Were it not for the metaphysical Vegas performance last season, everyone still would be raving about the New Jersey Devils‘ ascent to the 2018 playoffs.
Keith Kinkaid demonstrated that, yes, he has the goods to be a Number One goalie.
If the Golden Knights effort was miraculous, the Devils’ work was right behind in the Super Surprise category.
Ah, but what can the Devils do for an encore? That’s the question.
Based on general manager Ray Shero‘s cool, calm, collected behavior during the Free Agent Frenzy, there was little to be done; other than delete a few roster names called Michael Grabner, John Moore and Brian Gibbons.
Clearly, Shero and his dedicated but unobtrusive coach John Hynes believe that another post-season ride can be piloted — for the most part — by developing youngsters sprinkled with vets such as Kyle Palmieri, Travis Zajac and Andy Greene.
Here’s my Devils preview:
GOALTENDING: Cory Schneider‘s offseason hip surgery poses a triple-edged problem: 1. When will he return? 2. How well will he be on his comeback? 3. Will he be able to make a comeback after all? Since only time will tell, the onus is on Keith Kinkaid to once again — it has to be once again — prove his Number One status. Double K’s career-high 26 wins suggest that he can do it. But just in case there’s a negative crouton in the soup, rest assured that vet Eddie Lack can pull it out.
DEFENSE: Shero proved that he’s never afraid to make a meaningful move when he dealt the ever popular Adam Henrique for D-Man Sami Vatanen who instantly became New Jersey’s best backliner. Captain Andy Greene will be as redoubtable as ever but may need more relief now that he’s about to hit the 36-year mark. Will Butcher, an astonishingly savvy rookie last season, has all the goods to be a young version of Greene. Then comes the “iffier” D-Men led by multi-dimensional Damon Severson and Mirco Mueller. A possible prize looms in the form of Steven Santini, dispatched to the minors for most of 2017-18 when many believed he was NHL quality. Reliable vet Ben Lovejoy will be around to fill any gaps.
OFFENSE: Hall was NHL MVP partly because he carried New Jersey’s offense. Runner-up New Jersey scorer Hischier trailed by a whopping 41 points. That’s offensive imbalance with a capital I. The deficit could be filled if bigger seasons are obtained from Kyle Palmieri and Marcus Johansson.
Hynes’ hope for more red lights is rooted in the talents of Pavel Zacha, surprising Jesper Bratt and energetic Blake Coleman. Secondary scoring from the bloc would put the Devils back in the postseason.
SPECIAL TEAMS: No complaints. Having finished in the Top 10 on the power play and penalty killing departments, the Devils are
secure in the knowledge that a repeat is not out of the question. No slouches, the PK unit — ably run by assistant coach Alain Nasreddine — produced a dozen shorthanded goals.
INTANGIBLES: There’s a healthy aura of maturity about the Garden Staters that starts with coach Hynes and moves through the roster with such leaders as Brian Boyle, Johansson and Greene. Hall’s superior season catapulted him into a major leadership role which he promises to embrace in 2018-19.
ROOKIES: First-round defender Ty Smith is a two-way backliner with the emphasis on D. The Hockey News describes him thusly: “He’s agile, smart and doesn’t panic with the puck.”
X-FACTORS: The triumvirate — Hall, Greene, Kinkaid — must enjoy solid seasons with the accent on Hall.
THE BRASS: Shero scored a managerial hat trick by securing Hall, Vatanen and Johansson. Don’t be surprised if he pulls off another biggie if the spirit moves him.
ONE CRITIC’S VIEW: “The Devils are hoping for the same as last year — no issues, no setbacks.” – Leo Scaglione Jr. Staten Island.
PREDICTION: The Devils did it before — making the postseason last spring — and can do it again.
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