Despite there being high expectations of making some sort of splash, it was a relatively quiet offseason for the New Jersey Devils, who enter 2018-2019 with a swath of cap space and a modestly refined roster. Guided by the Hart Trophy-winning season of forward Taylor Hall, the Devils are coming off a surprising 2017-2018 campaign, where they finished the season 15 games over .500, and made their first playoff appearance since 2012. Having recently unveiled their opening night roster, the Devils are entering 2018-2019 with a continued commitment to their youth and confidence in these players taking the next step forward. Our editorial team has composed a detailed season preview that breaks down all aspects that factored into the formation of this team—from acquisitions and departures, to players on the rise, in the hot seat, and a season outlook.
Eric Gryba…He was Ray Shero’s sole signing on July 1, and only notable offseason pickup. The 6’4 defenseman was, for the most part, brought in solely for depth purposes. Should injuries on the backend occur or on-the-fence players like Steve Santini or Mirco Mueller struggle, Gryba can slot into their spot. Gryba’s played six seasons in the NHL with the Ottawa Senators and Edmonton Oilers, tallying seven goals and 43 points in 279 games.
Jean-Sebastien Dea…A recent waiver claim by Ray Shero, Dea played 44 games under John Hynes with the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Dea only played six NHL games, scoring one goal in the five he appeared in last season. Dea has performed well in the AHL, totaling 66 goals and 141 points in 262 contests.
Brian Gibbons…After starting the season on a scoring tear last season, Gibbons was then sidelined for 23 games with a hand injury. He then returned for the end of the season and was clearly not the same explosive offensive forward, but that was expected. After a 26-point season and +/- of 10, Gibbons has joined former Devils forward Adam Henrique on the Anaheim Ducks for the 2018-2019 season.
Drew Stafford…He played in 59 games as well last year, but was in and out of the lineup as a healthy scratch most of the time. He picked up 15 points for New Jersey after making the team off of a PTO last season. The Devils also brought him back on a PTO this preseason, but was cut from the team earlier this week. He has not yet found a new team, and it will be interesting to see if someone gives the long time Sabres forward a chance.
Michael Grabner…This was a trade deadline acquisition that simply did not pan out the way everyone had hoped it would. Grabner is notorious for being one of the hottest first-half of the season players in the league, who then has a major fall back down to earth in the second-half. Some actually did not expect much to begin with when the Devils took a chance on him. After just five points in 21 games, the 31-year-old forward will be with the Arizona Coyotes this season.
Jimmy Hayes…Another PTO player that did not even remotely pan out whatsoever. He only appeared in 33 games last season, which were mostly early in the season, where he managed to score three goals in that time. Simply put, this was an experiment that went wrong for the Devils. Luckily no harm done as he has now moved on to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Patrick Maroon…This one definitely hurts a bit. I would not have been opposed to keeping Maroon around for another season. After picking him up at the deadline, we saw him appear in 17 contests, where he managed to scalp 13 points. He is a major physical presence that could have been a very nice asset for the Devils. After close negotiations, the Devils were ultimately defeated in the sweepstakes by Maroon’s hometown St. Louis Blues.
On The Rise
John Quenneville…He made the final roster after a strong preseason and training camp. The general notion was this would be a make or break year for Quenneville to make the team after being drafted 30th overall in 2014. Quenneville has taken the first step in earning a roster spot, and will need to continue showing why he deserves a place in the lineup. Quenneville brings a lot of energy, whose offensive potential was on display this preseason. Quenneville finished 2017-2018 in Binghamton with 14 goals and 20 assists in 43 contests, and will look to continue improving his offensive game.
Steven Santini…Fresh off of signing a new three-year/$4.25 million deal, the New York native will look to make himself a staple in the lineup. In recent years, Santini has steadily continued his development with hopes of becoming a solid NHL defenseman. A product of Boston College, Santini has been long known as one of the Devils top prospects, and even displayed some bits of solid play last year. Santini will may not be sent to Binghamton this year, as he will have to go through waivers. The Devils have eight defenseman on the roster, and it will be Santini’s job to show why he gives the Devils the best chance to win every night.
On the Hot Seat
Pavel Zacha…Zacha entered the Devils organization with a large amount of hope, considering he was a top-10 draft pick. His age does give him a bit more developmental time, but with the amount of young guys who step in right away and play at a high level, it seems like now or never for Zacha to finally break out. Zacha has still never hit double-digit goals, and never had more than 25 points with nearly two full seasons under his belt. This team desperately needs depth scoring, and Zacha will be looked upon to finally take that next step.
Damon Severson…I don’t see this as the team will move on from Severson, but he does still have a lot to prove on a moot-quality blue line. Severson has shown some great flashes at times, but what seemingly appears to be a periodic lack of confidence makes him a very streaky player. Damon’s career Corsi sits at 49.6 percent, which is fine, but you would like to see that number bumped up over the 53 percent mark. Severson has proven he possesses an excellent shot. It should a matter of having him use it more consistently throughout the season. With the amount of question marks on this Devils blue line, it’s time for Severson to step up and really help out whoever is in net.
Every year, there’s always one or two teams that defy expectations and overachieve. The Devils were one of those teams last year. Since this Devils team closely resembles last year’s squad, one of the ways to project their success is look at how their division rivals improved this summer. Although teams like the Capitals and Penguins didn’t majorly improve, they’re still far better than this Devils team. The Rangers, Hurricanes, and Islanders are forecasted to occupy the 6th-8th spots, while the acquisition of forward James Van Riemsdyk puts Philadelphia over the edge compared to New Jersey. While it’s very likely one or two teams in the division will over and underachieve, the Devils (as the team currently is) are poised to be a bubble team vying for one of the Eastern Conference’s wildcard spots.
They have just as good a chance of returning to the postseason as they do missing them. Having said that, I wouldn’t put it past Ray Shero to make another trade or two in the coming months. The Devils general manager stated he wouldn’t make a move for the sake of making one, and would utilize his team’s cap space when the right opportunity presented itself. If the team’s young players can take the next step forward in their development, players like Kyle Palmieri and Marcus Johansson stay healthy—both of whom were injured for large portions of last season—and the goaltending can hold up before and after Cory Schneider returns from injury, they could very well build on their success from last season.