“Pain And Progress,” Title Of Early
New Jersey Devils History, 1992
The temporary pain of spring 2018 soon will fade while the long-term progress is inevitable.
In what was supposed to be a rebuilding year for a future playoff-team, the Devils were built at least two years ahead of time.
At a point in the club’s history when nobody expected it, New Jersey now boasts playoff experience and an impressive hockey structure despite the five-game loss to the Lightning.
No, the building has not yet reached the Tampa Bay skyscraper level but it’s getting there at a rapid pace.
The proof is evident in the accomplishments of a playoff team and its young, budding talent. To wit:
TAYLOR HALL: A year ago he was an occasionally exciting left wing trying to find himself. Friends suggested he ask for a trade. Today, he’s a Hart Trophy candidate who hasn’t even reached his superstar potential.
NICO HISCHIER: In April 2017, the teenager was well known in Switzerland as a world-class stickhandler, a good one or two years shy of the NHL. After Devils training camp, New Jersey’s top pick became good enough to center for Hall.
WILL BUTCHER: It had been uncertain which big-league club this Hobey Baker Award-winner would choose. He liked coach John Hynes‘ blueprints and came to Newark. He since has matured into one of the finest freshman defensemen.
KEITH KINKAID: Not that long ago Scott Wedgewood figured to bump Kinkaid out of the backup goalie role. GM Ray Shero stuck with KK and Kinkaid repaid the faith by outstanding work in the clutch, lifting his club to the playoffs.
MIRCO MUELLER: The well-seasoned former Sharks prospect became a ready-to-step-in defensive gem. Just like his Swiss compatriot, Hischier, this 23-year-old backliner will only improve with age.
JESPER BRATT: So obscure last summer that even The Hockey News couldn’t find him, the Swift Swede not only made the team out of training camp but starred on the top line in the season’s first half, helping New Jersey secure a playoff-making cushion.
SAMI VATANEN: Bolstering the defense — in exchange for Adam Henrique — the Finnish Flash needed time to acclimate himself from Ducks to Devils hockey but by the homestretch, he’d become the team’s best defenseman.
MILES WOOD: The sky’s the limit for ex-NHLer Randy Wood’s son. This galloping grit-guy is still honing his game to sharpness but rough is rapidly turning to smooth and a 25 goal-scorer is in the making.
STEFAN NOESEN: This is a waiver pick who has metamorphosed into a superior defensive forward with scoring capabilities. The coach calls him “An Identity Player,” one who helps enhance the team’s culture.
BLAKE COLEMAN: Seemingly a career minor leaguer, the left wing has become a vital cog in one of the league’s best penalty-killing units. Another of Hynes’ “Identity Players.” Blake worked well with ever-reliable Travis Zajac — and Noesen — to form a formidable shutdown line. Zajac willingly accepted a lesser but important role.
JOEY ANDERSON: When camp opens in September, the right wing out of Minnesota-Duluth will only be 20. Although not flashy, he shows good hockey sense and has the talent to also work the power play and kill penalties.
LOOKING BACKWARD TO THE TAMPA BAY PLAYOFF — AND REASONS THE DEVILS LOST:
1. OFFENSE: The Devils had one Taylor Hall; the Lightning was loaded with many reasonable facsimiles of Hall from Nikita Kucherov to Steven Stamkos to Tyler Johnson to Alex Killorn, et. al. By Game 4, Hall was physically spent trying to carry the Jersey scoring load.
2. DEFENSE: Challenged by an elite group of backliners led by Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi, the Devils couldn’t match their experience or physicality. Providing help for Butcher, Mueller and Andy Greene will be a top priority for the Devils high command.
3. EXPERIENCE: Admittedly unaccustomed to a playoff spotlight, the young Devils needed a game or two under their belts to adjust to the on-ice attention and off-ice hoopla surrounding the hoopla. By that time they were down two games to none.
4. TOUGHNESS: While the Devils certainly were not pushed around during the regular season, they were physically rammed by the Lightning without sufficient retaliation. Exhibit A was Hedman spearing Hischier; Exhibit B: Kucherov torpedoing Vatanen.
1. GOALTENDING: Cory Schneider‘s late-season slump caused concern. He redeemed himself in the playoffs but is that enough to persuade the general staff that he should be number one going forward? What will be Keith Kinkaid’s role in the future?
2. YOUNG DEFENDERS: Once a glowing prospect, Steve Santini wound up in the minors and never appeared as a playoff regular. Can his potential be realized? Ditto for Damon Severson who did take regular turns but inconsistency and focus remain bugaboos.
3. VETERANS: How much is left in Andy Greene’s tank? Ditto, Brian Boyle who was not the hoped-for playoff factor, especially in Games 4 and 5.
Looking forward, the Devils pluses far outweigh the minuses. Their future is bright and getting brighter.
Ergo: Past pain is leading to joyful progress!