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The New Jersey Devils open their six-game preseason schedule tonight with a pair of split-squad contests against the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens.
Let's take a look at the lineups.
vs New York
Taylor Hall - Nico Hischier - Jesper Bratt
John Quenneville - Michael McLeod - Stefan Noesen
Blake Pietila - Brian Boyle - Nick Lappin
Eric Tangradi - Kevin Rooney - Kurtis Gabriel
Andy Greene - Steven Santini
Ty Smith - Sami Vatanen
Egor Yakovlev - Eric Gryba
Marcus Johansson - Pavel Zacha - Kyle Palmieri
Marian Studenic - Travis Zajac - Drew Stafford
Blake Coleman - Brett Seney - Joey Anderson
Brandon Baddock - Brandon Gignac - Blake Speers
Mirco Mueller - Damon Severson
Will Butcher - Ben Lovejoy
Brian Strait - Josh Jacobs
I have a few thoughts:
With Miles Wood still missing in action, I like the decision to drop Palmieri to the 2nd line and put Bratt up top.
Marcus Johansson and Pavel Zacha are playmakers first and both tend to be pass-happy at times. They need a linemate who won't hesitate to pull the trigger and funnel pucks to the net. Palmieri certainly meets the criteria.
It's also worth noting the top line posted a 52.9 Expected Goals For% with Bratt as opposed to 49.7% with Palmieri. You could argue the Devils are starting out with an optimal top-6.
Though Ty Smith is a longshot to make the Devils out of camp, it is within the realm of possibility he forces his way onto the team. He's certainly being put in a great position to showcase his talents as he's being paired with Sami Vatanen at even-strength and is expected to see power play time on the 2nd unit. We know he can skate and move the puck but I'm interested to see how he handles himself defensively – particularly below the dots – against older, bigger players with pro experience.
I think Yakovlev is a guy worth paying close attention to tonight. He spent six years in the KHL – including three on a very good SKA team – and there was a lot of interest in him league-wide. The Devils don't have many (any?) defenders who play with the edge he does. If he can move the puck at all, I think he has a pretty good chance of making the team.
Brett Seney really opened some eyes with his play at the Prospects Challenge in Buffalo. He was shifty, creative, and arguably the team's best offensive facilitator. If he has a strong preseason, he could very well beat out some of the bigger name prospects vying for spots. That's his goal.
I don't love the defense pairings the Devils are going with tonight. We have already seen Greene - Santini, Butcher - Lovejoy, and Mueller - Severson. Why not get creative and experiment a little more? If it doesn't work, it doesn't work but there's no harm in trying in games that don't count for anything.
Puck drop in New Jersey is just after 7:00 p.m. ET and can be seen on MSG, MSG+ and NHL Network (U.S.). The game in Montreal begins at 7:30 p.m. ET and will be aired on TSN2 and RDS. There should be streams available for it – check Reddit!
I'll be back tomorrow with some takeaways from tonight's games.
On Marcus Johansson and Pavel Zacha
Three experiments the Devils should test in the preseason
Three reasons to be optimistic about the Devils heading into the 2018-19 season
Three question marks for the Devils heading into the 2018-19 season
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