The nicest accusation leveled against the Devils last year was that they forced eyes to pop up–and-down the long line of hockey critics.
For three-quarters of the season, this undermanned team defied credulity while stubbornly remaining in the playoff hunt. Any of the Devils will tell you that had sharpshooting Michael Cammalleri not been injured at the start of the homestretch, they would have gained a postseason berth.
But that was in the era B.H. As in before Taylor Hall arrived from Edmonton. Now that the ex-Oiler is at center stage in the Garden State, here’s The Maven’s outlook for the season.
Oh, woe was Hynes. Johnny Goodcoach celebrated his rookie NHL season with a team that redefined goal drought. With an average 2.22 red-lights per game, John Hynes‘ Devils were at the bottom of the scoring pack.
How that distressing state of affairs is remedied depends very heavily on the magic stick of Hall and the health of Cammalleri, and less celebrated newcomer Beau Bennett fulfilling his previously well-touted potential.
Not that these chaps can open the goal gates alone. Dependable Adam Henrique, who had developed explosive chemistry with Hall when they teamed on the Junior Windsor Spitfires, is close to reaching his peak. Ditto for homegrown Kyle Palmieri, who reached a career-high last season with 30 goals and 27 helpers.
Travis Zajac revived with a career second wind under coach Hynes. Meanwhile, general manager Ray Shero is counting on young blood to invigorate the scoring depth. The likes of which includes left wing Reid Boucher, right wing Devante Smith-Pelly and Joseph Blandisi. The trio previously stimulated Devils fans in spots and are capable of worthwhile contributions.
The blossoming of ripe Jacob Josefson and Sergey Kalinin also would fatten the goal totals.
Not much offensive help is likely from the defense unless Damon Severson and John Moore enjoy career years.
Gaining Hall meant losing Adam Larsson on the blue line. Filling in for the big Swede is Ben Lovejoy. The ex-Penguin Cup-winner will infuse more life and savvy to the New Jersey blue liners. He’ll lead and mentor the likes of rookie Steve Santini and Severson.
Following offseason surgery, Jon Merrill looked like a new man until a hand injury will leave him sidelined well into the new season. His replacement could be Seth Helgeson, who always seems about to crack the varsity — but just misses.
Through it all, 10-year Devil Andy Greene efficiently goes about his business with neither fuss nor fanfare. If Andy somehow can get his wrist shot through the barriers, the offense would be a lesser issue for the Devils.
Late-camp acquisition Kyle Quincey provides a strong work ethic, as well as a veteran locker-room presence. Nor does it hurt that he has family ties to New Jersey. A vet who plays a fast game, Kyle comes East from a good Red Wings program in Detroit.
Easily the back line surprise of camp was Yohann Auvitu, a French-born Finnish star. His poise arrested attention and his offensive bent could inspire management to add Yohann to the varsity.
Cory Schneider has been so good that Martin Brodeur remains merely a pleasant memory in Newark. Schneider should be good for at least 60 games this season with either Keith Kinkaid or Scott Wedgewood pinch-going the rest of the way. Huge Anders Lindback — ex of Nashville, Buffalo, Arizona, Tampa Bay and Dallas — was a late add, who was imported as a Just-In-Case.
This was the saving section in 2015-16. An eighth-best penalty kill and ninth-best power play kept the playoffs in view for most of the season. Palmeri, Cammalleri and Zajac teamed up well on the power play, and Hall should make it even better. Greene’s A-1 quarterbacking may mean more point work for the captain now that Larsson is gone.
Penalty-Killers Stephen Gionta and Bobby Farnham are gone, but the high PK standard should be maintained thanks to Josefson, Henrique, Greene and Lovejoy.
A strong skilled power forward, Pavel Zacha is ready to challenge for a center-ice spot. New Jersey’s 2016 12th overall pick Michael Mcleod bears watching, but needs more time to develop. On defense, Steve Santini arrives after strong work at Boston College. He’s expected to be a physical force and shot-blocker. John Quenneville and Miles Wood, son of ex-NHLer Randy Wood, offer more hope for the offense.
Almost forgotten, lifetime Devil Patrik Elias showed up in Newark after an abject, injury-plagued 2015-16. How much gas remains in Patty’s tank will determine his future in a New Jersey jersey. The odds may finally be against Elias.
When Shero stunned Met-Area hockey savants by claiming P.A. Parenteau, he did it for it for four reasons:
- P.A. bolsters the bottom six on the offense
- He’s a skilled forward with vet leadership
- He’s another voice for the young players to learn from
- Parenteau’s presence is a signal to the youth that will have to battle for their spot on the varsity
High-paced hockey played with extra-gusto is Hynes’ trademark style. That branding produced an enthused squad that over over-achieved, until the fuel ran out in March.
In his sophomore NHL season, Hynes will benefit from the additions of Hall and Lovejoy. Whether he can squeeze an A-plus season out of Vernon Fiddler, and the possible addition of Auvitu, could mean a rung or two in the standings.
In just one year, Ray Shero’s outfit has leaped from hapless to hopeful. And that means additions of Hall, Loverjoy, Quincey and Bennett alone could propel the club to its first playoff berth since 2012.