New Jersey Devils 2019-20 season preview

          To get the first overall pick in the NHL nowadays means being bad, and hoping you are also lucky. For the second season in three years, the Devils have been bad, and lucky, getting two first overall picks. To add to Nico Hischier, the Devils drafted Jack Hughes first overall in 2019. Hughes and Hischier are part of the bright future that Ray Shero has built, but with star Taylor Hall\’s contract year looming, a cap crunch could be coming in New Jersey.

           Additions: PK Subban, Nikita Gusev, Wayne Simmonds, John Hayden

           Subtractions: Stefan Noesen, Drew Stafford, Steven Santini, John Quenneville, Kurtis Gabriel, Kenny Agostino, Eric Gryba

Knee surgery limited Hall, the reigning Hart winner, to just 33 games, where he had 37 points. Health and his contract remain big talking points. Hall is one year removed from a 39 goal, 93 point season. In his fourth season in New Jersey, Kyle Palmieri continued to be a prolific scorer, with 27 goals. He led the team in goals, and also in points, with 50. Though he has is yet to have a season like other recent first overall picks like Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid, Hall, Nathan MacKinnon or even Rasmus Dahlin, Hischier has been an impressive teenager over the past two seasons. He has 99 points combined, with 47 (17 goals) in 2018-19. The expectations for Hughes will obviously be high. He had 48 points in 24 games for the US National Under 18 Team, and as a 16 year old on the Under 18 Team in 2017-18, Hughes scored 18 goals in 18 games. He could step in the second line center role, moving Travis Zajac to the third line. Zajac, a Devil since he was drafted in 2004, was a career worst -25, but his 46 points were his most since 2013-14, and his 19 goals were his most since 2009-10. He also received Selke votes. Wayne Simmonds comes to New Jersey on a prove it deal. His 17 goals in 2018-19 were his lowest in a full season since 2010-11. In the five seasons prior to 2018-19, Simmonds averaged 28.8 goals a season. The Devils traded for Nikita Gusev\’s RFA rights from Vegas, then signed him to a two year, $9 million deal. The Russian comes to North America from the KHL, where he had 82 points in 62 games, plus 19 more in 18 playoff games. With the arrival of Hughes, Texas native Blake Coleman will likely move to the wing. He scored a career high 22 goals in 2018-19. Multiple injuries limited 21 year old Jesper Bratt to 51 games, where his career high 25 assists led to 33 points. That\’s a 53 point pace. Drafted 6th overall in the star studded 2015 draft, Pavel Zacha has yet to take it to the next level. Zacha did score a career high 13 goals in 2018-19, but leveled out at 25 points again, and he hasn\’t played in more than 70 games in a season. He could drop to the fourth line this year. Miles Wood dropped off from 2017-18, when he scored 19 goals. In 2018-19, he scored 10 goals, and was a -10 player. Over three seasons, Wood has racked up 261 penalty minutes. The fourth line right wing has yet to be decided. John Hayden, acquired at the draft from Chicago, has a good chance at playing on the right side. Over three NHL seasons, Hayden has 22 points. In his rookie season, Brett Seney had 13 points in 51 games. Joey Anderson had seven points in a 34 game rookie year. Kevin Rooney had 10 points in 41 games.

The Devils acquired their top defenseman for the next three years when they got PK Subban from Nashville. Subban, who won the Norris in 2012-13, has averaged at least 22 minutes a game in every season, and is a four time 50 point scorer. Subban is coming off a down year in Nashville, with 31 points in 63 games. Sami Vatanen played in just 50 games, ruining his first full season in Jersey. He had 17 points, but he was a career worst -17. Damon Severson was an awful -27, but he had his best offensive season. His 11 goals and 39 points were career highs. Will Butcher endured a little sophomore slump, as his point total went from 44 down to 30, and his plus/minus dropped below zero, all the way to -17. At age 36, captain Andy Greene had 25 points, his most since 2013-14. He has been a -34 over the last three years. Connor Carrick, acquired for Ben Lovejoy at the trade deadline, Carrick scored seven points in 20 games post trade. He is battling with Mirco Mueller for the final defensive spot. Mueller scored 11 points in 53 games, both career highs.

Cory Schneider had an amazing career, but starting in 2016-17, injuries started to derail it. He played in just 26 games in 2018-19, and struggled, with a .903 SV% and a 3.06 GAA. He had an awful 6-13-4 record. Schneider could share the starting job with goalie of the future MacKenzie Blackwood. As a 22 year old rookie, Blackwood had a .918 SV% and 2.61 GAA.

                  Deep Depths
The Devils signed 32 year old veteran Ben Street to a two way deal. For the Ducks last year, Street had five points in 21 games, and 26 points in 32 AHL games. 2015 third rounder Blake Speers hasn\’t played in the NHL since 2016-17. He had just eight points in 43 AHL games, a very disappointing season. The team signed defenseman Matt Tennyson, who played in four NHL games in Buffalo last year, and has played in 124 NHL games in total. He had 21 points in 47 AHL games.

                  Up and Coming
Another guy battling with Mueller and Carrick for the final defensive spot is 2018 first rounder Ty Smith. Smith is coming off a 69 point season in 57 WHL games. He could make his NHL debut, but I don\’t see him starting in the NHL until 2020-21. 2017 2nd rounder Jesper Boqvist comes from the Swedish League. He had 35 points in 51 games there, and is a candidate to play on the 4th line. A first rounder in 2016, Michael McLeod made his NHL debut, with three assists in 21 games. He still needs to work in the AHL, after recording 33 points (but just six goals) in 55 games.

                  2019 draft class
Round 1, 1st overall: Jack Hughes
Round 2, 61st overall: Nikita Okhotyuk
Round 3, 70th overall: Daniil Misyul
Round 3, 80th overall: Graeme Clarke
Round 3, 82nd overall: Michael Vukojevic
Round 4, 96th overall: Tyce Thompson
Round 4, 118th overall: Case McCarthy
Round 5, 127th overall: Cole Brady
Round 5, 129th overall: Arseny Gritsyuk
Round 6, 158th overall: Patrick Moynihan
Round 7, 189th overall: Nikola Pasic

Ray Shero has done a great job rebuilding the Devils. He has had the luck of getting two first overall picks, and also fleecing Peter Chiarelli in the Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson trade. In four seasons under John Hynes, the Devils have a .492 winning percentage.

                    Projected Lineup
Taylor Hall – Nico Hischier – Kyle Palmieri
Nikita Gusev – Jack Hughes – Jesper Bratt
Blake Coleman – Travis Zajac – Wayne Simmonds
Miles Wood – Pavel Zacha – John Hayden
Extras: Brett Seney, Joey Anderson, Jesper Boqvist

                    Will Butcher – PK Subban
                    Andy Greene – Sami Vatanen
                    Connor Carrick – Damon Severson
Extras: Mirco Mueller, Ty Smith

                                   Cory Schneider
                                   MacKenzie Blackwood

The Devils had a great offseason, bringing in Hughes, Subban, Simmonds and Gusev to go with Hall, Hischier, Palmieri, Severson, Vatanen and Butcher. If the goaltending can hold up, which I think it can, then the Devils will finish 4th in the Metropolitan Division, making the playoffs in 2019-20.

Published by carterhud SI Kids Kid Reporter, Prime Time Sports Talk writer

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