The New Jersey Devils season came to a conclusion on Saturday, April 21, as they were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Tampa Bay defeated New Jersey in five games and will advance to the second round, with their opponent yet to be determined.
Despite their elimination, the Devils showed resilience all year and advanced further than most thought they would. Some experts even predicted they would finish at the bottom of the barrel in the Metropolitan Division.
However, Taylor Hall broke out and asserted himself as an MVP candidate. Former No. 1 overall pick Nico Hischier established himself as one of the premier rookies in the league, and the team got strong contributions from veterans Brian Boyle, Kyle Palmieri and Sami Vatanen that propelled them to their first playoff berth since 2012.
While it’s always upsetting seeing your favorite team get knocked out of the playoffs, there is reason to believe this is just the first playoff appearance of many for this young and exciting hockey club.
I fully expect Hischier to get better and better. He’s going to turn just 20-years-old next season and has built a foundation to grow upon for next year and beyond.
If Hischier stays healthy and continues to grind and show the fire he has, there’s no reason to believe he is not going to one day be a top player in the NHL.
As for Taylor Hall, him breaking out in a big way has already given New Jersey a franchise player to build around.
The Devils have a few very fine players to complement him on the offensive front such as Palmieri, Marcus Johansson and youngsters Blake Coleman and Miles Wood, but New Jersey needs to help him out even more by adding another bona-fide goal scorer this summer.
Without Hall, it’s doubtful New Jersey makes the playoffs this year. This is great because he is such an impactful player, but he can’t do it alone. If New Jersey adds another solid two-way forward while their other players continue to grow and thrive, they will be a lethal squad in 2018-19.
As for defense, Sami Vatanen established himself as a force to be reckoned with after coming over from Anaheim in the first leg of the season, while rookie Will Butcher also made his presence known right off the bat this year.
New Jersey has some work to do on that front this summer, but I fully expect them to add a big defensive talent (fingers crossed for Erik Karlsson) to help shore up their blue line.
If they can successfully do this, this will be a well-balanced team that can go out there and fight for a win every single night.
Perhaps my biggest concern is the goalie situation.
After Cory Schneider got hurt about midway through the campaign, backup Keith Kinkaid took the job and ran with it. Without his contributions in net, who knows where the Devils would have been.
Regardless, Kinkaid struggled in the postseason (not completely his fault), and was spelled by Schneider in the final few games.
Schneider performed well against Tampa Bay, giving us a reason to believe he can return to the level of play we have seen from him in years past.
Schneider is locked up through the next few seasons with New Jersey, so will they just choose to keep riding the Schneider/Kinkaid tandem next year? Or could they trade Schneider and bring in another goalie?
These are all questions I’m excited to see answered in the next couple months at the draft day, free agent day and beyond.
The future is bright in New Jersey, and with a few tweaks and upgrades, this team will position themselves as one of the top in the NHL in the near future.
I would just like to thank all of you who took the time out to read my Devils columns this semester. With me graduating next month and New Jersey’s season drawing to a close, this will be my last one as a member of the New Paltz Oracle.
These guys are going to be special and I hope to see them do incredible things sooner than later. Let’s go Devils!