We are at the annual part of the year where we get hyped up about the Devils. They always seem to be a winner in the offseason, only for things to go completely wrong once the puck drops. Last year, it was some of the worst team goaltending we’ve seen in a long time. The expectations for New Jersey aren’t as high as in years before, but a season of health can do them wonders. They just have to execute.
Offseason additions: F Ondrej Palat, G Vitek Vanecek, D John Marino, F Erik Haula, D Brendan Smith, D Thomas Hickey (PTO), F Zach Senyshyn (PTO).
Offseason subtractions: F Pavel Zacha, D PK Subban, D Ty Smith, F Janne Kuokkanen, F Jimmy Vesey.
While injuries shortened in to just 49 games, Devils fans got the season they were waiting for out of Jack Hughes. In his third NHL year, Hughes scored 26 goals with 56 points, while finishing top-10 in Lady Byng voting. He’s a center, but you have to wonder how long Hughes will stay there for. He has a 35.4 percent face-off win rate in his career. He intermittently played with Jesper Bratt, who was the team’s best player all season long. He had 73 points in 76 games in a huge season that broke him free from the middle-six forward that he was before. In his sophomore season, Yegor Sharangovich scored 24 goals while adding 22 assists. Both Sharangovich and Hughes saw the effects of the team’s goaltending first-hand, with a goals against per 60 over four despite a solid-enough xGA/60.
Captain Nico Hischier was healthy last year after various injuries limited him to 21 games in 2020-21. The result was a career-high 60 points while playing top line minutes split between a seemingly infinite number of linemates. Obviously injuries could change things, but the Devils need to give him stability on his wings. Something to look for this year is how Ondrej Palat adjusts from the dominant Lightning to the Devils in his age-31 season. Palat had 49 points in 77 regular season games, but made his money in the postseason. Palat scored 11 goals with 10 assists for 21 points in 23 games as Tampa Bay went to the Cup finals once again. Dawson Mercer was well in the Calder race in the beginning of the season, but cooled off as Moritz Seider and Trevor Zegras ran away with the discussion. Mercer still finished with a very encouraging rookie campaign, scoring 17 goals with 42 points while playing in every game.
New Jersey is taking a gamble by trading Pavel Zacha, a key member of the team for the last few seasons, to Boston for Erik Haula. The Devils will be Haula’s seventh team, as the veteran is coming off one of his best seasons. He filled in for David Krejci on the Bruins’ second line, and scored 18 goals with 44 points. Behind Hischier and Hughes, his role will be diminished. But Haula brings two-way value that is ideal for a third line center. When the Devils bought low on Tomas Tatar before last year, there was hope that he could outperform the 30 points in 50 games that he had in 2020-21. However, he just matched it while playing in 26 more games. You could look at his on-ice shooting percentage to cope, as Tatar’s 6.86 was the second-lowest on the forward core to only Jimmy Vesey. After a tough 2020-21 in which he had just 11 points in 50 games, Andreas Johnsson had 17 points in his first 19 games. The rest of the year wasn’t as good, as he finished with 35 points in 71 games, scoring just four more goals after that initial hot streak.
If anything goes wrong, the Devils have the option of Alexander Holtz to play in the bottom-six. He had two assists in nine NHL games, with 51 in 52 AHL games. Until them, the fourth line will likely be a familiar mix of young players that the Devils have tried before. Jesper Boqvist had his best season yet, scoring 10 goals with 13 assists in 56 games. He doesn’t bring the size or physicality that his potential linemates have. Center Michael McLeod won over fifty-seven percent of draws, while producing 20 points and 145 hits in 77 games. After losing him the expansion draft, the Devils claimed back Nathan Bastian on waivers following 12 games in Seattle. Bastian scored 11 times in 60 games with 194 hits after he returned. We will have to see where Miles Wood fits in. He was limited to just three games last season after he scored 17 goals in 55 games the year before. Right now, it appears as if he will have to win out a spot. An intriguing option is Fabian Zetterlund, who had eight points in 14 NHL games last season. He dominated at the AHL level, scoring 24 goals with 52 points in 58 games.
The big splash of last offseason for New Jersey was signing defenseman Dougie Hamilton to a seven-year deal. His first year with the Devils was his age-28 season, and Hamilton had been nominated for the Norris Trophy in five consecutive seasons. In a year limited to 62 games, he was definitely disappointing. Hamilton had 30 points, while finishing fourth on the team’s defense in xGF%. He was lower than his partner, former Avalanche Ryan Graves. Taking on a bigger role after a trade to New Jersey, Graves blocked 135 shots with 28 points in his first year as a Devil.
When the Devils gave Jonas Siegenthaler a five-year contract extension this offseason, some understood the decision, while others were befuddled. The truth is that since coming over from Washington in 2020-21, Siegenthaler has been a fantastic defensive-defender. He limited opponents to a 2.17 xGA/60 at even strength last year, while no other defender on the team was under 2.5. In fact, he was the third-best defenseman with at least 500 minutes of ice time at even strength in xGA/60 relative to his teammates. Playing alongside him was Damon Severson, who enjoyed an offensive outburst. He tied his career-high in goals with 11, while setting a new high with 35 assists.
The Devils sent Ty Smith, who was once regarded as the future of the team’s blue line, to Pittsburgh for John Marino. He will likely see his role be diminished as the Devils are stronger on the right side of defense than the Penguins, but Marino has been a very good second-pairing player since debuting in 2019-20. The Devils won the draft lottery again this offseason and had the second overall pick, with which they selected Slovakian defender Simon Nemec. He’s not a lock to make the team, but Nemec has already played in the Olympics, and had 26 points in 39 games in Slovakia. He added 17 more points in 19 playoff games. Veteran Brendan Smith signed with the Devils after providing depth for the Rangers and Hurricanes over the past few seasons. He’s a big body who contributed 73 hits and eight points in 45 games for Carolina in 2021-22.
Seven different goaltenders had multiple starts for the Devils last year, and the highest save percentage among them was .902. That was held by veteran Jonathan Bernier, who missed most of the season with an injury. As of now, he is under contract but doesn’t appear to fit into the team’s plans. The team crucially needs Mackenzie Blackwood to live up to the hype he had when he was a second-round pick in 2015. Blackwood was limited to 25 games last year, and had a rough .892 save percentage and a 3.39 GAA. He had the sixth-worst GSAx in the league last year. Of the five guys worse than him, only Joonas Korpisalo had less games played. The Devils sent two draft picks to Washington for another pick and Vitek Vanecek at the draft. While he still was average at best, Vanecek would have been a huge upgrade for New Jersey last year. In 42 games for the Capitals, he had a .908 save percentage and a 2.67 GAA.
Yegor Sharangovich – Jack Hughes – Jesper Bratt
Ondrej Palat – Nico Hischier – Dawson Mercer
Tomas Tatar – Erik Haula – Andreas Johnsson
Jesper Boqvist – Michael McLeod – Nathan Bastian
Extras: Miles Wood, Fabian Zetterlund
Ryan Graves – Dougie Hamilton
Jonas Siegenthaler – Damon Severson
John Marino – Simon Nemec
Extras: Brendan Smith