We’re well into the first round of the NHL playoffs, and haven’t seen Devils hockey in over a week. It’s given the writers and staff at Devils Army Blog enough time to reflect on an adversarial but hopeful and encouraging season, despite missing a fourth straight postseason. Below are a list of team awards that we respectively think best personify what New Jersey Devils hockey stood for this season, the direction it’s going, and the players whose gameplay brandished those qualities best.
2015-2016 Debut Award…20 members of the Devils roster played their first games in Devils uniforms this season. Out of all of them, you have to award the season’s best debut to right wing Kyle Palmieri. This pick is essentially a no-brainer as Palmieri appeared in all 82 games, led the team in scoring with a career-high 57 points and goals (30). Palmieri formed sound chemistry as Travis Zajac’s right wing, and spent most of the season anchoring the Devil’s second line.
Runner-ups: Lee Stempniak, David Schlemko
Most Underrated…No one deserved more recognition for this award than the captain Andy Greene. He was another one of only four players to appear in all 82 contests this season, and is the team’s current ironman having appeared in over 300 consecutive games in a Devils uniform. Greene was a defensive workhouse, leading the entire team in total and penalty kill ice time, and blocked shots. Although he only tallied four goals and 13 points, his scoring output is a convenient bonus to the defensively compliant game that Greene played this season.
Runner-ups: Travis Zajac, John Moore
Power Play MVP…In terms of deeming the Devil’s most valuable power play specialist, the final numbers were very close between the nominees. This one wound up going to Kyle Palmieri, whose newly exploited point blast became the axis of the Devil’s power play, and gave the team that man-advantage quarterback they’ve previously lacked. Palmieri led in power play goals (11), points (23), shots, and ice time this season. His 11 power play goals accounted for 21.5% of the team’s season total (51), which is a degree of accountability we haven’t seen come from one player since the team’s playoff-bearing years.
Runner-ups: Travis Zajac, Jacob Josefson
2015-2016 Breakout Player…Earning his third award in the four we’ve presented so far, this year’s New Jersey Devil who made the biggest jump in every aspect of their game, was unanimously decided to be Kyle Palmieri. A case could have been made for Lee Stempniak, hadn’t he been dealt at the trade deadline. He did lead the team in scoring at the time and enjoyed a career year of his own, despite playing for two teams . Palmieri had his best NHL season by far, reaching his aforementioned career-highs in goals (30) and points (57), which led the team in scoring. His value on the Devils power play was previously cited, and the fact he stayed healthy while core forwards like Cammalleri endured season-ending injuries, spoke volumes in how far this team truly got due to his play.
Runner-ups: Lee Stempniak, Reid Boucher
Resilience Award…The Devils had no choice but to be a resilient team in general at many times this season, and found themselves coming from behind, or barely holding onto a tie more often than not. The one player who best demonstrated these traits was Travis Zajac, who maintained his defensive prowess in his gameplay, while rebounding offensively from a disastrous 2014-2015 season, where he only had 11 goals and 25 points in 74 games. This year, Zajac’s totaled 14 goals and 42 points in as many games, which is a tremendous improvement on the 30-year old center’s part. Although he’s averaged roughly half a point-per-game over the last four seasons, Zajac’s acknowledgeable spike in production comes during a season where he’s found considerable chemistry with first-year Devil Kyle Palmieri.
Runner-ups: Lee Stempniak, Jacob Josefson
Top Defender…This was the closest one in terms of voting, but in the end, Adam Larsson would prevail, and rightfully so. While his offensive numbers were comparatively bleak (3G 18P) to last year’s (3G 24P), his newfound (and growing) defensive game more than compensated. Larsson was one of the four Devils to play in all 82 contests. He had the second-most blocked shots and ice time, while leading the team in hits. Larsson and his defense partner Andy Greene were heavily relied upon by the coaching staff when on the penalty kill, which attributed strongly to the team’s top-ten finishing in that category. Larsson will only continue to get better, and will reflect that in his his future numbers that do and don’t appear on the scoresheet.
Runner-ups: Andy Greene, David Schlemko
Diamond in the Rough…Every team has that one player who to a certain extent, shatters expectations. There were quite a few on the Devils this year, but the one who deserved the most recognition for this award was right wing Devante Smith-Pelly. Although he only played a small fraction of the season with the Devils (18 games) after being acquired at the trade deadline, he did more in that span than most of the team’s forwards did in a full season. Smith-Pelly scored nine goals and had 14 points after his trade from the Montreal Canadiens. He quickly became a fan favorite when he scored eight goals in his first ten contests. He’s certainly earned a full-time lineup spot for himself next season that will only be his to lose.
Runner-ups: David Schlemko, Sergey Kalinin
2015-2016 MVP…The backbone of this Devils team has been the all-star goaltending of Cory Schneider, who was indisputably voted by our staff the Devil’s most prized player. Despite the month-long injury he sustained in the latter-half of the season, the Devils wouldn’t have achieved a fraction of their success without Cory between the pipes. Schneider finished the year with a career-high 27-25-6 record, 2.15 GAA, .924 SV%, and had four shutouts. Schneider’s impact on the team’s season during his absence was devastating and unprecedented. While Schneider may or may not have reversed the Devil’s fortunes if he stayed healthy, the difference in how the team plays with and without him is a testament to how integral goaltending is to the Devils this year and in the long term.
Runner-ups: Kyle Palmieri, Adam Henrique