also tied with Bratt for the team’s goal lead (26). He did all this while barely playing half of a season.
Jack Hughes continues to be a man of the people. pic.twitter.com/AmCQ7qxNgx
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) December 19, 2021
The sky is the limit for Hughes, and if he says healthy, this is the year he breaks out. NHL.com projects him to finish with 77 points. That seems low considering he was on a 94-point pace last season and also was not far from that total. This is a true breakout year for Hughes, and he could hit the century point mark.
Vitek Vanecek Takes Number One Job In Net
The bar is set low for the goaltending on this team. Tom Fitzgerald and the management staff made sure to upgrade the crease and not repeat the events of last season. Vitek Vanecek was acquired in a trade and signed a three-year extension. While he forms a tandem with Mackenzie Blackwood, it is also a plan going forward.
Blackwood had his best season during the 2019-20 campaign. He posted a .915 save percentage and a 2.77 goals-against average. Those numbers have gone way down the last two seasons with .902 and .892 for a save percentage. His goals against average skyrocketed to 3.04 and 3.39. Management seems to believe in him and hopes he can return to that 2019 form, but ultimately it is Vanecek who will take the crease.
Vanecek is a solid goaltender. He has been consistent with his save percentage and finished top 10 in save percentage at even strength. Despite being brought in to tandem with Blackwood, he could outplay him to start the season and will garner a heavier workload.
Damon Severson Stays Put At The Deadline
This could be one of the hottest topics all season long. The current longest-tenured Devil will stay put at the deadline. It’s tough because he is in a contract year, and the team has a logjam on the right side of the blue line. The Devils have Dougie Hamilton, Damon Severson, and John Marino. Marino is locked up for five seasons, but that’s not the issue per se.
The depth chart looks as such:
Ryan Graves-Dougie Hamilton
Jonas Siegenthaler-Damon Severson
Brendan Smith-John Marino
New Jersey took Simon Nemec second overall in this year’s draft. He will likely begin the year with the Utica Comets, but if he is playing well, he could be brought up to the big club. It puts Tom Fitzgerald in a tough spot. If you are fighting for a playoff spot, do you trade Severson for assets or keep him for the playoff push? In the end, Marino could slide up to Severson’s spot, and Nemec slides on the third pair. It will be a tricky situation to lose him for nothing, but staying put at the deadline will give this team the best chance for success. And that should be the goal.
Devils Finish With A Top 10 Power Play Unit
The Devils may have a young team, but they have talent on the roster. New Jersey was a good team at even strength, but when it came to playing with the man advantage, it was brutal. Mark Recchi was in charge of the power play and it was dreadful. The Devils ranked 28th in the league and had a 15.6% success rate.
This year will be different. Andrew Brunette will run the power play. He helped take the Florida Panthers to the second round and the team won the President’s Trophy. But in comparison to the Devils, Florida had a better power play. It ranked fifth in the league and had a 24.4% success rate. Florida was a wagon and finished with 62 power-play goals, which was almost double the Devils’ total.
A unit that features Yegor Sharangovich, Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, Jack Hughes, and Hamilton should produce with the man advantage. Brunette running the show will tap into its potential and make it a top-ten unit in the league.
New Jersey Makes The Playoffs
The final prediction for the New Jersey Devils may be the boldest. In addition to Hughes hitting the century point mark, this is a strong statement. But this is the year the Devils take the next step and ultimately they make the playoffs. With all the additions they made this off-season, and among the coaching staff, the team holds the second wild card spot.
New Jersey will be better in the areas they were poor in last season, propelling them up the standings. A healthy year for its star players will go a long way for the Devils. In addition, the Devils improved in all areas of the lineup, and that will translate to on-ice success.
For the first time since 2018, the Devils will be playing meaningful hockey.