After months of patience, speculation, and notable roster changes, the 2017-2018 NHL season is set to begin for the New Jersey Devils. The team is coming off a horrid 2016-2017 campaign, but enters the coming season with a young, fast, vastly modified roster than many fans hope will be a product worth watching from now until the spring. Our writing staff has collaboratively composed an intricate season preview that breaks down everything from offseason acquisitions and departures, to players on the rise, in the hot seat, and what the outlook for 2017-2018 looks like for the Devils.
While the Devils weren’t big spenders this summer, they still made a number of key additions. Their highlight was selecting Nico Hischier first overall in the NHL Draft, who’s already in a top-six role after an impressive preseason. Ray Shero was able to further improve the team’s scoring ability by acquiring Marcus Johansson from the cash-strapped Washington Capitals for two draft picks. Johansson is coming off a 58-point season (career-high), and is expected to play a vital role for the Devils.
Shero continued to add further depth over the summer by signing center Brian Boyle for two years. Boyle will see fourth line minutes and penalty kill time once he’s fully healthy. Shero also added Drew Stafford to a one-year deal. Stafford finished the preseason with seven points in four games, and is looking for a rebound season after a disappointing 2016-17 campaign. New Jersey’s final forward addition wound up being Jimmy Hayes, who signed a one-year deal just about a week ago after an impressive preseason.
New Jersey was relatively quiet adding defense. They wound up with coveted NCAA free agent, Will Butcher, who should bolster the offense from their blue line. Shero also acquired Mirco Mueller from San Jose in exchange for a couple of draft picks prior to June’s Expansion Draft. Mueller is more of an unknown, but looked solid this preseason and will aim to solidify a regular lineup role.
Mike Cammalleri…After three seasons with the Devils, Ray Shero bought out the final two years of his contract. On July 1st, Cammalleri signed a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Kings. In each of his last three seasons, Cammalleri suffered some sort of injury, and was sidelined for extensive stretches of time. Although he tallied 111 points, it was in the best interests of both parties to part ways.
Devante Smith-Pelly…He was the Devils second offseason buyout, after playing just one full season in New Jersey. The 25-year-old enjoyed a hot streak when he was first acquired from the Montreal Canadiens in 2015-16. However, DSP only tallied nine points last season, and found himself as a healthy scratch for a quarter of the season. DSP signed with the Washington Capitals.
Jacob Josefson…After seven seasons sporting a Devils jersey, Josefson will now be playing for the Buffalo Sabres. He wasn’t an offensive specialist, but there was one situation where he always thrived- shootouts. It will surely be interesting to see what lineups Coach Hynes deploys in post-overtime situations this season.
Beau Bennett…Most fans were shocked upon discovering Beau Bennett was heading to the St. Louis Blues (especially since Shero traded a third-round pick for him). He’s since been cut and will start the season in the AHL. It’s unfortunate for Bennett, who possibly could have been in an entirely different playing situation if he stayed with the Devils.
Jon Merrill…The Devils expansion draft casualty wound up making the Las Vegas Golden Knights roster. Merrill was a fan scapegoat, and career numbers were rather discouraging- namely his career plus/minus of -41. Hopefully Vegas helps him attain the positive side of his numbers.
On The Rise (@SammySTL5)
Pavel Zacha will start the season centering the Devils top line with Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri. Zacha earned this role through his rigorous offseason training and explosive preseason. He looks bigger, stronger, and (most importantly) confident. Zacha was tentative at times last season, since he wasn’t able to show off his offensive creativity. Now he has a full season of NHL experience under his belt, and hopefully will open up his offensive game while continuing to mature his two-way play. He showed during the preseason how he’s willing to shoot, drive to the net, and play physically along the boards- all attributes that were missing at times last season. With the added benefit of playing with two of the Devils top forwards, I can see Zacha running away with the opportunity to break out as the Devils true top-two center.
On The Hot Seat (@brettminieri)
Ben Lovejoy…A guy who was brought in for his leadership and experience. He gave a 100 percent effort, but was blatantly in over his head last year. Lovejoy’s preseason stats speak for themselves, and it’s not a happy story. He has one more year on his deal after this season and if he A- underperforms, B- thwarts the progress of a better, younger option, or C- simply becomes expendable in next season’s UFA class, he’s a likely candidate for a buyout next June.
Cory Schneider. This isn’t an indictment on his ability, nor a “prove yourself” year for Schneider. He’s a valuable pillar to the organization, and big part of its future. However, Schneider is coming off his worst season to date. While I’m confident he’ll regain his status as a top-flight goalie, there’s the looming possibility that things might not go as hoped. With a fledgling team on the rise and “less than elite” defense, Cory’s return to dominance will be both essential and scrutinized.
Taylor Hall…Like Schneider, he’s not going anywhere and there’s no “threat” of him in a diminished role. Hall and Hischier should be the franchise faces for the foreseeable future. Last season, Hall admittedly wanted to perform better than he did, and is certainly capable. The coaching staff has even clarified they want Hall to embrace more of a leadership role (good chance he’ll wear the “A” opening night). There’s no doubt the expectations for No. 9 are bigger this year.
Season Outlook (@_MikeLuci_)
Going into 2017-2018, the Devils are one of three teams in the midst of a playoff drought of at least five seasons. Despite their revamped roster, several questions remain on whether this team is capable of taking the next step forward after seemingly taking two steps back last year. To sum up everything you’ve read so far, New Jersey is entering the season with a vastly modified offense, a relatively static blue line, and the same goaltending tandem from the past few seasons. The roster is littered with question marks in almost every section, ranging from how unproven players will assimilate into a top-six role to start the season (Hischier, Zacha), whether first-year Devils defensemen (Butcher, Mueller) can mend the massive drop-off in talent, and if last year’s performance by Cory Schneider was truly a fluke.
Between the responsibility Coach Hynes is giving young and first-year players, the inevitability of injuries eventually taking their toll, and New Jersey being in the NHL’s deepest and toughest division, the playoffs are going to be a longshot for this team. While I’m sure the Devils won’t have a disastrous season like last year, they’ll need to play exceptionally well against their division foes, which will be a steep uphill battle. It’s not uncommon for teams people widely write off going into a season to defy predictions, however this would be particularly tougher for the Devils to achieve given their situation.