Kyle Palmieri

Hall among injured Devils, but it could be much worse

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When people see a hard knee-to-knee collision, the general reaction is to a) wince at the possibility for something serious and b) debate the dirtiness of said check, if you’re into that sort of discussion.

New Jersey Devils fans must have grimaced last night, as Taylor Hall had a real scare in a collision with Kurtis MacDermid of the Los Angeles Kings, which you can witness in the video above this post’s headline.

There may have been extra grunts as this was arguably garbage time in the game, as the Devils were up 4-0 in a game they would eventually win 5-1, and Hall put on a show, including scoring this goal:

Well, Hall and the Devils didn’t go totally unscathed, but most N.J. fans will breathe sighs of relief at today’s update. Head coach John Hynes labels Hall day-to-day, with Thursday’s game at Montreal being ruled out, but there’s no structural damage to the prolific forward’s knee. The injury is considered a contusion.

So, a mostly dodged bullet there, and while the Devils are a little damaged, the injury news is generally heartening.

Like Hall, Kyle Palmieri has been ruled out for Thursday’s contest against the Habs. The Bergen Record’s Andrew Gross reports that Palmieri is in a walking boot and will probably miss a week of action. With Marcus Johansson also a little banged-up, the Devils must show some resiliency, yet the bounces go their way to some extent even here, as other teams are missing key players for longer spans of time.

This injury update seems like a worthwhile excuse to exalt Hall’s fantastic 2017-18 season, so let’s take a quick look at how special he’s been.

Hall of a time

The 26-year-old (yes, he’s still that young, and his birthday came on Nov. 14) had a perfectly fine first season with New Jersey, scoring 20 goals and 53 points in 72 games. It was the third straight season in which Hall scored on fewer than 10 percent of his shots on goal, connecting on 8.4 percent. He was an impressive possession factor, as he’s been for much of his career.

In 2017-18, he’s producing some of the best work of his woefully underrated career.

Hall has 11 goals and 20 assists for 31 points in 30 contests, leading the Devils by 11 points. With a 1.03 points-per-game average, he’s on one of the best paces of his career, and if this knee issue is truly minor, he could set some career-highs. Sadly, inopportune injuries have been almost as much of an unfortunate theme for Hall as has been “lottery luck.”

It will be tough for Hall to top his best-ever work in 2013-14, when he scored 27 goals and 80 points in 75 contests, but perhaps he’ll finish closer to 80 GP and match at least one of those marks?

Of course, Hall likely values a possible first playoff run more than any individual milestones.

You hear that sort of talk quite frequently with players, yet that cliche is virtually guaranteed to be the honest truth for Hall. If anyone deserves the sort of bounces that have been going the Devils’ way so far this season, it’s this long-suffering left winger.

So here’s hoping that his knee issue really is minor, and he can get back to reminding observers that he’s one of the best wingers in the NHL.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Ray Shero’s redemption in New Jersey

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When Ray Shero was hired by the Pittsburgh Penguins back in 2006 he was taking over a team that, even though it had fallen on hard times and had been one of the worst in the league, was on the verge of a breakthrough thanks to a series of top draft picks that brought them a couple of franchise changing players (Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin). Even though the team at the time was lousy, he was still inheriting a pretty decent situation just based on the young talent that was already in place.

In only a couple of years Shero had helped complement those young superstars with a team that would go play in two Stanley Cup Finals in 2008 and 2009, winning the latter in a thrilling seven-game series. He made some shrewd trades, found some value in free agency, and built a powerhouse team.

In the years after that Stanley Cup win, however, he seemed to lose a lot of that touch. There was too much loyalty to players that the Penguins had won with, too many draft picks were traded for short-term rentals that didn’t pan out and the Penguins quickly became a team that had a handful of superstars and no depth to speak of. The magic that he seemed to have early in his tenure seemed to be gone as nearly every move ended up backfiring in a huge way.

After one too many early postseason exits it eventually ended up costing Shero his job following the 2013-14 season.

It did not take him long to land on his feet with the New Jersey Devils replacing long-time general manager Lou Lamoriello.

Now in his third year running the Devils the team finds itself near the top of the Metropolitan Division looking to end what has become a five-year postseason drought.

It’s not only a potentially big development for the Devils, it’s also been a bit of a redemption story for Shero in the way he has rebuild the team from the ground up in a significant way thanks to some major moves.

The situation that Shero inherited in New Jersey couldn’t have been more different than the one he inherited in Pittsburgh.

With the Penguins, the most important pieces were already in place. It was a young team with huge potential where success seemed like it was destined. It wasn’t a matter of if the team would become a championship contender, it was simply a matter of when. Expectations were immediately through the roof (that sort of situation creates an entirely different kind of pressure).

With the Devils, expectations were pretty much at zero.

The Devils had become a bad team. The All-Stars that helped lead the team to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final were gone. It was an older roster that had no impact players, no young building blocks, and nothing to really build around. It was going to take a significant overhaul to get things back on track.

An overhaul is exactly what has happened.

After trading Adam Henrique to the Anaheim Ducks this past week for defenseman Sami Vatanen, the only players that remain on the Devils roster today from the 2014-15 season (the year before Shero arrived) are Travis Zajac, Andy Greene, Damon Severson, and goaltenders Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid.

That’s it.

The remainder of the roster has been completely rebuilt through some pretty significant trades that have had a significant impact on changing the short-and long-term outlook of the team.

Since being hired in New Jersey Shero has added Kyle Palmieri, Taylor Hall, Marcus Johansson and now Vatanen to the roster while only giving up Henrique, Adam Larsson, Joseph Blandisi, two second-round picks and two third-round picks.

That is a huge gain for the Devils from a production standpoint.

Palmieri has become a 25-goal, 50-point winger with the Devils the past two years and is scoring at that same pace this season when he has been healthy. Johansson, based on his track record in Washington, can offer similar production. Injuries have forced each of them to miss 12 games this season, making the Devils’ start even more impressive.

Hall is one of the NHL’s best left wingers and is currently on track for his best season in the NHL. Vatanen has had a brutal start to the season, but has a history of being a strong top-four defenseman that can provide some much-needed offense from the back end.

Those are significant additions, and while there is always a risk in giving up that many draft picks, second and third rounders tend to be lottery tickets, while all four players the Devils received in return are going to be around for quite some time.

Beyond those additions the most encouraging development for the Devils might be the fact they actually have some young players that are making a significant impact.

Three of their top-four scorers are currently age 23 or younger, including a pair of 19-year-olds.

They had a stroke of luck in the draft lottery this past season when they won the draft lottery and the No. 1 overall pick, landing them Nico Hischier (currently the team’s second-leading scorer).

Jesper Bratt, a sixth-round pick by the Devils in 2016, has also made an immediate impact while NCAA free agent defenseman Will Butcher has stepped right into the lineup and is the team’s top scoring blueliner.

Of the NHL’s top-10 rookie point producers, three of them are Devils all added to the organization by Shero in the past year.

Before Shero’s arrival in New Jersey the Devils had grown stale, even by Devils standards. They weren’t just the same old boring Devils that didn’t score goals, didn’t play an exciting brand of hockey, and didn’t have any star power, they also weren’t doing any of the winning that made all of that tolerable for their fans.

They desperately needed rebuilt and in a pretty drastic way.

A few big trades, a couple ping pong balls to bounce their way, and an almost completely new roster has put them back on the right track and in a pretty strong position to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Fantasy hockey impact of the Henrique – Vatanen trade

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Keep this good stuff up, NHL GMs.

Ears perked up on Thursday, as the Anaheim Ducks landed Adam Henrique (and other stuff) from the New Jersey Devils for Sami Vatanen (plus some nicknacks) in another intriguing trade. One can only hope this means that we’ll see more interesting moves sprinkled throughout 2017-18, rather than having to beg for trimmings during the trade deadline alone.

With that in mind, let’s dive into the fantasy hockey implications of this move. Apologies to Joseph Blandisi for a lack of attention here, but honestly, his fantasy impact will most likely be … well, the first five letters of his last name.

Sami Vatanen – As much as I love how the Devils are redesigning their team, I’m not so sure what to make about Vatanen from a W-L record standpoint. In other words, the “reality” part is tougher.

It seems like I’m not alone in having some mild doubts about this, but for more on the real-world implications of the move, check out Sean Leahy’s analysis of the trade.

From a fantasy perspective, this is a slam-dunk for the Devils and Vatanen’s value, though. It will be intriguing to see how Vatanen’s arrival impacts the value of Will Butcher, who has been averaging three minutes per night on the Devils’ power play. Will New Jersey opt for a three-forward, two-defensemen setup or go with league trends and lean 4F-1D?

Either way, the Devils suddenly have more balance, and continue to nudge themselves up the ranks of the NHL’s most entertaining teams (because their strengths and weaknesses lineup so blissfully). Vatanen’s had some struggles in the past couple seasons, but he’s a two-time 30+ point scorer despite never playing more than 71 games in a single regular season.

I’ll leave the add/drop analysis to PHT’s Joey Alfieri, as far as where Vatanen might fit in your lineup. There’s little doubt in my mind that Vatanen is more valuable today than he was as a member of the Ducks, even though he was given reasonable opportunities to succeed in Anaheim.

At the absolute minimum, the Devils get that much more fun to watch.

Adam Henrique – This wasn’t one of those Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson-type steals for Devils GM Ray Shero, or even a more Ducks-centric deal where New Jersey nabs Kyle Palmieri for a bargain rate.

Instead, this was a very sensible move where two teams gave up surplus pieces to fit glaring needs.

In the case of Henrique, the Ducks get a sorely needed center – probably their top center for quite some time, as Ryan Kesler and Ryan Getzlaf both deal with serious issues – who’s also cheap at $4M. For a budget-conscious contender, this makes a lot of sense.

So, what kind of player is Henrique? That might be a question many are asking, considering that he’s been part of a Devils team that’s been under the radar for some time.

Henrique brings some impressive mid-level goal-scoring to the table. While he’s been weak in that area this season (just four goals on 49 SOG for an unusually low 8.2 shooting percentage), his career shooting percentage is a lofty 15. He’s hit 30 goals once and also had 25 and 20-goal seasons.

Eventually, you’d expect the returns of Kesler and Getzlaf to push him down the lineup, but it’s worth noting that Henrique can probably move to the wing when that happens.

It’s not as if a fantasy owner wants long-term results if they’re adding Henrique; you’re not really slotting a keeper league spot for him, right? This would be about short-term returns in most instances, and the bigger question is just “How depleted is this Ducks offense?” Along with Kesler and Getzlaf having serious issues, the Ducks also have Ondrej Kase, Jakob Silfverberg, and Rickard Rakell on the shelf. Let’s not forget Patrick Eaves‘ frightening health issues, either.

That opens the door for Henrique opportunities, but it’s worth mentioning that he probably won’t be carried by red-hot wingers. The results could be modest for would-be fantasy owners.

Who gains from Vatanen’s departure?

It will be interesting to see which Ducks defensemen get a boost from Vatanen being traded away, too.

So far in 2017-18, Cam Fowler was the only Anaheim blueliner who averaged more PP time per game than Vatanen. That said, Brandon Montour (2:41 per night) wasn’t far behind Vatanen’s average of 2:48 per game, and Hampus Lindholm got his fair share of reps, too, at 2:16 per evening.

Between power-play time and even-strength minutes – Vatanen averaged 21:06 minutes of total ice time per game, third among Ducks skaters and defensemen – there are some nice opportunities for Lindholm, Montour, and Josh Manson to take bigger roles.

The Ducks are transitioning from such a deep defense that people have to fight for ice time to something a little more stable, what with Vatanen and Shea Theodore out of the mix. Personally, I’m especially intrigued by what this might mean for Lindholm and Manson, two of the Ducks’ most interesting blueliners.

Again, it’s wise to check in on Alfieri’s add/drops post for more immediate advice on Monday, though.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

It’s been a tough start to the season for Kyle Palmieri’s feet

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It’s been a tough start to the season for Kyle Palmieri‘s feet.

After missing six games because of a left foot/ankle injury he suffered in practice late last month, the Devils announced that Palmieri is back on the shelf because of a broken right foot.

The latest injury occurred during Monday’s game against the Minnesota Wild, after he blocked a shot. The team says they expect him to miss anywhere between four and six weeks.

The Devils are off to a fantastic start this season (they’re 12-5-3 record has them in first place in the Metropolitan Division), but there’s no doubt that losing Palmieri for an extended period of time will hurt.

The 26-year-old has four goals and five assists in 13 games this season. He’s also coming off 30 and 26-goal seasons over the last two years.

Here’s your daily reminder that hockey players are tough:

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Brian Gibbons taking advantage of NHL opportunity with Devils

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NEWARK, N.J. — Two full seasons in the American Hockey League, after a taste of NHL life, would give some players a mentality that a regular spot in The Show may never come again. Not Brian Gibbons.

The New Jersey Devils forward wasn’t wondering when he’d get another NHL shot after 66 games over two seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets. He was thankful just for the opportunity.

“[I was] lucky to play the game still. It’s not the NHL, but it’s still a lot of fun,” Gibbons, 29, told PHT on Wednesday. “Great guys down there. It’s tough hockey, good hockey.”

The Devils are one of the early-season surprises atop the Metropolitan Division with a 11-4-2 record. It’s not just that they’re having success, they’re actually fun to watch again. The speedy Gibbons is one reason why.

The leading goal scorer for the Devils isn’t Taylor Hall or Adam Henrique or Kyle Palmieri or even last June’s No. 1 overall draft pick Nico Hischier. Gibbons is the one currently holding that title with eight, which isn’t bad for someone whose last NHL goal before this season came on April 3, 2014.

What’s been the secret to his success? The answer is certainly not linemate Blake Coleman’s pickle juice, which Gibbons noted he stays “far away” from.

“I’ve just been trying to play the right way, really,” he said, “skate hard, work hard defensively. Obviously playing in the offensive zone as much as you can, try to get pucks behind their D and then once you’re in the O-zone try and make plays.”

Inconsistency plagued Gibbons earlier in his career, keeping him from earning a regular NHL job. His first professional coach is now his current coach — John Hynes. The two, along with Devils assistant coach Alain Nasreddine, were in Wilkes-Barre together for parts of three seasons from 2011-2014. Gibbons moved on to the Columbus, splitting the 2014-15 season between the Blue Jackets and their affiliate in Springfield. The next year he was in Hartford, trying to impress the New York Rangers for a callup that never happened. When no contract offers came his way in the summer of 2016, he earned a spot with the Devils’ AHL team in Albany after a tryout and planted the seeds for an NHL return.

A 16-goal, 38-points campaign impressed Hynes and Devils general manager Ray Shero (who was GM in Pittsburgh when Gibbons was there) enough that he earned an invite to main camp this fall. He fit into his role on the team and won himself a job.

“He’s really bought in to what his identity is as a player. He’s fast, he’s tenacious, he’s very smart. He’s a very good penalty killer. He understands how he needs to play,” Hynes said on Wednesday. “The biggest difference was when he was in Wilkes-Barre there was lots of pockets like that and inconsistencies, but the consistency level and professionalism he has now is allowing his talent and skill set to come out. It’s nice to see a guy like that come in and earn a job, and so far he hasn’t given it up. You want those things on your team because it helps drive internal competition.”

Gibbons and Coleman had a head start on chemistry development at the NHL level after a year of playing together in Albany. The transition was seamless and each knows what to expect from the other. The trio’s success is a small snapshot of a bigger picture. The Devils are one of the league’s top teams through nearly 20 games because of balanced scoring (14 different players have recorded a goal) and Cory Schneider’s play (.935 even strength save percentage) in net. It hasn’t always looked pretty, but they’ve been able to get the job done.

“[We’re] finding different ways to win games, whether it’s getting a lead and playing with a lead or coming from behind or goalies stealing us a game or power play getting a couple goals late,” Gibbons said. “It just seems, for the most part, that when we’ve needed a big play we’ve gotten it and we’ve gotten it from different guys, which is key when you don’t have to rely on one player and can just do it as a group.”

We’ll see if Gibbons can keep up the productivity and finally establish himself as a regular NHL player. When he was down in the AHL he never viewed his time there as one big tryout, hoping to impress a GM to get called up. He was only concerned with what he could control and that was helping his team.

That perspective can be credited to age and maturity.

“I’m at a different stage in my life,” Gibbons said. “Me and my fiancee have a little one-year-old. It’s nice to be able to share it with them. She was with me when I was in Columbus but he wasn’t around. It’s nice for them to be able to share this with me and just enjoying each day.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.