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I recently touched on three question marks surrounding the New Jersey Devils
heading into the 2018-19 season.
It was more of a pessimistic outlook on things so today I'm going to provide a few reasons to be optimistic about the team.
1. An improving young core
The best thing the Devils have going for them right now is all the youth on their roster.
Nico Hischier (19) is coming off a 50+ point rookie campaign in which almost all of his production came at 5v5. Though he played sheltered minutes, Will Butcher (23) was excellent at evens and downright dominant on the power play. Miles Wood (22) was one of the most efficient 5v5 goal scorers in the NHL
. Jesper Bratt (20) produced at a near 40-point clip as a teenager. Pavel Zacha (21) registered 5v5 points at nearly twice the clip
he did in 2016-17. Damon Severson (23) potted nine goals and recorded 5v5 points at a higher rate than notables like Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Cam Fowler, Ryan McDonagh, Duncan Keith, Rasmus Ristolainen and Kevin Shattenkirk, to name but a few.
All of those guys are already making meaningful contributions and just entering their prime or years away from doing so. If a few of them continue on an upwards trajectory and take another step forward, the Devils could surprise once again.
2. Cory Schneider couldn't be worse
Schneider had a really strong start to the season but, overall, his performance last year left *a lot* to be desired.
The 32-year-old goaltender, who had posted a .921 save percentage or better in six of seven seasons prior to last, finished with a woeful .907SV% on the year and went months without winning a single game.
Among 30 goaltenders to make at least 40 appearances, Schneider's overall save percentage ranked him tied for 26th.
Among 51 goaltenders to log 1,000+ minutes of ice at 5v5, Schneider's save percentage (.914) ranked him 43rd – behind guys like Mike Condon, Cam Ward, Keith Kinkaid, and Anders Nilsson.
Though his days are behind him, I have a hard time believing he won't be at least a little better next season with injuries (hopefully) a thing of the past. It's pretty hard not to be.
3. No more John Moore
Moore had his moments, particularly in overtime periods, but his overall body of work with the Devils was not good. I think Moore leaving is addition by subtraction
He negatively impacted the team's underlying numbers in all three seasons and weighed down a lot of his teammates in the process.
Despite Moore's consistently poor on-ice numbers – and inefficiency when it came to producing points – he was given a lot of ice time.
Last season, for example, he ranked 3rd on the team averaging a hair over 20 minutes per game. In terms of even-strength ice only Sami Vatanen averaged more on a nightly basis.
With Moore no longer in the picture, there is a lot of extra ice to go around. Will Butcher should take most, if not all of it, and I think that's a really good thing for the Devils.
Three question marks for the Devils heading into the 2018-19 season
On Hischier and Butcher
Devils sign Ty Smith to entry-level contract
On Taylor Hall and his chances of winning the Hart in consecutive years
On Miles Wood and his next contract
Devils sign Steven Santini to three-year extension
Nick Shore an ideal PTO target
On the Devils' defense and an optimal top-4
Power play dominance, and a little luck, behind Hall's big spike in production
The Devils should give Miles Wood an opportunity in the top-6
Damon Severson should benefit from John Moore's departure
Hynes might have found something in Coleman - Zajac - Noesen line