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Yesterday, the New Jersey Devils unveiled their 23-man NHL roster, which was submitted just before the mid-afternoon deadline. While most of the roster was what Devils fans expected, there were a few surprises that caused some fans to raise eyebrows and even trigger some slight outrage. Forwards like John Quenneville and Joseph Blandisi have (as of typing this) been demoted to Binghamton, while the likes of Blake Coleman and Brian Gibbons (who was placed on waivers) remained with the NHL squad. Thanks to social media, most fans by now are aware these moves will likely be temporary. Having said that, I think it’s safe to say yesterday’s unveiled roster depicts 85-90 percent of what Saturday’s lineup will look like going into the home opener. With that said, the roster’s permanent fixtures- players who are most likely not to be demoted or released between now and Saturday, give us more than enough to analyze ahead of time.
Jesper Bratt, Taylor Hall, Jimmy Hayes, Adam Henrique, Nico Hischier, Marcus Johansson, Stefan Noesen, Kyle Palmieri, Drew Stafford, Miles Wood, Pavel Zacha (10)
My first takeaway is the offense’s steady balance of core veterans (Hall, Palmieri, Henrique), younger players (Hischier, Bratt, Zacha, Wood), and offseason acquisitions (Johansson, Stafford, Hayes). The Devils shouldn’t have a problem forming three solid lines and a distinct top-six from this combination of players above. Having said that, the Devils are poised to enter the season with what I can best describe as a boom-or-bust offense.
In terms of lineup roles and offensive output, we all know what to expect (at the very least) from the likes Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique, and Kyle Palmieri. First-year veterans like Hayes, Johansson, and Stafford are expected to provide supplementary depth throughout the offense. Hayes will hopefully add stability in the bottom-six, while Johansson and Stafford are expected to round out the offense’s top-two lines. Perhaps the biggest determinant to New Jersey’s success is how rookie and sophomore forwards like Nico Hischier and Pavel Zacha handle their top-two center roles to start the season. If they play with the same confidence from the preseason, the rest of the pieces could very much fall into place for the making of a potentially surprising forward corps.
Will Butcher, Andy Greene, Ben Lovejoy, John Moore, Mirco Mueller, Dalton Prout, Steve Santini, Damon Severson (8)
While many fans were lamenting over the absence of Joseph Blandisi and John Quenneville on yesterday’s unveiled roster, there was also significant backlash when one of the players Ray Shero didn’t leave off his final roster was Ben Lovejoy. I mentioned in a previous article this was probably going to happen due to his contract, veteran status, and fitting under the 23-man limit. While Devils fans minded less seeing Dalton Prout on today’s roster (who had a commendable preseason), it’s certainly a testament to the organization’s dismal defensive depth. On the flip side, it’s relieving to see the likes of youngsters Will Butcher and Steve Santini make the final cut. While there were some doubts about Mueller going into the preseason, he proved a lot of skeptics wrong with his play. Whether he can maintain a regular lineup spot is a different story, especially if coach Hynes feels obligated to work around perpetually including Lovejoy in every game.
Nonetheless, younger players like Mueller, Butcher, and Santini will be looked upon to mitigate the steep drop-off in the quality of depth on the Devils blue line this year, a glaring flaw that factored immensely in New Jersey’s abysmal 2016-2017 season. Damon Severson and Andy Greene remain the team’s best defensemen. While Greene exhibited signs of decline in 2016-2017, Severson is expected to build upon a productive season where he posted career-best numbers. John Moore has similar expectations after netting a career-high 12 goals last year. Considering how he’s entering a contract season and is part of a revamped roster, Moore has every reason to give his best performance yet.
Keith Kinkaid, Cory Schneider (2)
I sincerely think last year was a fluke for Cory Schneider, and the play we saw from him this preseason was a preview of what to expect in 2017-2018. Schneider has a revamped defense in front of him that should be capable of preventing more shots and scoring chances against than last year’s blue line corps. I’m not guaranteeing a Vezina-winning season or seeing the Devils carried into the playoffs by a rebound season from Schneider, but his play is obviously integral to the team’s success. Keith Kinkaid clearly earned the organization’s trust enough to reinvest in him for two more years. He has a few more years of NHL experience under his belt going into the season, and can be a reliable backup capable of 15-20 starts if the lineup in front of him can do what’s expected on their part.