New Jersey Devils looking for more than playoffs this year
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Getting to the playoffs isn’t going to be good enough for the New Jersey Devils this season. The goals are now higher.
Coming off their worst season in nearly 30 years, the Devils shocked the NHL last year by returning to the postseason for the first time since 2011-12.
Coach John Hynes molded a mixture of young talent and veterans, and got an MVP season from Taylor Hall and outstanding rookie seasons from No. 1 overall draft pick Nico Hischier and defenseman Will Butcher to grab the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
While New Jersey was not a match for Tampa Bay in the opening round, the groundwork was laid for the future.
General manager Ray Shero made very few changes in the offseason. The organization’s belief is the talent is there and what the team needs is internal growth.
Hall, who had 39 goals and 93 points, is back and seemingly healthier after having surgery on torn ligaments in his left hand. The 19-year-old Hischier spent the offseason trying to get stronger and improve upon his 20-goal and 32-assist first season.
Butcher, the Hobey Baker Award winner, keyed the power play with five goals and 39 assists.
“I think everyone is excited. We have a lot of good young players here,” said right wing Kyle Palmieri, whose 24 goals were second best on the team. “Some of building off the success of last year and others are trying to be that surprise of camp. It’s driven the competition and it is going to make us a better team in the long run.”
Travis Zajac, who along with Andy Greene are the only holdovers from the 2011-12 team that went to the Stanley Cup Final, said having almost everyone back will give the Devils chemistry to start the season.
“I don’t think there are a lot of people expecting us to be back in the playoffs,” Zajac said. “We know what we are capable of in this dressing room. There is a lot of belief in the players and coaching staff. When you have that throughout the organization, it can be a good thing and we can feed off that and prove a lot of people wrong again this year.”
Here are a few more things to watch with the Devils this year:
GOALTENDING: Keith Kinkaid replaced Cory Schneider as the No. 1 goaltender in the second half of the season. He won 19 games in the final two months and finished 26-10-3. The drawback was that he did not play well in the playoffs, and Schneider took over in net. Kinkaid will have the top job to start the season with Schneider coming off a hip injury. Eddie Lack probably will back up Kinkaid early.
BACK LINE: Greene and Sami Vatanen were the No.1 defensive unit last year. Butcher was a pleasant surprise, but the rest of the unit is uncertain. Damon Severson was inconsistent. Ben Lovejoy, 34, had his ups and downs but played well late in the season. Free agent signee Eric Gryba should provide some toughness, while Mirco Mueller, Steven Santini and free agent signee Egor Yakovlev are fighting to make the roster.
SCORING: Hall, Hischier, Palmieri and Miles Wood should provide goals, with Hall hoping to hit the 40-mark. New Jersey had a lot of guys scoring in the 12-13 range last season, and those guys have to pick it up. Rookie Jesper Bratt, Stefan Noesen, Blake Coleman and Brian Boyle all had 13 goals while Zajac had 12. New Jersey finished with 248 goals. It gave up four fewer. The really good teams score more.
JOHANSSON FACTOR: The Devils expected big things from Marcus Johansson last season after acquiring him in a trade with Washington. The 27-year-old Swede played in only 29 games because of concussions and was limited to five goals and nine assists. He had scored 20, 17 and 24 goals in the three previous seasons. Regaining that form will be a boost for New Jersey.
NEW KIDS: John Quenneville, the Devils’ first round-draft pick in 2014, and Nick Lappin, who led the club’s top minor league team with 31 goals last season, might be ready to make the jump to the NHL. Lappin has two preseason goals and Quenneville one. Both have played well in training camp.