With the 2019-2020 NHL season creeping in so swiftly upon us Devils fans and hockey fans alike, there is a lot to touch on in this preview with the season just a month away. With the way the Devils drafted over the past few years and recently, I have the luxury to bring you the readers more insight on what it could be for the New Jersey Devils this season. The New Jersey Devils were last in the Metropolitan Division with a 31-41-10 record last season.
Although the huge conundrum last season was basically several factors that appear to be answered for the most part, last season when Taylor Hall went down, guys like Miles Wood had to step up and move up a line and play in non-traditional line combinations. The Taylor Hall injury was such a big domino fall that it was the right time for Nico Hischier, Devils centre, to put up more points even without Taylor Hall around him. Another problem that is now answered via trade was Ray Shero acquiring 27-year-old left-winger Nikita Gusev, taking him off the hands of the Vegas Golden Knights.
Nikita Gusev is a very difficult Russian sniper and left-winger to take the ice against. He has a very nearly impossible wrist and snap shot that is very accurate and super fast that you’d think he shot the puck like a true Russian sniper. The New Jersey Devils haven’t had a guy since Ilya Kovalchuk of a similar dynamic that could alleviate the weight off of Taylor Hall’s plate to come back and start scoring like a Hart Trophy winner. The next few players I’m going to touch on is of course Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt.
Jack Hughes is coming into the NHL bringing that very fast, super agile ability just a step below Connor McDavid’s speed and agility level. The smarts and the creativity is where Hughes can create an open area that little to no one else can do. Jack has that X factor that is really complex where he can move max speed and accurately pass the puck to his open teammate.
Having a more sneakier dangler winger on Jack Hughes’ line is very likely in my mind Jesper Bratt. The Swede is gaining more time and space at times is spinning away from defenders. The stick handling along with the Hockey IQ and senses are one of the most dangerous tools you simply can’t teach in a player. Bratt is very elusive and is the kind of guy that can help Jack Hughes gain confidence each night along with Nikita Gusev possibly being the left wing sniper that can help produce buckets of goals.
After making a huge trade for P.K. Subban, the veteran defensemen is looking to get back into shape from his recent upper nerve problems that hampered him in Nashville. He is very determined this offseason looking to get back to being the physical and super lethal power play dynamo we all know him to be. I look towards P.K. as being a teammate that can ease the pressure on captain Andy Greene whom is 36 years old going on 37. Greene has a good offensive shot and can still be good on penalty kills, etc. However, I do see John Hynes playing Greene in less minutes, but used more effectively.
Sami Vatanen and Connor Carrick are some of the big pieces that help take the extra responsibilities off of Damon Severson’s lap. Severson, the young offensive-defensemen, has had the ability to gain more power play minutes and is getting comfortable playing with the puck offensively and defensively than in the past few seasons since his big extension. Sami Vatanen has proven he can play top two pairing minutes last season, even when he was on a depleted New Jersey defence. I can see Sami playing on the left side at times and playing key minutes this season as well.
Connor Carrick, since being traded in the Ben Lovejoy deal, has shown signs of his two-way game. He scored an important goal in a Devils home game vs. the Rangers. That was a crucial game that helped the Devils get the lottery win to get Jack Hughes. Now ironically Connor gets to be Jack Hughes’ teammate and he can now be able to pass the puck and skate with the guy he was responsible for that puck luck in that game. Carrick is going to add a lot of skill and depth which can be a big reason why the Devils make a push for the playoffs.
Mackenzie Blackwood, the Canadian goaltender who came up in the near midseason, proved to be the player with the promise and skill when veteran Keith Kinkaid was failing in net. While Schneider was rehabbing in Binghamton, it was Blackwood who came to the rescue. With the kind of performance that Blackwood was having, it just made Ray Shero’s job to trade Keith Kinkaid to Columbus that much easier. If Cory Schneider can remain healthy and not play more than 41 games and Mackenzie the same, these guys can lead a new direction for New Jersey and win all together as a playoff bound team.
Having to remember that the Devils have Ty Smith coming right up from Spokane in the WHL, he seems destined to make the team out of camp, even surpassing the nine game frame. After seeing what he did for Hockey Canada in the past, he has shown to add muscle to his impressive hockey frame. Also, the fact that he is a really great offensive puck mover is what the Devils need. Out of camp, don’t be surprised to see him play the puck and play a bit more physical.
Will Butcher, on the other hand, has been improving on his puck management a bit over his freshman season. Despite a sophomore slump, he’s going to be looking forward to a clean start. Butcher is going to go out after getting married recently and getting a new contract and Will is going out to prove to his friends, family and Ray Shero that he can handle the NHL pressure.
With the season opener scoring up against the Winnipeg Jets, this would be a big first step for the New Jersey Devils to come off on the right foot. Especially in a big Metro Division.