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The New Jersey Devils begin preseason play in just five(!) days.
While players use the games to get themselves ready for October, or to try and land jobs, coaches have the luxury of trying different things without worrying about whether they work or not.
Here are three experiments I'd like to see tested:
1. A Will Butcher - P.K. Subban top pairing
Just because Sami Vatanen is going to shift to the left side – making room for Subban, Damon Severson, and Ty Smith to claim the three spots on the right – doesn't mean he's a lock for top pairing duty. At least he shouldn't be. I'd like to see Butcher given a taste in that role.
His on-ice results suggest he deserves a lot more minutes than he's been getting. Ice time certainly wouldn't be an issue playing alongside Subban.
As for *why* I'd like to see him used in that role, Butcher is a big-time play driver and the most efficient breakout man on the roster. Considering the milage that will be put on Subban, I think having a reliable partner to take on some zone exit duties is very important. That way Subban doesn't have to do all the heavy lifting and take a bunch of hits in the process.
I like Vatanen as much as the next guy but he doesn't hold a candle to Butcher when it comes to breaking out of the defensive zone with possession.
2. Nikita Gusev + Jack Hughes + Kyle Palmieri
I think Palmieri is the perfect winger for Gusev and Hughes. He's remarkably underrated defensively – certainly miles better than Jesper Bratt, who I'd put on L1 in this scenario – and he'd provide the line with a needed physical dimension. He's also the most natural goal scorer on the roster, making him an ideal fit for a pair of pass-first players with elite playmaking abilities.
This line would be dynamic, well-rounded, and have the potential to dominate on a nightly basis while avoiding the most difficult matchups.
3. An all-skill top-12
I know the Devils want to have more bite in their lineup this year. They traded for John Hayden with the intention of using him, and John Hynes loves the intangibles a player like Nathan Bastian brings to the table.
This idea probably isn't realistic until the very end of the preseason when the majority of the cuts have been made, however, I'd love to see them ice something similar to this:
Hall - Hischier - Bratt
Gusev - Hughes - Palmieri
Boqvist (GOAT) - Zajac - Simmonds
Wood - Zacha - Coleman
Few teams would be able to match that forward group. If Hynes tries it, perhaps he'll love the result and end up sticking with it. One could dream.
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