Better or Worse: Definitely better. After making the postseason two years ago, the Devils had a disappointing campaign last season. General manager Ray Shero is doing his best to make sure that they take another step forward this year though. They got P.K. Subban from the Nashville Predators at a very reasonable price and they also managed to win the lottery, which led to them selecting Jack Hughes. They also added Wayne Simmonds in free agency, they traded for Nikita Gusev and they’re getting Taylor Hall back healthy.
Strengths: Don’t look now, but the Devils have built up some of the best young center depth in the NHL thanks to their high draft position over the last few years. They drafted both Nico Hischier and Hughes first and that has allowed them to grab some significant building blocks. Whether or not this duo lives up to the hype remains to be seen, but they’re definitely on the right track. The two youngsters are also surrounded by veteran Travis Zajac and under-achiever Pavel Zacha.
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Weaknesses: Can their goaltending hold up over an 82-game season? It’s nice to see Cory Schneider healthy again, but the last two years have been extremely difficult for him. There’s no guarantee that he’s capable of being a work-horse in the NHL ever again. The 33-year-old has played in just 66 games over the last two seasons. That’s a number he’ll have to top if the Devils are going to make it back to the postseason. If he falters, Mackenzie Blackwood pick up the slack? Another inconsistent year between the pipes could force Shero to go out and get himself a goalie.
Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): 4. Yes, the Devils took a step back last season, but that probably had a lot to do with the fact that they lost Taylor Hall for most of the year. Could John Hynes be in trouble if they miss the playoffs again? Maybe. But it appears as though Shero is trying to build something with a long-term vision in mind. It would be surprising to see him get rid of Hynes after this year.
Three Most Fascinating Players: Keep an eye on Subban, Hughes and Schneider this year. Subban was a nice pick up, but he needs to show that he’s fully healthy. His back has given him some trouble over the last little while, and that’s likely one of the reasons the Predators were willing to get rid of his $9 million cap hit. Can he still be a number one defenseman?
It’s only a matter of time before Hughes becomes a star in the NHL, but the question is whether or not he can be an impact player this season. If Hughes adapts to the NHL quickly, the Devils have a shot to finish in one of the top three spots in the Metropolitan Division. If he doesn’t, they could still make the playoffs, but it’ll be a whole lot tougher.
As for Schneider, he just needs to show that he’s regained his confidence. He didn’t pick up a single victory during the 2018 calendar year and the Devils can’t afford to have him go on another long drought like that. They need him healthy and on his game.
Playoffs or Lottery: Playoffs. A healthy Hall, the addition of Hughes and Subban, plus the development of Hischier lead the Devils to the third spot in the Metropolitan Division. This is bold, but it’s entirely possible.
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Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.