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On the 3rd pairing
Barring any unexpected additions, it's pretty clear Sami Vatanen, Will Butcher, Damon Severson, and Andy Greene will make up New Jersey's top-4 defense come October.
I think that group is OK with the potential to be fairly decent if John Hynes and co. want to get creative with their pairings
That leaves Ben Lovejoy, Mirco Mueller, and Steven Santini to round out the defense. Lovejoy will get his reps but I expect to see the latter two play together quite a bit, which is a little worrisome.
Neither player has the ability to drive play or produce points and their micro stats are *really* bad.
Given that, it should be no surprise the two struggled mightily in their very short period of time together last season.
In ~30 minutes of 5v5 play with those two paired, the Devils controlled ~30% of the shot attempts, ~27% of the expected goals, and took four penalties. Extremely small sample size, of course, but I don't think it's a coincidence they garnered such poor results considering their struggles to date.
There is obviously no way they'll continue to be *that* bad over a larger sample. At 23, both players still have room to grow as well.
If they don't – and aren't noticeably better than they were a year ago – the team's 3rd pairing could be a big problem.
On Taylor Hall
The NHL Network ranked the top-20 wingers in the league and slotted Taylor Hall 3rd, 17 spots higher than a year ago when I argued he was being underrated
While it may seem odd to see the league MVP ranked 3rd best at his own position, I have no problem with it.
Nikita Kucherov has probably been the best winger in the league over the last few seasons and he is coming off a 100 point season. His position is warranted.
Ovechkin is maybe the best era-adjusted goal scorer in history and somehow has garnered more heat than praise over the years. It's nice that he is finally being appreciated.
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
Pavel Zacha took a step forward in 2017-18