New Jersey Devils

New Jersey Devils ’15-16 Outlook

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The New Jersey Devils have finished in the bottom-five in scoring for three straight campaigns and once again their offense is a big area of concern.

No New Jersey player reached the 50-point mark last season and only two (Adam Henrique and Mike Cammalleri) recorded at least 40 points. Acquiring forward Kyle Palmieri in a trade with Anaheim over the summer does help matters, but offensively the Devils look like a long-term project that has only barely begun. Years from now, perhaps Pavel Zacha, who was taken with the sixth overall pick, will be a serious scoring threat, but for now New Jersey doesn’t have much in the way of young, NHL-ready forwards.

Stefan Matteau might establish himself as an NHL regular at the age of 21, but the 2012 first-round pick has never been a major contributor offensively. There’s always the chance that Henrique, 25, will take a step forward, but his career-high remains 51 points from his rookie season when he was working with Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk. There’s clearly no one at that level for him to play off of at this time.

The good news is that the Devils’ situation looks less bleak when you move past their offense as in contrast, the blueline’s rebuild seems to be moving along nicely. Adam Larsson took a significant step forward last season and the hope is that he’ll lead the charge along with Eric Gelinas, Jon Merrill, and Damon Severson. The oldest of them, Gelinas, only celebrated his 24th birthday in May.

Then of course there’s their goaltending, which is in the capable hands of Cory Schneider. He demonstrated last season under trying circumstances that the Devils’ goalie situation remains their strength, even in the post-Martin Brodeur era.

Taking it all in, New Jersey isn’t without its strengths and upside, but until the Devils get to the point where they’re at least passable offensively, it will be difficult for them to make a serious run at a playoff spot.

Looking to make the leap: Pavel Zacha

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With his new three-year entry-level contract in his back pocket, New Jersey Devils prospect Pavel Zacha hoping to prove he belongs in the NHL as an 18-year-old.

“I’ve never been in a full (training) camp of the NHL. I was just in development camp. But, it’s my goal for this season to play in the NHL and now it’s up to me to show everyone that I can make the team and I’ll do everything for that,” Zacha said per The Bergen Record.

The 6-foot-3, 210-pounder was the sixth overall selection at the June NHL Draft.

Not surprisingly, Devils’ GM Ray Shero is pumping the breaks on expectations for Zacha.

“I don’t know,” Shero told The Star-Ledger when asked if Zacha is capable of playing in the NHL this season. “One day he will. Whether it’s going to be this year or in the future, we’re not sure. I’m not leaning one way or the other. It’s a decision he makes for us at some point.

“He’s got to trust us that we’re going to do what’s best for us and what’s best for him. If that means starting the year here or playing the year here, we feel that would be the best thing. If it’s going to be the opposite and we send him back to Sarnia (OHL), he’s got to trust that’s the proper form of development for him.”

During his first season in the Ontario Hockey League, Zacha scored 16 goals and 34 points in 37 games with the Sarnia Sting. He added a goal and an assist in five games at the 2015 world juniors for the Czech Republic.

For those who haven’t seen Zacha play, North American Central Scouting president, Mark Seidel, had the following report on the center prior to the NHL Draft:

Zacha’s biggest strengths are his skating and ability to beat defenders one-on-one; he has a skill set that’s hard to handle and will become an offensive force as he develops. Like most offensive stars, Zacha still needs to work on his defensive game, but the heady Czech will add that to his repertoire for whichever team selects him.

As for what he expects to see from Zacha at training camp, Shero is taking a wait and see approach.

“I don’t want to put any added pressure on him. We had that conversation as well in terms of just coming in and enjoying the process,” Shero said. “There will be a big day, a not-so-good day, a big game and a not-so-good game maybe.

“We’re in this for the longer term. As we go through training camp well see how he picks up things in terms of systems and how he feels about his game and confidence. It’s a big step for sure.”

Related: It’s New Jersey Devils day at PHT

It’s New Jersey Devils day at PHT

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Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The New Jersey Devils.

The New Jersey Devils’ 2014-15 story is simple in that they were a team that couldn’t score often and therefore didn’t win often.

They did net six goals against the Philadelphia Flyers in their season opener and scored five times against Florida in their next game. After that though, they were credited with just 170 goals for over their final 80 contests.

The tragedy of it was that they wasted a great season from goaltender Cory Schneider. At the age of 28 (he turned 29 in March), Schneider finally entered a campaign as the undisputed number one goaltender and went on to post a 2.26 GAA and .925 save percentage in 69 contests. However, despite having the league’s ninth best GAA and fifth best save percentage, he finished in a three-way tie for 19th in terms of wins (26).

The Devils’ struggles led to Peter DeBoer’s dismal as head coach on Dec. 26 and he was replaced by co-coaches Adam Oates and Scott Stevens. The silver lining there is that 22-year-old defenseman Adam Larsson worked well under Stevens, leading to him breaking out after years of trying to find his way with the Devils. His rise helped accent the Devils’ promising young blueline, which also features Eric Gelinas, Damon Severson, and Jon Merrill.

Those defensemen provided the Devils with hope for the future, but the 2014-15 campaign itself was a disappointment as New Jersey finished with a 32-36-14 record.

Off-season recap

The Devils acquired forward Kyle Palmieri from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for a 2015 second-round pick and a 2016 third-round selection. They also added a player they hope will someday help solve their offensive woes when they took Pavel Zacha with the sixth overall pick in the draft.

Beyond that, New Jersey’s on-ice personnel might be similar this season, but the Devils have undergone a massive overhaul behind the scenes. The NHL’s longest-serving general manager, Lou Lamoriello, passed the torch to former Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero in May. While the original plan was for Lamoriello to remain with the Devils by retaining his other title as the team’s president, he ultimately decided to leave to become the Toronto Maple Leafs’ general manager.

Meanwhile, Shero brought in John Hynes to serve as the new bench boss. Hynes previously worked with the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, making him a familiar face to Shero. The new general manager also laid out the Devils’ three principles going forward: Fast, attacking, and supportive.

So while the Devils haven’t made many signings or trades this summer, a new era has begun.

Devils GM doesn’t want to make a big deal out of captaincy

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Really, it makes sense that the New Jersey Devils would prefer not to just throw the captain’s “C” on someone’s jersey right away.

It’s a time of transition for the franchise, with Lou Lamoriello making way for Ray Shero after decades of running the ship, along with John Hynes getting his first NHL head coaching gig.

Shero made it clear that there’s no rush to a captaincy decision, although he left the door open for it to happen as well, as the Newark Star-Ledger reports.

“If we didn’t have a captain to start the season, it wouldn’t mean we don’t have a leader,” Shero said. “Not at all. There are a number of teams with no captains. I don’t know if Columbus had one last season and, of course, Minnesota had rotating captains with Jacques (Lemaire). I don’t want to make a big deal out of it.”

As Shero notes, “we don’t know these players yet.”

Michael Cammalleri spoke of a possibly refreshing change of pace a couple days ago, also to the Newark Star-Ledger.

“The ownership group seems highly intelligent and highly sophisticated in their strategy. For now, let’s put some trust in that,” Cammalleri said. “Let’s (hope) they have a plan that will work.”

Where would you go with the captaincy role, if you had to make a choice today? Would it be a fading veteran like Patrik Elias, maybe someone like Cammalleri or even an up-and-comer such as Adam Larsson?

Looking at New Jersey’s options, it really does make a lot of sense just to wait.

Devils sign Zacha, the sixth overall pick in the 2015 draft

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The New Jersey Devils have signed forward Pavel Zacha to a three-year entry-level contract with an average annual value $925,000, the club announced today.

Zacha was the sixth overall pick in the 2015 draft. The 18-year-old from the Czech Republic had 34 points in 37 games last season with OHL Sarnia.

“I think I am physical and I intend to work hard this summer and in training camp and we’ll see if I can play in the NHL next year,” Zacha said after he was drafted, per Sportsnet.

Devils GM Ray Shero said of Zacha that he was “thrilled to have a guy with the size that he has who has the skating ability and a real upside to his game.”

However, Shero did not commit to having the 6-3, 210-pound teenager on the roster next season: “Hopefully, the decision will be apparent to us, but we’ll do what’s best for him in the short and long run and certainly what’s best for the organization.”

Related: Devils’ Zacha to skip Czech’s world junior evaluation camp