Taylor Hall‘s first season with the New Jersey Devils could probably be described as a solid season. In 72 games he scored 20 goals, added 33 assists and posted some pretty good possession numbers. On a per-game average, it was very similar to what he did in his previous two years with the Edmonton Oilers.
Heading into his second season with the team, the Devils are looking for more this time around.
“I expect more and he knows that,” said general manager Ray Shero when the team opened training camp this week, via NHL.com. “We met at the end of the year for a long time and wanted him to understand what it is to become the best player he can be. I think he’s been fantastic this summer and he’s capable of more, but it starts with a lot of different things than what’s happening on the ice in terms of training.”
The Devils acquired Hall last summer in a one-for-one swap involving defenseman Adam Larsson, giving the Devils what should be the type of top-line winger they have been missing since Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk left the organization several years ago. Hall is still only 26 years old and under contract for three more seasons at a reasonable $6 million per year salary cap hit. Given his age and contract status, he can still be a part of the next competitive team in New Jersey as it continues on its rebuild under Shero and coach John Hynes.
They have not qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs since reaching the Stanley Cup Final during the 2011-12 season and are coming off of a 2016-17 season that saw them finish with the fourth-worst record in the league and what was, by a pretty big margin, the worst record in the Eastern Conference.
The team made a lot of moves this summer to get Hall some additional help front. After getting some luck in the draft lottery the Devils selected Nico Hischier with the No. 1 overall pick, then also added Marcus Johansson, Brian Boyle and Drew Stafford. They are also looking for young players like Pavel Zacha and Blake Speers to take big steps forward.
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Ever since Ray Shero took over as the team’s general manager the New Jersey Devils have tried to add a lot of offensive punch to their lineup. They have traded for Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri and Marcus Johansson. They signed Brian Boyle this summer. They drafted Nico Hischier with the No. 1 overall pick this summer and are hoping that 2015 third-round pick Blake Speers can make the leap to the NHL on a full-time basis this season.
But their top pick in that 2015 class might be one of the most important players on the roster this season when it comes to whether or not the Devils can show significant signs of improvement in their rebuild. That pick, of course, was No. 6 overall selection Pavel Zacha.
After spending all but one game of his draft year back in the Ontario Hockey League playing for the Sarnia Sting, Zacha got his first full-time look in the NHL during the 2016-17 season and it was a bit of a mixed bag, something that is to be expected for a 19-year-old, especially one that bounced around between two different position — seeing time at both center and wing — and started the season recovering from a hip injury.
With just seven points in his first 37 games it was looking like his rookie season was going to be a bit of a disappointment.
He was able to salvage it in the second half, however, with a strong finish that saw him record a very respectable 17 points over the final 33 games. He also seemed to fit in more comfortably on the wing and took more of a shoot-first mentality with the puck, getting more shots on net as the season progressed. All of that is a good indication that he was starting to figure it out at the NHL level and could be poised for a big step forward in year two. He spent the offseason training in New Jersey working firsthand with the team’s trainers and coaches to help get there.
The Devils are going to need him to for a couple of reasons.
Not only because he is a top draft pick from just two years ago, making him a central part of the team’s ongoing rebuild, but also because of the injury suffered by Travis Zajac that is going to sideline him for at least four-to-six months. That is a pretty massive blow to an already thin Devils lineup. It’s not yet known where the Devils see Zacha on a full-time basis, but the center position was kind of turned upside down over the past couple of months with the additions of Marcus Johansson and Brian Boyle along with the injury to Zajac. He played his best hockey last season on the wing, but they might have a need down the middle. No matter where he fits in the lineup if the Devils are going to become a better offensive team both now and in the future players like Zacha are going to have to play a key role in it.
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It already seems like a given that top pick Nico Hischier is going to have a spot on the New Jersey Devils’ roster this season, so let’s focus a little bit on another Devils prospect that will be looking to make a full-time leap to the NHL after spending almost all of the 2016-17 season still playing for his junior team.
That would be 2015 third-round pick Blake Speers, who was able to get a brief three-game look with the team early in the season and received some high praise from the coaching staff before being sent back to the Ontario Hockey League.
Speers impressed at the Devils’ development camp this summer and said he is on a mission to make the roster this season. There are certainly plenty of openings for a team that is looking to rebuild its offense. General manager Ray Shero has done a pretty decent job adding talent to the forward group over the past couple of seasons adding Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri and Marcus Johansson, then getting the good fortune of winning the draft lottery this offseason to add Hischier into the mix.
During the team’s development camp coach John Hynes talked about Speers and his relentless style of play and the way he “attacks everything he does.” Over the past three years he has been one of the most productive players for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, averaging more than a point per game in each season. If he can successfully make the jump to the NHL this season and translate his game to the next level it would be another great add for a Devils team that has been one of the worst offensive — and least exciting — teams in the league for several years now.
Shero has already added some potential impact players, and getting a No. 1 overall pick is the type of good fortune that can help turn a franchise around, but teams also need to hit on the occasional mid-round pick like Speers to build a complete, balanched team from top-to-bottom.
After being one of the worst offensive teams in the NHL this past season the New Jersey Devils have undergone some significant roster changes in an effort to add some scoring punch to their lineup.
They were fortunate enough to get the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and select Nico Hischier, they were able to take advantage of the Washington Capitals’ salary cap crunch and pick up Marcus Johansson for a couple of draft picks, and they signed veteran forward Brian Boyle as a free agent. Joining a team that already has Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri, Adam Henrique they should be better. At least on paper.
They are also hoping for some help from within their own organizational pipeline of talent. One player that might be able to make an impact is 2015 third-round pick Blake Speers.
Speers surprisingly made the Devils’ roster a season ago out of training camp and briefly appeared in three games (and impressing the coaching staff) before being sent back to the Ontario Hockey League.
According to coach John Hynes after observing Hynes play at the team’s recent development camp, the 20-year-old forward seems to be on a mission to make the roster again this season. And stick there.
“There’s certainly a drive and determination to him overall in this camp that he looks like he’s a guy on the mission to give himself the best opportunity to make the team next year,” Hynes said, via Chris Ryan of NJ.com, while also adding that Speers is a “relentless, relentless competitor.”
After returning to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL, Speers averaged more than a point per game (34 points in 30 games) before getting a brief look with the AHL’s Albany River Rats in the playoffs.
The Devils have struggled offensively for years now but general manager Ray Shero seems to be trying to change that with some of his recent roster moves, as well as well as the addition of a No. 1 overall pick. A prospect like Speers coming out of the third-round of the NHL draft and making an impact would certainly help as well.