2022-23 NHL Team Preview: New Jersey Devils


To see all of the NHL Daily Faceoff 2022-23 team previews, click here.

LAST SEASON

The Devils were among the liveliest teams in the league entering the 2021-22 campaign. Having only made the playoffs once since 2011-12, they had amassed a growing pool of fundamental prospects, led by No. 1 overall picks Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes. General manager Tom Fitzgerald saw enough in his squad that he felt it was time to start adding veterans aggressively. The Devils snapped up UFA’s top defenseman Dougie Hamilton on a lucrative seven-year deal, traded for defenseman Ryan Graves and left winger Tomas Tatar and goaltender Jonathan Bernier.

But instead of showing progress, armed with all their new toys, the Devils stalled, largely due to injuries. Hamilton has missed 20 games with a broken fibula. Bernier only played 10 games before having hip surgery in January. Fellow goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood has been limited to 24 starts due to a litany of ailments. Hughes, in the midst of a monster season, missed 33 games with a dislocated shoulder, COVID-19 and a sprained knee.

The Devils just couldn’t build momentum or ice a healthy lineup most nights. The result was a regression from a 0.402 percentage point to a .384 mark and a second consecutive seventh-place finish in the Metropolitan Division.

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New Jersey has only had one playoff birth in its last 10 seasons, but it looks like 2022-23 could bring better fortunes. The Devils have made some more notable additions this offseason, and their young guns are ready for bigger roles. Can they finally be relevant again in the Eastern Conference playoff draw?

MAJOR ADDITIONS AND DEPARTURES

Additions
Ondrej Palat, LW
Vitek Vanecek, G
John Marin, D.
Erik Haula, C.
Brendan Smith, D.

departures
Pavel Zacha, C (Bos)
Ty Smith, D (pit)
Janne Kuokkanen, LW (Switzerland)
Frederik Gauthier, C (Switzerland)
Chase De Leo, C (Ana)
Colton White, D (Ana)
AJ Greer, AG (Bos)

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OFFENSE

The Devils jumped 26e in attack two seasons ago at 19e last year, averaging just under three goals per game in the best overall season for league-wide goals since 1995-96. The most exciting development was that of Hughes. After his second campaign in 2020-21 suggested plenty of big scoring chance generation in his underhood numbers, it appeared he was coming off of an unlucky season and needed to explode. This is exactly what happened. He snatched 26 goals and 56 points in 49 games. Extrapolated from 82 games, he was on pace for a 44-goal, 94-point campaign. That would have made him the highest scoring Devil since Zach Parise in 2008-09. Hughes looks set to become a superstar this season.

He also has increasingly useful support around him. Jesper Bratt broke out for a 73-point season in just 76 games. Yegor Sharangovich scored 24 goals as a sophomore. Dawson Mercer scored 17 times in his rookie season. Hischier delivered 60 points in a relatively healthy campaign. The Devils quietly ranked as an above average team in generating chances in a 5-on-5 game. Their power play dragged them down, however, ranking 28e in the NHL at 15.6 percent. Newly signed top-six winger Ondrej Palat is more of an even-strength contributor than a power-play maven, so the Devils will be looking to improve from within. A healthier season from Hamilton should help power play progress.

DEFENSE

On the face of it, the Devils were a defensive mess last season, allowing 3.68 goals per game, the fourth most in the league. But it doesn’t tell a specific story. They were only slightly below the league average in limiting shots in 5v5, they were one of the best teams in limiting high danger chances and they actually ranked in the first half of the NHL in expected goals per 60. They had 14 in the leaguee-best penalty kill, with Graves, fellow defensemen Jonas Siegenthaler and Damon Severson and quick fourth-line center Michael McLeod making important contributions. With Hughes and Hischier in the middle and Palat joining the front six, not to mention Hamilton at fullback, the Devils have personnel who can tilt the ice towards the other team’s net.

So that horrible goals-against-per-game stat? It was much more the result of the team’s goaltending than defensive play.

GOALKEEPER

Black wood. Bernard. Scott Wedgewood. Nico Daws. Jon Gillies. Andrew Hammond. Akira Schmid. Those Magnificent Seven all started games for the Devils last season, combining for an .881 team save percentage, second-worst in the NHL behind only Seattle. The Devils net was a total disaster.

It just can’t be this bad this year, right? Not that the Devils enter 2022-23 with any real stability in the crease. Bernier remains on the shelf with hip surgery, so newly acquired Blackwood and Vitek Vanecek will patrol the New Jersey net.

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Vanecek will likely get the first glimpse of a starter or 1A role given the Devils are paying him a $3.4 million AAV on a three-year contract. He started 75 games and made 79 appearances in net for the Washington Capitals in his first two NHL seasons, constantly pushing higher-profile prospect Ilya Samsonov for the job. Vanecek posted an acceptable .908 SV% in his first two seasons. Last season, among 55 goalkeepers who recorded at least 1,000 5-on-5 minutes, he quietly ranked 10e in goals saved above the average on 60, just behind Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Rank 54e out of 55e in this same statistic? Black wood. It’s hard to believe that barely a year ago he was being talked about as a candidate for a spot on the Canadian Olympic list. His star has dropped considerably. But if he can find a way to stay healthy this season, maybe he’ll find some rhythm and start showing the positive side he showed a few years ago. For now, he’s probably the 1B who will have to outplay Vanecek to earn a bigger slice of the pie.

It remains to be seen if the Devils even have a league goaltending average for 2022-23, but if they can get close to that they could improve significantly in the standings.

FRAMING

Lindy Ruff is entering her third season behind the Devils bench, still chasing her first playoff spot with the team. He is one of the most experienced coaches in NHL history, tied with Al Arbor for fifth on the all-time winning list at 782. Ruff, however, could be in the hot seat this season, judging by the high-profile additions Fitzgerald made. to the supervisory staff. He added Andrew Brunette, fresh off the Jack Adams Award finalist with the Florida Panthers, not to mention Ryan McGill, an assistant for the Vegas Golden Knights in their first five seasons, and promoted Sergei Brylin, who spent nearly a decade to train. in the Devils farming system.

Brunette in particular would be willing to step in as head coach on the spot given his recent experience in charge of a Presidents’ Trophy-winning club for most of last season. He should at least help improve New Jersey’s dismal power play.

RECRUITS

Mercer broke through last season and the Devils could get a big contribution from another rookie forward this season. Alexander Holtz, drafted seventh overall in 2020, has the skills they need the most. He’s a pure shooter who could one day become their main long-term trigger in the best power play unit. He buryed 26 goals in 52 AHL games last season and played nine games at the NHL level. He deserves mention among the dormant Calder Trophy candidates…if he makes the team. It is not a guarantee. The Devils are quietly very deep on the wings right now. Palat, Bratt, Sharangovich and Mercer probably make up the four winger spots in the top six, and in the bottom six there are four spots available for Tatar, Jesper Boqvist, Miles Wood, Andreas Johnsson, Nathan Bastian and Holtz. Holtz will not be given a job. He will have to earn it on merit. Tyce Thompson, brother of Tage, also performed well in the AHL last year, but he faces the same competitive problem as Holtz.

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The Devils have two top blue-line prospects to watch in Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec, picked fourth and second overall, respectively, in the last two drafts. Hughes will play another season at NCAA Michigan. Nemec has already signed his entry-level contract, but he will need a breathtaking camp to qualify for the NHL at 18.

BURNING QUESTIONS

1. How legitimate was Jesper Bratt’s escape? Given Hughes’ pedigree, it was no surprise to see his game leap forward, but few expected Bratt’s game to take off like he did in his fifth NHL season. Considering there hasn’t been a noticeable increase in « luck with the puck » and he genuinely generated more chances than ever last season, it’s likely that Bratt is real.

2. Will Ondrej Palat move the needle? We’ve long known Palat as a cog in the Tampa Bay Lightning machine, one of the best playoff performers in the game. But will he justify a $6 million AAV for the next five seasons in New Jersey? ? His supporting cast won’t be as strong, but he should be counted on for more minutes on his new team, so career-best numbers wouldn’t come as a surprise.

3. Are Lindy Ruff’s days as head coach numbered? Ruff gets a little more rope because injuries and poor goaltending were out of his control last season, but if New Jersey struggles at the start of 2022-23, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Fitzgerald pivot towards Brunette to stop the bleeding.

PREDICTION

It’s the deepest, most dynamic roster the Devils have created in the Hischier/Hughes era, and there’s room for improvement from last year, even with better luck. in the health and goalkeeping departments. The Devils remain a long way from qualifying for the playoffs, but they could compete on the periphery for much of 2022-23, especially with the Metro Division featuring many of the league’s oldest teams.

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