Thursday, October 13, 2016

2016-17 New Jersey Devils Preview

The retooling of the New Jersey Devils organization continues in year two of the Ray Shero/John Hynes area as the team attempts become a smoother,faster and more offensive team and catch up to the rest of the National Hockey League that made changes far faster than the Devils did.

The biggest and flashiest move made since the season ended was the surprising addition of left winger Taylor Hall in a straight up trade with the Edmonton Oilers for defenseman Adam Larsson.
Although Larsson will be missed (more on that with the defense preview),the Devils haven't had a scorer like Taylor Hall since the departures of Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk and Hall's 26 goals last season might even able to be improved on.
Hall will start the season on a line with Adam Henrique and my guess (a guess based on player style and could change on chemistry) would be the newest Devil PA Parenteau,who was claimed off waivers yesterday from the Islanders.
If Henrique can score in the neighborhood of his 30 goals of last season.this could be a very productive line and maybe give a little playoff hope...

I'm going to skip trying to project the rest of the lines because these things are constantly fluid,so I'll work on position for the rest of the forwards..
Travis Zajac continues to be the highest paid Devil as the last bad contract of the oft-rocky end of the Lou Lamoriello age and at 31 with five more season on the contract,New Jersey has to be hoping for a good season and pray that someone might be interested in taking him off their hands-even if the Devils have to pay some salary to get such a deal done.
Zajac isn't awful (14 G and 28 A in 74 games) and still is the teams best faceoff man,but the contract is bad and long,he's only going to slow down further and his speed/playing style is the antithesis of what the Shero/Hynes bunch is trying to install.
It only gets worse from there as 36 year old Vernon Fiddler was signed from Dallas after a 12 goal season and Jacob Josefson,the Schleprock of the NHL returns for likely his last chance to cement himself into the lineup.

There will be some shuffling as the season goes along with the wings as many can and will play each side of the line.
Michael Cammalleri at left wing still has the chops to be very productive if he can only stay in the lineup.
If he can do that,he still has the ability to score 25-30 goals.
Kyle Palmieri scored 30 goals in his first New Jersey season and if slotting with Cammalleri and Zajac as a line,could approach that number again.
As with the centers,once you get past the top few,the questions become more numerous than any answers right now.
Devante' Smith-Pelly was impressive in 18 games with the Devils after being obtained from Montreal,but we will see if those numbers can be repeated.
Talented former first rounder Beau Bennett arrived from Pittsburgh with an injury-prone reputation,Reid Boucher still has plenty to prove and the remaining three youngsters that made the opening night roster have questions where they will play most of their season.
Sergei Kalinin (illness) and Luke Gadzic (broken foot after being added from Edmonton) will start the season on injured reserve.
When healthy,both players will likely be given ice time with the fourth line.
2015 first rounder Pavel Zacha will be given every chance to stick,Miles Wood might be the up and down player to make rosters work with in season injuries to Albany with Joe Blandisi (who was actually assigned there) and Blake Spears made the team,but is still eligible to return to junior hockey..

The defense took a massive hit in trading Adam Larsson to Edmonton for Taylor Hall.
I liked the trade for the Devils and agreed with the move,but Larsson was just beginning to really come into his own as a player and his loss will be felt..
Andy Greene returns as the captain and the steady hand on the wheel on the blueline.
The soon to be 34 year old will need that steady hand with young players and new players joining the corps.
Ben Lovejoy was added from you guessed it Pittsburgh and French defenseman Yohann Auvitu makes his NHL debut after spending last season in the Finnish league.
John Moore is the only other returning veteran other than Greene,
Recent signee Kyle Quincey (lower body) and returning Jon Merrill (broken finger) will each start the season on the IR.
The most interesting and needed are young players Damon Severson and Steve Santini,who both will need to step up for the Devils to have a chance at the playoffs.
Severson has been unable to sustain some occasional strong play,while Santini is essentially making his debut after a one game cameo last season.
Both are very talented and if both are able to play well,the Devils defense could suddenly look pretty strong.
Seth Helgeson would be the most likely callup from Albany,if injuries required such a move.

Cory Schneider is back as the mainstay in net after a strong year with a 2.26 GAA,which was impressive in general,but especially on a non-playoff team.
In order for the Devils to have a playoff chance,Schneider will have to repeat those numbers.
Keith Kinkaid returns as the number two man after fighting off Scott Wedgewood in a tight battle to backup Schneider.
In case of injury to either goaltender,Wedgewood will get the call up to fill the roster...

Now what do I think?
The Devils have made steps forward.
Acquiring Taylor Hall is huge,but the team will need some of the younger defensemen to play well and one of the forwards with talent yet unproven production to break out a bit.
Whether it is Pavel Zacha playing at a high level at 19,Beau Bennett staying healthy all season,Reid Boucher improving or Devante Smith-Pelly continuing his performance since arriving in New Jersey,one or more is needed to happen.
I still don't see this as a playoff team,too many questions and older legs at forward and the defense isn't top notch either.
I suppose that a superb Cory Schneider could wrangle enough extra wins to allow the team to contend for the 8th seed,but more likely a similar finish to last season and a draft pick in the 8-12 range in the 2017 draft.

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