Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2018-19, where Last Word On Hockey gives you a detailed look at each team around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2018-19 Stanley Cup Pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2018-19 New Jersey Devils
Puck Drop Preview: 2018-19 New Jersey Devils
Coming into the 2017-18 season the New Jersey Devils had a young offence including 2017 First Overall Pick, Nico Hischier. It was expected that Hischier and Taylor Hall would be a one-two punch and help get the Devils out of the basement after a disappointing year.
The Devils started the season on a roll winning nine of their first 11 games before dropping their next four games. Despite the early hiccup, the Devils got things back on track and proved that they were a strong team through November and December. Going into the New Year the Devils looked promising. Starting goaltender Cory Schneider was 17-11-5 and the Devils overall record was 22-10-6.
On January 23rd, Devils fans had a scare when Schneider went down with a hip injury. He was out until the beginning of March. In Schneider’s absence, Keith Kinkaid saved the Devils season going 19-6-1. This helped the Devils take a wild card slot and a first round match-up with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Both Kinkaid and Schneider struggled in the playoffs and the Devils would fall in five games to the Lightning.
Hart Trophy Campaign
Even though the Devils made the playoffs they didn’t have a lot of offence besides Taylor Hall who scored 39 goals along with 53 assists for 93 points. The fantastic season would lead to Hall winning the Hart Trophy as the Most Valuable Player in the league. Nico Hischier would have a solid rookie year scoring with 20 goals and 32 assists for 52 points. He was the team’s second-leading scorer and the only other player above 45 points. Will Butcher also had a strong rookie campaign, finishing with 44 points from the blue line. Forward Kyle Palmieri also had 44 points.
The Devils had a very quiet off-season compared to other NHL teams. They signed a bunch young players to AHL contracts.
The Devils re-signed Steven Santini, Blake Coleman, Stefan Noesen, and Eddie Lack. The Devils still haven’t resigned RFA Miles Wood who scored 19 goals for the team last year which was third best on the Devils.
The Devils didn’t make much of an impact during the NHL Draft seeing that they only had six picks throughout the entire draft. The Devils took Ty Smith with their first-round pick at 17. Smith, was projected to go much higher and ended falling into the Devils laps at 17. Smith will most likely spend next year in the WHL continuing to develop. He likely won’t be an option for New Jersey for a couple of years.
The Devils were quiet during free agency making only two new acquisitions in Eric Gryba and Eric Tangradi. They also added a few players to two-way deals and will most likely spend the season in the AHL. The AHL needed some help which is where the Devils spend most of their money this off-season. The Devils lost some depth with trade deadline pickups in Michael Grabner and Patrick Maroon leaving the team as free agents.
2018-19 Line Projections
All three of the Devils top scorers are on the first line which shouldn’t be an issue, but when you like at their roster from last year they didn’t have a lot of depth scoring.
The Devils will look to get more out of Miles Wood on the second line this year. Johansson had an injury-shortened year and should be able to produce more points for the Devils this season. They also hope that Zacha, will take a step forward this season, and become a bit more productive. In terms of rookies, Anderson and McLeod could fight to make the team in camp. If they produce, expect them to move up the lineup.
Last season’s additions of Vatanen and Butcher really helped the Devils improve their puck-moving ability and scoring from the blue-line. However, the team still needs a bit more work on this group. They have a young and upcoming group of defencemen. Santini should find his way into the top six on the Devils blueline this season. He managed to score two goals and eight assists for 10 points in 36 games last season. Santini is best known for his physicality and defensive play though.
The Devils big question mark this season is if Cory Schneider can stay healthy throughout the year. Schneider missed a little bit over a month last year with a hip injury and Kinkaid played great in Schneider’s absence. After how well Kinkaid played last year there isn’t a doubt he’s the back-up to Schneider if Schneider is healthy to start the season. Eddie Lack most likely ends up in Binghamton to start the season. He is depth if the Devils have goaltending injuries.
Players To Watch
In his rookie season, Jesper Bratt put up 13 goals and 22 assists for 35 points in 74 games. Bratt had four of his 13 goals with the man-advantage as well as 12 of his 35 points coming with the man-advantage as well. With a year under his belt and a being part of a young Devils team I expect Bratt to have a breakout year the Devils.
Wood who was third in goals for the Devils last year is in the first year of a new contract. A player who can easily play on the second line as well as getting power-play opportunities should have a strong year. Last year on the 3rd line he was able to put up 19 goals and he should be dangerous on the second line with Johannson and Zajac.
Schneider will be looking to bounce back from a shaky and injury-riddled year. Last season he had a career worse 2.93 goals-against-average. Not only will Schneider have to prove the Devils he’s completely healthy he will also have the pressure of knowing that Keith Kinkaid has proved himself and could be looking to steal the starting spot early in the year.
The Devils are in a division where five teams are going to be competing for playoff spots: Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, Columbus Blue Jackets, Philadelphia Flyers and the Devils. The New York Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders will be rebuilding their teams during next season.
If Cory Schneider can stay healthy the Devils will be in prime position to find themselves playing playoff hockey. The Devils will also need a few more guys to step up on the offensive side of the game, Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier are gonna need help and the team cannot depend on them to do it alone again. Expect the Devils to claim a wild-card spot, but they are not yet deep enough for a long playoff run.