NHL Team Preview: New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils are a popular dark horse pick to make the playoffs this season. After finishing with the third-worst record in the NHL last season, New Jersey is suddenly looking like a contender thanks to the key trade and several free agent signings. Head coach Lindy Ruff is the right person for the job, and whether or not they actually do make the playoffs in 2021-22, they’ll be one of the more fun teams to watch.
The biggest “get” of the offseason was reeling in free agent defenseman Dougie Hamilton, who may be one of the top five defensemen in the league. Hamilton is elite in the offensive zone, scoring at least 10 goals in the last seven seasons and scoring at least 40 points in six of those seven years (and in the year he missed, Hamilton posted 39 points).
Hamilton should have a ripple effect throughout the organization. He’ll be an adrenaline shot for the Devils’ power play which was fourth-worst in the league last season. Young defenseman Ty Smith will also benefit from working with Hamilton to grow his game, though the two likely won’t be on the ice at the same time very often.
That’s because Hamilton’s expected linemate is another new addition, former Colorado Avalanche defenseman Ryan Graves. The defensive style Graves plays will be a perfect complement to Hamilton’s game, allowing the latter to spark more offense and move the puck up the ice while the former acts as a safety valve in the d-zone.
Back to the power play, the Devils signed Tomáš Tatar to a two-year deal in free agency. Tatar has been a power play fiend throughout his career, with nearly a third of his career goals coming with the man advantage. Similarly, almost 30% of Tatar’s career assists are on the power play.
It’s probably odd to think of a backup goaltender as a key signing, but Jonathan Bernier could be leaned on a bit this season depending on the health of Mackenzie Blackwood. Bernier has solid career numbers despite playing on some bad teams (in particular the last three seasons in Detroit), but he’s plenty capable of being both a mentor to Blackwood and a fringe starter when needed.
Much of the emphasis for the Devils this season will be on making sure the younger players in the system continue to develop and push the team to greatness.
Captain Nico Hischier is healthy and fired up for a big campaign. Hischier missed 25 games last season with multiple injuries, but if he can stay on the ice, he’ll have a big impact for the Devils this season.
“It was tough for me. Nobody really wants to watch games,” Hischier said. “You always want to play and help the team. It was a process that I had never been through in my whole career. I was never hurt that long in my whole life. It was tough mentally, too. I’ll learn from it.”
Ty Smith led all rookie defensemen in points last season (two goals, 21 assists) and with opponents focused on slowing down Hamilton, Smith could have an even bigger offensive season this year. Smith finished seventh in the Calder Trophy voting last season and was the only defenseman in the top 10. Fellow Devil Yegor Sharangovich finished 10th and appears to be the first-line left wing this year.
Jack Hughes, the first overall pick in the 2019 Draft, is hoping to build on last season as well. Hughes scored 11 goals and 20 assists in 56 games and is the Devils’ first-line center to begin the season.
Though he likely won’t play in New Jersey this season, keep an eye out for Jack’s brother, Luke Hughes, whom the Devils drafted fourth overall in the 2021 draft.
New Jersey Devils Season Predictions and Odds
2021-22 Over/Under Point Total: UNDER 85.5 (-125), OVER 88.5 (+105) Metropolitan Division Title Odds: +1700 (seventh-best) Eastern Conference Champions Odds: +2200 (tied for 11th) Stanley Cup Odds: +5000 (tied for 20th)
* All odds provided by Action247 Sportsbook and all odds subject to change.
**All views expressed are my own. My picks are my own and are not a guarantee, bet at your own risk.