Follow me on Twitter @ToddCordell
There is a fun exercise going around #hockeytwitter where fans, media, etc. quickly share their choices to open-book questions about players on the team they watch or cover.
With the New Jersey Devils not yet able to do much beyond signing international free agents, or handing out contracts to players of their own, I thought it'd be a good idea to go a little more in depth and provide some reasoning behind each of my answers.
Here is an example of the survey.
For clarification purposes, I'm going to answer the first few pertaining to the season that was, and the remaining for 2019-20.
Most overrated (2018-19): Kyle Palmieri
This is a little difficult for me because I think most Devils followers would admit there weren't many positives this past season and, thus, it's tough to say anyone was vastly overrated.
I'm not going to cop out, though, so Palmieri will be my choice. It's not that he was *bad*. He just didn't play as well as you'd perceive after quickly glancing at his counting totals.
He has never been a play driver. The bulk of his value comes from his offense. Unfortunately, there wasn't much of it at 5v5, especially.
Palmieri averaged just 1.66 points and 6.29 scoring chances per 60 minutes played during that game state. For perspective of how 'meh' his performance was at 5v5, guys like Tyson Jost (1.66 points, 7.91 chances), Drake Caggiula (1.68 points, 7.55 chances) and Marcus Sorensen (1.76 points, 7.62 chances) managed to best his outputs.
Not having Taylor Hall by his side for half of a season didn't help the cause, of course, but it's not like those other players were lining up beside elite talents – nor were they paid handsomely – and they managed just fine.
Most underrated (2018-19): Will Butcher
Butcher's point totals dropped from 44 as a rookie to 30 as a sophomore. This led to a perception that his play really fell off, and he took a noticeable step back following a really promising 2017-18 campaign. I don't necessarily agree with that.
The majority of his lost points were on the power play. That might have something to do with the fact Butcher spent more time on the man advantage alongside Brian Boyle than Taylor Hall, who didn't suit up for a single game in 2019. Butcher also often shared the ice with Pavel Zacha, he of 76 points through three NHL seasons, and a revolving door of less than desirable PP linemates.
Butcher registered more more shots and expected goals than the previous season, and his relative numbers were still strong across the board.
He also finished with a Goals Above Replacement number of 9.8 – 3rd best on the team – compared to his GAR of...9.8 as a rookie.
Best player (2018-19): Nico Hischier
Nico and it's not even close. I know his raw production (47 points in 62 games) doesn't pop off the page but his output on a per game basis was better than in 2017-18 despite spending half of the year without Taylor Hall. Nico produced, he drove play, he drew a billion penalties, and there was never a question about his work ethic or commitment in all three zones even though the games were essentially meaningless from Christmas on.
Hischier finished with a GAR of 14.3, which ranked 33rd among all NHL forwards and ahead of notables such as Sebastian Aho, Tomas Hertl, Jack Eichel and Vladimir Tarasenko.
With (presumably) a better supporting cast next season, and another year of personal growth, I really think he is going to pop.
Key new addition: Jack Hughes
This is probably taking the easy way out but I think it is fair to say that Hughes will make more of an impact for the foreseeable future than any other player the Devils bring in this off-season.
He is a high-end skater with elite puck skills and the ability to create every time he touches it. Hughes is also dynamic through the neutral zone, and his prowess in that aspect of the game should help him drive his own line sooner than later.
Hughes is going to be a great player, and he is also going to fill a need down the middle. Having him anchor the 2nd scoring line will be big.
Could surprise (2019-20): Nathan Bastian
I'll say Bastian because he has already begun to surprise me. Extremely small sample size (seven games), I know, but he held his head above water in almost every key 5v5 metric while playing on a horrendous team, and he recorded quite a few high-quality chances around the net. If he can sustain that over a full season, he'll become a much more valuable player than I ever anticipated.
Takes a leap (2019-20): Mackenzie Blackwood
There were some ups and downs but Blackwood managed to post an impressive .918 save percentage in a year where goaltending numbers were down across the board. Though Cory Schneider found his footing towards the end of the year, he is not what he once was and, given the mileage and surgeries, the Devils aren't going to ride him into the ground. Blackwood will have every opportunity to build on a strong 2018-19 campaign, and I think he'll be able to do it.
Prove it year (2019-20): Sami Vatanen
Since the trade, Vatanen has amassed 45 points in 107 games (.42 per game, 34 per 82) and posted mediocre on-ice numbers. He has done so while mostly playing tough minutes but I think he'll need to show a little more – and stay healthy – if he is going to cash in with the Devils. I'm skeptical.
Feel free to share your selections for each category in the comment section!
Devils appear close to signing Boqvist to ELC
Defending Jack Hughes
Devils sign Zetterlund and Maltsev to entry-level contracts
Kakko's strong start at the Worlds doesn't change anything
More thoughts on Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko
Devils contract projections (and thoughts!)
On the Devils' need for another top-6 forward and avoiding Pouliot
Jordan Eberle should not be a top target for the Devils
Get excited about Ty Smith
Jack Hughes changes everything
Don't sleep on Jesper Boqvist
The Devils should target Jason Zucker
The Kaapo Kakko blog™
The Jack Hughes blog™