There are not many NHL teams that are more disappointing than the New Jersey Devils during the start of the 2019 season. After drafting American-born Jack Hughes out of the U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP) first overall in the 2019 NHL Draft this offseason, while maintaining all of the key players of this young core on offense, many expected the Devils to be at least a smudge better than their zero win, four losses and 2 overtime loss record. The Devils are sitting 8th in the Metropolitan Division of the Eastern Conference—listed as the only team in the league that has yet to register a win. Every New Jersey fan is appalled by the lack of effort from this franchise. However, it is not all smoke and mirrors, as this team can very well bounce back in this long and rigorous 82-game season.
At the start of the 2018-19 NHL campaign, the New Jersey Devils were listed having an average age of 26.9 years old. That number has decreased slightly since then, with the additions of C Jack Hughes (18yrs), LW Nikita Gusev (27yrs), RW John Hayden (24yrs), RW Wayne Simmonds (31yrs), and D P.K. Subban (30yrs)—just to name a few. This offense is, generally, very young. The defense however, has a few more battle scars, with the average age of 28 years old. The outlier is veteran D-man Andy Greene—as he played when there was just the Original Six—among a group consisting of players in their mid-20’s. The potential and future for this team is very bright despite not having early results against rivals like the New York Rangers or Philadelphia Flyers. They will continue to develop into a threat as Hughes and 2018 first overall pick C Nico Hischier continue to develop. This is not a team that is going to place top 3 in the Metro. This is a team that, if the East is mediocre, will make a run for a wildcard spot in March.
While the production of the young offense is nothing to have an aneurysm about, the goaltending deficiency might be. Let’s face it: Cory Schneider is just not a starting NHL goaltender. He has been an abysmal replacement for Martin Brodeur—the greatest goaltender to ever step on the ice. Schneider had a few promising seasons that looked like he could be a top net-minder in the league. In his fourth season in Vancouver for the Canucks, he posted a 1.97 goals against average in 33 games played after facing 945 shots. He would follow that up with a 2.11 GAA in 30 games facing 835 shots in his fifth season. After a personal issue and division in the Vancouver locker-room caused by his teammate at the time; Ryan Kessler, Schneider was dealt to the New Jersey Devils. His first season with the team he played 45 games having a 1.97 GAA from 1,107 shots faced. He would have the next two season reflect similar production, as he would have a 2.26 GAA in 2014-15, and 2.15 GAA in 2015-16 after being peppered by a combined 3,379 shots in those two seasons. In the following four seasons though, his best goals against average was 2.82, and his worst being in the current 2019-20 campaign, with a 4.09 GAA in four games off of 121 shots. As President Donald Trump once said: “Get him out. Yeah, get him out.” Conclusively, the Devils have had little problems putting the puck in the net, but their troubles of keeping the puck out are becoming more and more of a concern.
The season just started and every hockey fan knows that a team starting out really hot will most likely not finish hot. There are always teams that start out absolutely scalding that end up finishing the season .500. Let’s take a look at the Buffalo Sabres in the 2018-19 regular season: They attributed a 10-game winning streak in November that established them as the number one team in the NHL standings; they ended up finishing the season 33-39-10. The Sabres are one of the only teams in NHL history to have a 10-game winning streak and still miss the playoffs. In case you’re still not convinced, take a look at the Chicago Blackhawks in their 2017-18 campaign: In the first game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Blackhawks scored ten goals—dominating from start to finish in a 10-1 win over the former Stanley Cup champs. The team would then go on to 33-39-10 as well, placing 7th in the Central Division The NHL season is comprised of 82 games, and therefore the first six or even the first 15 will not dictate how a team will look throughout the rest of the season. If a team starts out on fire, chances are they will finish 33-39-10.
Ultimately, every Devils fan knows that they have not been elite since their near-dynasty in the late 90’s and early 2000’s with Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko, Martin Brodeur, Brian Rafalski, and the young Patrik Elias winning 3 cups in 9 years. This is not a team that will compete for the first seed in the Metro in 2019-20. This is a team that will vie for the second wild card slot in the Eastern Conference and will likely have a mid-first round draft pick in 2020. This very young squad will continue to develop and, over time, will begin to show signs of dominance. The Devils have never been a high-scoring offense and are heavily defensive minded. This will be a philosophy for this organization until it dissolves. For now, fans should be excited for second-year Hischier and the rising stardom of Jack Hughes as his ceiling has the potential to reach, former USNTDP stud, Patrick Kane’s of the Chicago Blackhawks.