Next year’s Devils: Which bottom-tier NHL team will break out in 2023-24?

As the 2022-23 NHL season draws to a close, teams are starting to clinch playoff berths. That includes the New Jersey Devils, who had one of their best seasons in franchise history after finishing eighth, eighth, seventh and seventh in the Metro Division the previous four years.

Few tipsters have predicted such a dramatic jump in the rankings, year after year.

This begs the question: Which lottery team is your favorite bet to take a sudden leap in relevance next season?

MAT LARKIN: I can’t BELIEVE I’m typing these words, guys, but I have a feeling Arizona coyotes. Listen to me. They benefited from significant progress from Clayton Keller, Barrett Hayton and Lawson Crouse up front, while Juuso Valimaki burst into defense. They have an underrated keeper in Karel Vejmelka. They should get a full season of Dylan Guenther and the top NHL-affiliated prospect in the world right now, Logan Cooley, in their group of top nine forwards next season. And that’s before we even factor in the epic 2023 draft class, in which they have two first-round picks. The sky is the limit, whether it’s Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli, Leo Carlsson or anyone else joining the fray. Bonus: they arguably play in the weakest division of the NHL. Watch out for Yotes!

MIKE MCKENNA: I go with the Montreal Canadiens. I think with the health and development of their defensive core, the Canadiens could make great progress next season. And three to four years from now, they could be downright scary. Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield are already a handful of opponents. And with Josh Anderson and Brandon Gallagher most likely hanging around, the leadership is in place to guide this club. They still have a good mix of veterans. Guys like David Savard and Jake Allen particularly come to mind. Juraj Slafkovsky will improve. Logan Mailloux had a monster season in the OHL with London and could break into the Canadiens’ blue line next year. I could easily run through the list of quality prospects that Montreal has rounded up — and with two first-round picks in the 2023 draft, the Canadiens aren’t done filling the closet. And remember: Martin St. Louis is still learning how to coach in the NHL. He will improve. I could see the Canadiens pushing for a Wildcard spot in the 2023-24 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

STEVEN ELLIS: There are a ton of good options, and I feel like some might undervalue the Columbus Blue Jackets. My picks, however, are the Anaheim Ducks. I was brought up on their youth for a while and ideally Trevor Zegras and Mason McTavish will be ready to take the next step in their games next year. They have one of the best prospect pools, already have some talented young players in the roster and I don’t think they are as bad as their results might suggest. John Gibson is a far cry from the talent he used to be, but Lukas Dostal could come in and steal a ton of net starts – and potentially even take the No. 1 role. They have deep defensive depth, and it will be exciting to see who – if anyone – takes the next step. Add in a high pick this year and I think the Ducks could do some damage to the standings next year.

NICK ALBERGA: I will go with the Blue Jackets of Columbus. In their wildest dreams, no one in Columbus could have predicted that season-long wreckage when they came out of nowhere to sign Johnny Gaudreau last summer. This team has good elements, but obviously they are a little timid to become legitimate again. Personally, I think Zach Werenski’s injury crippled them. Plus, I actually think they’re in a good position with an established core of Werenski, Gaudreau, Patrik Laine, Boone Jenner and Adam Boqvist to go along with some of their kids like Cole Sillinger and Kent Johnson. Long story short, whether or not they land Connor Bedard, I think they can turn things around pretty quickly.

FRANCK SERAVALLI: I agree with Mike, I don’t think enough people talk about what Canadians come together. Their front core is very close to being a legitimately dangerous group, they need a bit more depth but they have the right bits in the right places. Lane Hutson looks like an amazing draft pick on the back end. I think it might be a tougher year before the Habs launch, but they’re not incredibly far off. Plus, with the culture that Marty St. Louis is creating in the locker room and on the bench, the optimistic nature of the Montreal market in the midst of rebuilding, and the sense of what it’s like to play for a winner in Montreal, it’s going to be a first destination again for players.

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