We have been looking at many teams around the NHL throughout training camp and preseason. After working our way through the Atlantic Division, we moved to the Metro where we’ve covered the Capitals, Hurricanes, and Penguins. We have also written plenty on the Philadelphia Flyers, who come in at number four in our projected Metro Division standings.

In Part 5 of our season preview, we take a look at the New Jersey Devils. The Devils are one of the most intriguing teams in the Metro Division. After making the playoffs in the 2017-2018 season, the Devils took a huge step back last season. In fact, their season was so abysmal, they won the draft lottery and the ability to draft franchise center Jack Hughes. Part of the reason for the Devils’ failures last season were injury related. Franchise winger Taylor Hall, who won the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP in 2018, played less than half the season.

This past offseason, the Devils made some interesting moves and decisions. The first was with the development of a new analytics department. Former Oilers employee and Athletic writer Tyler Dellow took over this role in May, and the results showed early on. The Devils utilized their cap space to their advantage and made some excellent overall roster decisions. Second, the Devils added some top talent at all positions. Let’s take a deep dive on the 2018-2019 New Jersey Devils.

Goalies

  1. Mackenzie Blackwood
  2. Cory Schneider
  3. Gilles Senn
  4. Evan Cormier

Goaltending is an area the Devils are lacking in the most on their roster. Blackwood and Schneider will both compete for the starting role this season, and don’t be surprised if these players split time throughout the season, playing under 50 games each. Blackwood surprised last season as a rookie and played well with the Devils. He hasn’t had great AHL numbers, but he was considered a solid prospect in the past. If Blackwood lives up to his potential, he could find himself as a starter early in the season. Schneider was once considered a top five NHL goalie but has struggled the past few seasons. He was injured for much of last year, though he did show some return to form at the end of the year. If Schneider finds a way to stay off injury reserve and rebound, he could easily win back the starting role as well. However, between Blackwood and Schneider, the Devils have “no sure thing” at this position.

Even their minor league depth is lacking. Senn is the best talent available, and he is making the jump from the Swiss league to the AHL this season. If there is an injury, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Devils look the trade route or waiver wire to fill a need. Overall, the Devils will need likely above average goaltending from this group to be a playoff team. The bottom line is this is unlikely based upon the age, talent, and inexperience of this tandem.

Defense

  1. P.K. Subban
  2. Damon Severson
  3. Sami Vatanen
  4. Will Butcher
  5. Andy Greene
  6. Connor Carrick
  7. Ty Smith
  8. Marco Mueller
  9. Matt Tennyson
  10. Colton White
  11. Colby Sissons
  12. Brian Strait

The Devils gave their blue line a big boost through acquiring P.K. Subban. Subban struggled with some injuries last season, and it showed through out the year. When healthy, he is one of the NHL’s top defensemen. Subban can lead the rush or make an excellent stretch pass out of the zone. He is an electrifying talent and will thrive in a role where he won’t have to compete for minutes with other top defenders like in Nashville. Severson is one of the most underrated defenders in the NHL. He will likely benefit from the Subban acquisition as well, getting an opportunity to play less tough minutes at times. Sami Vatanen is a small, offensive minded defender. He occasionally struggles at five-on-five, but he has a decent overall tool kit. He will once again play a top four role.

Will Butcher burst on the scene two seasons ago and put up excellent numbers as a rookie. He took a bit of a step back last season, but part of that was due to a depleted Devils roster up front. Butcher could easily return to 40 point form and anchor the second power play unit. Andy Greene has been a staple on the Devils’ blue line for years, and this won’t change, even in his late 30’s. Greene will likely finally be cast in a role he can thrive in at this stage in his career, with an emphasis on defensive play and penalty killing.

Connor Carrick, Ty Smith, and Marco Mueller will compete for the remaining two spots. Carrick signed a two year contract and is likely a lock. He plays a physical two-way game and can even quarterback a power play if needed. Ty Smith, a 19 year-old rookie, won WHL Defenseman of the Year honors last season. Though small in stature, Smith plays a strong two-way game. He will get a long look in camp as well. Mueller is a depth piece who the Devils hoped could develop into a top four defender when they acquired him a few years back. At this stage, he looks like a 7th defender. He could find himself on waivers if Smith has a stellar camp.

Depth wise, outside of these seven, the Devils have a bit of a hole here. AHL veteran Matt Tennyson or rookies Colton White and Colby Sisson will likely get the call-up. None of these players really project as NHL players. White has the best chance of the bunch but is far from a sure thing. If injuries hit, the Devils may run into some depth issues with their bottom pairing. Overall though, this group is significantly improved from last season, thanks to the Subban acquisition. Don’t be surprised if he is in the Norris Trophy conversation, especially if the Devils are in the playoff hunt.

Forwards

LW C RW
1. Taylor Hall 1. Jack Hughes 1. Kyle Palmieri
2. Nikita Gusev 2. Nico Hischier 2. Jesper Bratt
3. Miles Wood 3. Travis Zajac 3. Wayne Simmonds
4. Joey Anderson 4. Pavel Zacha 4. Blake Coleman
5. Milse Studenic 5. Jesper Boqvist 5. John Hayden
6. Bradon Gignac 6. Michael McLeod 6. Kevin Rooney
7. Blake Speers 7. Brett Seney 7. Nathan Bastian

The Devils focused a lot of attention this summer on shoring up their forward core. The Devils brought in Gusev and Simmonds this offseason via trade and free agency. Both players help those on the Devils’ roster play in roles they are suited too. Up front, the Devils’ success will hinge once again on the health of superstar Taylor Hall. Hall is a play driver and can be one of the league’s most dominating players. First overall pick Jack Hughes is a similarly electrifying talent, though it may take him some time to transition to the NHL game. Both Hall and Hughes should lead the Devils’ offense this season.

Nico Hischier will likely find himself in a second-line role, which he is better suited for at this stage in his career. Hischier is a strong two-way forward and may benefit from playing in more sheltered role. Goal scorer Kyle Palmieri can be counted on for over 20 goals every year and could hit 30 if the Devils’ offense get rolling. Gusev was acquired this summer and is a player to keep an eye on. He dominated the Russian league last year and could easily find himself hitting the 50 point mark, especially if he plays with Hall, Hughes, or Hischier.Β  Jesper Bratt is only 21 and has shown flashes of offensive brilliance in his two years with the Devils. He will play a middle six role and will likely have a career year if he stays healthy.

The Devils are likely to have a solid third line of Travis Zajac, Wayne Simmonds, and Miles Wood. All three players can play a physical two-way game but also add some offense. This could be a fun line to watch if Devils coach John Hynes keeps them together. Blacke Coleman will also play a bottom six role. Coleman has established himself as a player who is defensively reliable but can also put up over 30 points a year. He should do so again next year. Pavel Zacha will slot into the fourth line center. He has been somewhat of a disappointing player at this point in his career, as many thought he could project as a first-line center. Zacha needs to determine his role at this point in his career. For now, it looks like fourth-line center.

Joey Anderson, John Hayden, and Kevin Rooney will compete for the remaining fourth-line winger slot. Anderson has the most upside of this group and plays a game similar to Miles Wood and Blake Coleman. Hayden was acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks this summer and has the most NHL experience of this group. Rooney was a favorite of coach John Hynes at times last year, though at over 30 years old, is likely more of a depth option if injuries occur. Rookie Jesper Boqvist could also make an NHL appearance. Boqvist has had a strong career in Sweden and is a solid two-way player. He may see NHL action this season.

Overall, the Devils have a much improved forward group. The additions of Simmonds, Hughes, and Gusev give the Devils depth and talent they have been missing. If Hall can stay healthy and Hughes shows the talent that made him the first pick in the draft, the Devils could be a playoff team or at least right in the mix as a bubble team.

Bottom Line

The Devils made some solid additions to their roster this offseason. If the stars align and injuries to top players don’t happen, the Devils could be a playoff team. However, we could also see a potential implosion, especially later in the season. Superstar Taylor Hall is on an expiring contract, and if he decides he doesn’t want to re-sign in New Jersey and the Devils are out of playoff contention, he could find himself in another jersey by the trade deadline. The Devils want to re-sign him, and their moves this summer are an attempt to show him they are serious about being and remaining competitive. At best, the Devils are a bubble team. At worst, they are in the draft lottery conversation again.