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We are in the dog days of the summer. Player movement is non-existent, training camp is still weeks away, and (probably) the only New Jersey Devils news we have to look forward to is Miles Wood signing a bridge deal. Exciting!
With basically nothing happening, I decided to do a Q&A post answering your Devils questions.
Let's get to it.
Absolutely. Nico Hischier is as dynamic as pretty much anyone through the neutral zone and already a high-end producer at 5v5. Among 203 forwards to log 900+ minutes in that game state, only 23 recorded points at a higher rate. Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Patrick Kane, Vladimir Tarasenko and John Tavares are some of the many notables Hischier was more efficient than. Had he been featured on the top power play rather than the 2nd unit, alongside a pretty underwhelming cast of characters, his production would look a whole lot better. He's going to be regarded as a star in a couple years, if not sooner.
If he sees ice on PP1, and/or PP2 isn't a disaster, I think Hischier will finish in the 65 point range. That'd be a really solid number considering he doesn't even turn 20 until the middle of the season.
You really know how to stir the pot, CJ.
1. Will Butcher -- His play from the blue line in could use some work but he makes really good decisions with the puck and is easily the best offensive blueliner on the roster. I think he's going to do well this year in a top-4 role
2. Sami Vatanen -- I know some of his underlying numbers don't paint the brightest picture but he produced at a 40-point clip as a member of the Devils while facing tough competition every night.
3. Damon Severson -- It doesn't always look pretty but he is a lot better than most give him credit for.
4. Andy Greene -- Has clearly lost a step but is generally pretty reliable without the puck and he eats up some really tough minutes.
5. Ben Lovejoy -- *ducks* say what you want about the guy but his numbers with Butcher last year were really good and he is a useful penalty killer.
6. Mirco Mueller -- Though he brings nothing to the table with the puck, his play without it is decent enough.
7. Steven Santini -- He was clearly in over his head on the shutdown pairing but his numbers in a depth role have been OK.
I fully expect something to get done prior to camp. His numbers suggest he deserves decent coin but, as a restricted free agent without arbitration rights, he has no leverage to get it. I'd guess two-years, ~$2 million per or three-years, ~$2.5 million per.
I would guess Kyle Palmieri. The Devils averaged more than 4.1 goals per 60 with those cats together at 5v5 and they posted a +10 goal differential in less than 300 minutes. As long as secondary scoring isn't a big issue they should play quite a bit as a trio.
Assuming the Devils (mostly) stick with Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri and Nico on the top line, I'd like to see Miles Wood given a legitimate shot on the 2nd unit
He was an efficient 5v5 scorer last season and Pavel Zacha/Marcus Johansson tend to be quite pass-happy. They need someone who will funnel pucks to the net.
Cory Schneider. For all the talk about how great Keith Kinkaid was last season, he finished 34th among 46 eligible goaltenders (1,200+ minutes) in 5v5 save percentage and his overall numbers were almost identical to his career averages. His strong 2nd half only really made up for how much he struggled in the 1st half.
If Schneider is remotely healthy, and it seems like he will be, I would bet on his numbers being better.
Best case: the kids – Hischier, Butcher, Wood, Pavel Zacha, etc. – continue to take steps forward, the Devils get bounce-back years from Marcus Johansson and Schneider, and they compete for a divisional playoff spot.
Worst case: Zacha doesn't hold his own as the No. 2 offensive center, scoring depth remains an issue, and age/injuries continue to hold Schneider back. In this situation, I don't see the Devils being all that close to the playoffs.
He'll provide solid defense at evens and on the penalty kill. That much we know. What is up in the air is just how much offense he'll bring to the table. He took a step forward last season
– at least at 5v5 – and I think he is capable of doing that again if he has a healthy Marcus Johansson riding shotgun all season. I could see him approaching 40 points.
John Quenneville is the only guy you didn't mention that really has a shot so I'll go with him, I guess. I know the point of a dark horse is someone you don't really see coming but I don't think there are any sleepers with a realistic shot this year.
Last year ended in a really sour fashion but a 19-year-old producing at a near 40-point pace over 82 games is no small feat. I think he is worse than he looked in the 1st half of the season and better than he looked in the 2nd half. In other words, I think we'll see similar production but hopefully without as drastic highs and lows.
I don't see any easy targets. Only Detroit is *really* up against the cap and they don't have many attractive pieces. Besides perhaps Gustav Nyquist, who is on an expiring contract, players the Devils might have interest in probably aren't available.
One model projects the Devils to take a small step back in 2018-19
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