Brighter Future Starts Now For Devils

In less than 24 hours, the Devils said goodbye to Patrik Elias and The Joe, Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.

Combined, that’s 58 years of hockey!

Patrik will have another send off next season when his No. 26 joins jersey numbers 3, 4, 27 and 30 in the rafters at The Rock.

So let’s look ahead to next season and see what’s in store for the team that will play underneath those banners on the ice at Prudential Center.

Preparing for the 2017-18 season really began in March, the day they were eliminated from the playoffs.

[KEN DANEYKO: DEVILS SET TO RE-LOAD IN 2017-18]

Young players from Albany weren’t just given an opportunity to play NHL games, but they were given an opportunity to play in every situation. Blake Coleman and Blake Pietila were on the penalty kill. John Quenneville scored his first career NHL goal on the power play. He and Joe Blandisi combined for a thrilling overtime game-winner against the Rangers.

The last six weeks of the season, New Jersey’s coaches and President/GM Ray Shero got a glimpse of what promise the future holds. But it was clear on break up day, the future starts now.

You’ll see Quenneville come back 10 lbs lighter. Miles Wood said he’s going to spend the summer working on his hands to score that goal when his brilliant speed gets him out in the open on a breakaway. You’ll see Steve Santini come back with some bulk (maybe he’ll eat a lot of cake at his wedding in July!) to get in the way of offensive attackers who want an open look at Cory Schneider.

Ben Lovejoy made mention of the fact that these young guns have to come back with “NHL physiques. Strong bodies and strong minds, eating an NHL diet.”

As Adam Henrique put it, “When I come back next season, I want to make sure I’m stronger than the guy I’m battling against. Stronger than the guy I’m fighting with for the puck.”

As for the veterans? This will be an important summer for Taylor Hall.

“For me, summer is one of my favorite times,” Hall said. “Getting ready for a season and putting the onus on me to be in the best shape I can and come back faster and stronger. I have a lot of time to work on my skills and hopefully, I’m only 25, I still have a lot of room to grow. Everything about New Jersey was awesome. The team, the guys, the arena.”

NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 08: New Jersey Devils left wing Taylor Hall (9) talks with teammate New Jersey Devils defenseman Ben Lovejoy (12) during the second period of the National Hockey League game between the New Jersey Devils and the New York Islanders on April 8, 2017, at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

He’s probably the best player right now in the National Hockey League who’s never played in the playoffs. And not being a playoff team in New Jersey is his biggest regret this season.

And speaking of regrets, Ray Shero said, “You know, just putting myself in his shoes, especially with the success Edmonton has had this year, he went through the tough times with them and then it’s almost like you break up with your girlfriend and she starts dating the quarterback or something like that. Well geez, it’s hard. But I think he’s finally gotten over that and even though he has a lot to prove in his game, he’s a great piece for us to have moving forward.

“Like with anything, he’s never played in the playoffs. He’s played in the World Championships and had success. He’s played in the Memorial Cup and had success. He knows how to win. In terms of this year, he learned a lot about us, he learned a lot about himself. There’s going to be ways he needs to get better, but I love the fact that he’s passionate about the game: he wants to win, he’s strong on pucks and he’s young, and that’s something to move forward with. And, again, I’m excited about it.”

Devils’ fans should be too.