It’s been a long time coming for the Devils to be competitive again, but it looks like they have finally turned a corner.
New Jersey had themselves a successful offseason, even if some of the moves flew under the radar.
That’s what general manager Ray Shero is best at: making moves that pay great dividends down the line, even if they don’t make the back page of the paper.
He did it when he sent a second and third round pick to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Kyle Palmieri in the summer of 2015, who has put up a quality 57 and 53 points, respectively, in his two seasons with the team.
He shed the dead weight and albatross contracts left over from the Lou Lamoriello era and started building from the ground up to make this team a contender again.
As a Mets fan, I’m no stranger to the rebuild. It stinks when you have to live through the bad seasons, but when you reach your full potential it’s exciting.
Since the Devils lost the Stanley Cup to the Kings back in 2012, I’ve been hungry to get back there and while I don’t think it will happen this year, the young core of this team is a good sign for the future.
Let’s start off with a little offseason roundup and some positives going into the 2017-18 season for New Jersey.
In a surprising turn of events, the Devils won the draft lottery and received the No. 1 overall pick for the first time in franchise history.
For a while, the unanimous top pick was Nolan Patrick, who played juniors with the Brandon Wheat Kings. But then came the Swiss center Nico Hischier who burst on the scene and made the Devils decision for who they would select even harder.
Patrick is a year older than Hischier and has the raw skills to make an immediate impact in the league, but was plagued by injuries leading up to the draft, while Hischier could benefit the team in the future with a more complete package.
New Jersey took the latter and in a small sample size, the 18 year old looks exciting out of the gate, lighting the lamp four times in the preseason.
While there will be the ebbs and flows of playing in the National Hockey League, when Hischier adapts and comes into his own, the Devils will have a lethal weapon on its hands.
The Devils stayed mostly quiet at the draft and on free agency day, but the moves they did make this offseason really helped lengthen the team.
New Jersey acquired Marcus Johansson from the Washington Capitals for a pair of picks which gave them another 20+ goal scorer. Palmieri, Johansson, Taylor Hall and Adam Henrique are a solid group of forwards that can propel the team to victory. If Cory Schneider bounces back after a down year, he will have some wiggle room instead of losing 1-0 or 2-1 like we have seen so often in past seasons.
On the free agent front, the Devils added a few reliable pieces such as Drew Stafford, Brian Boyle and most importantly Will Butcher, the standout defenseman.
The Butcher deal really took everyone by surprise as he was one of the highly coveted college players in the country.
Strong defense has always been a big part of the Devils mantra and with Butcher and recently acquired Mirco Mueller to go along with incumbents John Moore and Damon Severson, the stress on captain Andy Greene should decrease.
Out with the old, in with the new
It was refreshing to see the Devils cut ties with a few players that I would consider dead weight. The oft injured Michael Cammalleri was placed on waivers with the purpose of having the remaining two years on his contract bought out.
While it’s a shame that Cammalleri was plagued by the injury bug, former general manager Lou Lamoriello doling out a five year deal to him was suspect even in the moment.
Devante Smith-Pelly, who performed well after he was acquired for Stefan Matteau in the 2015-16 campaign showed his true colors as a bottom liner and ultimately left town for Washington.
The most disappointing to me over the years was seeing what became of Jacob Josefson. Lamoriello had a string of very questionable drafts where his top pick flopped and he is a prime example. Josefson, who only seemed to thrive in the shootout signed on with the Sabres for one-year. However, he wasn’t performing here and it was time to move on.
Former first round picks Pavel Zacha and John Quenneville are players I will be keeping an eye on this season as well as Joseph Blandisi, who I think can really be a frontline guy for us sooner rather than later.
It’s the first season since the Stanley Cup run that I’m actually excited to watch Devils hockey. The culture has finally changed in Jersey and I expect us to be in the thick of things in the near future.