Five Questions facing the Devils - Woo & The Advocate Edition. *Updated*
Prospect Challenge Roster Released today:
Forwards (13): Graeme Clarke, Nolan Foote, Patrick Grasso, Alexander Holtz, Tyler Irvine, Jordan Kaplan, Dawson Mercer, Nate Schnarr, Luke Stevens, Chase Stillman, Aarne Talvitie, Tyce Thompson, Fabian Zetterlund
Defensemen (7): Kevin Bahl, Zach Biggar, Jeremy Groleau, Joe Masonius, Nikita Okhotiuk, Michael Vukojevic, Reilly Walsh
Goaltenders (3): Nico Daws, Marek Mitens, Akira Schmid
On September 5th, Mike Morreale of NHL Insider published "Five Questions facing New Jersey Devils", as NHL.com is examining each NHL team and five questions facing each team as we approach the beginning of the season.
Today, Woo & The Advocate takes a stab at those same questions:
1- What impact will Dougie Hamilton make?
Advocate - A 7 year big contract could be an initial distraction that carries a ton of pressure but Hamilton has demonstrated being an effective defenseman and in Norris conversations. I do believe Hamilton was signed now for the Devils 2-3 year plan to become a very competitive team, the "Championship Run" as Fitz calls the plan.
Bringing in a #1 D automatically impacts and upgrades the D core before stepping on the ice, he will also be a huge contributor to the Devils ugly power play (Hamilton leads NHL defenseman with 59 pp goals since 17/18). Hamilton was an early Christmas present for the Devils and is a major addition to this team.
Woo - Dougie Hamilton has already invigorated the Devils fanbase and given the Devils a legitimate top pairing defenseman on the blue line for years.
However, I believe there will be an adjustment period and some growing pains in the beginning. New team, new coaches, and the pressure of expecting to be the team leader may take some time to get used to but ultimately, Hamilton will have an impact on the power play and take pressure off of his teammates. Ultimately, Hamilton will make everyone around him play better.
2- What other new players could play key roles?
Advocate - I think depth was addressed big time this offseason. I think Bernier could be a very underrated addition, not only for what he could contribute on the ice but what he can do working with Blackwood who is the Devils #1 and future. Bernier is Crawford 2.0 experiment.
I also think the addition of Ryan Graves, who I am super excited about, also has been overshadowed by the Hamilton signing. Graves and Severson add tremendous depth to a D which has looked like an AHL D for large parts of the last few seasons. A tremendous acquisition.
Up front, I think the wild card can be Pavel Zacha. If he could follow last seasons surprising production, he could be a huge contributor as he could play up and down the lineup.
Woo - Obviously, Ryan Graves and Tomas Tatar were great additions. But I think the acquisition of Jonathan Bernier will help take the pressure off of Blackwood. Devils need solid goaltending and signing Bernier is basically a do over of what Fitzgerald was trying to accomplish with Corey Crawford last season.
3- Who needs to step up to help them qualify for the playoffs?
Advocate - I think the "depth" will need to step up and I believe it will simply by default after the various additions and add in a rookie or two making an impact. It is no secret that Andreas Johnsson was a huge disappointment (Tomas Tatar will give us what we had hoped from Johnsson) but if he could step up, it can also have a major impact from a depth perspective. With very little expectation he could surprise in his second year - or he won't be wearing a Devils jersey for much longer.
I also thin that Hischier/Hughes could take a step in their development which will benefit the Devils playoff hopes, but at this stage this is expected.
Follow the leader: Nico Hischier. He is the Captain and this is team. Last season, he had to deal with injury, COVID 19, and a. freak accident when he took a puck to the face. Also, Mack Black needs to play better in net. He had a big defense in front of him and needs to stay healthy. Last season, before he got COVID, he was rock solid and struggled when he came back from protocol. When he was healthy, he was making some unbelievable saves to keep the Devils in the game. Like to see more of that!
4- Which young players could surprise in training camp?
Advocate - As I mentioned in my last blog, I believe Foote is the most NHL ready of our prospects and could come and stick. Should Holtz be impressive enough and show he can handle the transition this early, I would say could be a huge surprise.
I also think there could be a few looks throughout the season with rookies being sprinkled in and Dawson Mercer's name has been getting more and more mentions around the league. In my opinion he can be a dark horse who can really surprise. But lets not put too much pressure on him just yet.
Woo - I am going to be bold and say that Dawson Mercer will make this team. The kid has great hockey IQ and the hockey grit to take it to the next level. He will pushed make it hard for the coaching staff to send him to Utica at the start of the season. I think he is wise beyond his years and could crack the lineup by opening night.
5- Will special teams improve?
Advocate - Well, last PK and 28th on the PP last season, it cant get any worse so I will go out on a limb and say.... yes. Simply put.
Woo - If the Devils penalty killing nits own the slot and crease area in front f their goaltender, we can see them improve dramatically. With Dougie Hamilton quarterbacking the power playing the Devils forwards buzzing in front of the net, we will see an improvement. It all boils down to doing the little things right and executing. On paper, the Devils look great. But if Tatar, Hughes, Hischier cant finish and put the puck in the net, it will be a long winter again in New Jersey.
Burning Question(s)... What are your answers to these questions?
As a side note... The Devils are searching for the next voice of the Devils. Our own Sam Woo is in the running for the next Devils PA Announcer position. Head over the the Devils site and take a look at all 10 finalists and cast your vote today!
The Devils Advocate