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It was an uplifting and hopeful preseason for the New Jersey Devils. They went 5-1-1, scored 25 goals, and surrendered 12 during that span. While most will dismiss these uncharacteristic stats as products of a futile preseason, this is a big deal for a goal-starved Devils fan base. It could very much be an overreaction from not seeing Devils hockey for over five months, but enthusiasm for this team is sky-high among New Jersey’s fan base.
Aside from forwards like Drew Stafford and Nico Hischier being among the league leaders in scoring this preseason along with the organization’s young forwards (Zacha, Quenneville, Bratt, Blandisi) contributing, the Devils forged their encouraging preseason play against some formidable competition. They bested division rivals like the Washington Capitals (twice), New York Rangers, and 2017 playoff contenders like the Canadiens and Senators- most of which conveyed a large number of their regular lineups in each contest.
It was great to celebrate these victories when they happened, and served as a temporary distraction from the evident reality that this team is still rebuilding. Having said that, I won’t rule out the possibility of breakout seasons from the likes of Nico Hischier, Pavel Zacha, and John Quenneville (coupled with sustained contributions from veterans Kyle Palmieri, Taylor Hall, and Marcus Johansson) being capable of carrying the Devils farther than most expect. Should New Jersey wind up as one of those two or three teams to surprise in 2017-2018, the preseason isn’t any indication. If anything, basing the Devils regular season success off their 5-1-1 preseason run could simply lead to pure and utter disappointment.
Take the 2016-2017 preseason for instance, where the following teams had the best records in their respective divisions, compared to their regular season records.
|Division||Team||Preseason Record||Season Record|
Need I remind you how none of the above teams made the playoffs (pay especial attention to Arizona and Colorado). Granted, unprecedented factors like injuries might have factored in the cases with some of these team’s disastrous regular seasons, it’s concrete justification to discount how a team’s performance in the preseason when projecting their regular season success. 10 out of 16 teams that finished in playoff positions during the 2016-2017 preseason didn’t make the playoffs last spring. Since 2013-2014 (including last season), 39 out of 64 teams who finished in playoff positions during the preseason went on to miss the playoffs.
The Devils and their fans still have a lot to be excited about. Regardless of how good or bad this team is projected to turn out, there’s still a lot of upside in this organization that was displayed over the past two weeks. When you look at the big picture, most NHL predictions wind up being largely inaccurate and like I mentioned earlier, it’s not inconceivable to think this team already has the necessary tools for snapping their postseason drought.