New Jersey Devils 2022-23 Season Preview

We are just one day away from the start of the New Jersey Devils’ 2022-23 regular season. It was another long offseason for the organization after missing the playoffs for a fourth consecutive year, but a slew of notable upgrades should have them more competitive this season. 

Sign up for our regular 'Devils Newsletter' for all the latest.

Among their new additions are Ondrej Palát, John Marino, Erik Haula, Vitek Vanecek, and Brendan Smith. Factor them into what the Devils return from last year’s squad, and many point projections view the team favorably heading into 2022-23. You’ve probably seen many of these projections on social media. Some are from a sportsbook or over/under point totals in Las Vegas. Some are projections from sites like The Athletic, 538 or Evolving-Hockey. I won’t mention all of them, but we’ll go over some of the notable ones you may be familiar with from Hockey Twitter: 

  • The Athletic: 92 points
  • JFresh Hockey: 93 points
  • Evolving-Hockey: 97 points
  • Money Puck: 97 points
  • TopDown Hockey: 92 points
  • Hockey Viz: 88 points
  • Vegas odds: 88 points

When averaging the seven projections from above, the Devils would be heading for a 92-point season, putting them on the playoff bubble in the Eastern Conference. These projections viewed them favorably heading into the 2021-22 campaign, but everyone knows how that ended. Can they live up to expectations and projections this time around? Let’s preview the 2022-23 version of the Devils. 

Devils Forwards

Top-End Scoring Should Be There

The Devils’ core up front is certainly in place. Jack Hughes produced at a 94-point pace last season, while Nico Hischier produced at a 70-point clip. Jesper Bratt had a career year with 73 points in 76 games and will have a significant role in the top-six as he did a season ago. We more or less know what to expect from the Devils’ version of the Big 3, so to speak. Instead, it was about finding them more support during the offseason. 

General manager Tom Fitzgerald didn’t land a big name such as Johnny Gaudreau or Matthew Tkachuk, but he still found help for Hughes, Hischier and Bratt. He signed Palát to a five-year contract worth $6 million per year in free agency. Palát is coming off three straight Stanley Cup appearances with the Tampa Bay Lightning and will bring much-needed veteran experience in addition to an upgrade in top-six scoring; he’s averaged 20 goals and 55 points per 82 games over the last three seasons. 

In addition to Palát, Fitzgerald acquired Haula in the trade that sent Pavel Zacha to the Boston Bruins. He’s averaged 18 goals and 41 points per 82 games over the last three seasons and should provide an upgrade in the middle-six as a third-line center. Based on the preseason, he’ll see time on the penalty kill, likely because of his 54.3 faceoff percentage over the last three years. 

Ondrej Palat New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils winger Ondrej Palát (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In addition to Palát and Haula, the Devils return more than a few valuable complementary scorers. Yegor Sharangovich has averaged 25 goals per 82 games in his two NHL seasons and has a shot capable of helping him break the 30-goal mark for the first time in his career. He’ll likely have a top-six role, and even if he doesn’t, he proved last season that his success isn’t tied to being on Hughes’ line. 

In line for a jump in production is Dawson Mercer, who’ll primarily be a winger this season if the Devils stay healthy down the middle. He had a solid rookie season in 2021-22, totaling 17 goals and 42 points in 82 games. With a summer to train and a year of NHL experience under his belt, having production similar to Sharangovich’s (20-plus goals, 50-plus points) is very much possible. 

The Devils’ X-factor up front could be Alexander Holtz. He had a strong preseason and will get a shot in the top-six alongside Palát and Hughes to start the regular season. If he can pot an additional 20-25 goals and 50 points as a rookie, the Devils shouldn’t have much trouble scoring; they did finish 11th in five-on-five goals a season ago. 

Devils Scoring Depth Should Improve Too

Another thing adding Palát and Holtz does to the Devils’ top-six is it should upgrade their depth in the middle- and bottom six. We already mentioned Haula, but he’s not the only player who’ll help the team’s second and third lines. Tomáš Tatar had a strong preseason, with four goals and impressive five-on-five numbers. He looks primed for a bounce-back season and could find himself at left wing on the second or third lines. 

Though Mercer looks ready for a step forward in his sophomore year, starting the year with Holtz and Bratt at right wing in the top-six could move Mercer onto the third line. That’s certainly a good problem to have, and as the season goes on and head coach Lindy Ruff needs to shuffle his lines, there’s no doubt we’ll see Mercer get top-six minutes too. 

Dawson Mercer New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils forward Dawson Mercer (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Devils also appear to have a healthy Miles Wood, who missed all but three games last season after having hip surgery about 11 months ago. The Devils missed his speed and physicality on their fourth line, and he should be able to add some dirty goals from around the crease in high-danger areas. 

Another player to watch is Fabian Zetterlund. He was one of the Utica Comets’ best players in the AHL a season ago and impressed in his 14-game NHL stint. He led the Devils in points per 60 minutes and expected goals percentage (xG%) last season (min. 150 minutes logged), so he should contribute somewhere in the bottom-six at a minimum. Overall, the forwards should be a strength of the Devils since they’ve improved their depth. 

Devils Defense

The Devils’ defense will benefit most from having a healthy Dougie Hamilton this season. The 2021-22 campaign was not kind to him, as he played in 62 games and only totaled 30 points due to a broken jaw, which caused him to miss nearly two months, and a broken toe. There didn’t seem to be any lingering issues from his injuries during the preseason, so he also looks ready for a bounce-back season as a top-pair defender.  

Like line combos, defense pairs change throughout the season. But something tells me Jonas Siegenthaler will find himself alongside Hamilton for a significant part of 2022-23. He had a breakout year a season ago as one of the best defensive defensemen in the NHL. For an offensive-minded blueliner like Hamilton, he makes for the ideal partner. 

As is the case up front, the Devils’ defensive depth should be in better shape with Ryan Graves and Damon Severson moving down the lineup. Both players are sound two-way defenders who can move the puck effectively. Graves, in particular, is underrated offensively and might have some more freedom to chip in since Siegenthaler will likely be handling the tough defensive assignments. 

Severson is in a bit of a curious spot on the roster. He played second-pair minutes until the end of the preseason, where he found himself on the third pair. That’s a good problem to have too, but that wouldn’t have been the case if the Devils didn’t acquire Marino from the Pittsburgh Penguins this summer. 

John Marino New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils defenseman John Marino (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Marino had an excellent preseason and may be heading for a second-pair role alongside Graves to start the season. His ability to defend the rush and play a stout defensive game may have earned him the bump over Severson. He handled top-four minutes well in Pittsburgh, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if he sticks as a second-pair defender for much of the season. 

Rounding out the blue line are Kevin Bahl and Brendan Smith. Bahl had a fantastic preseason, posting an xG% above 70 percent, and gave up just three high-danger chances against when on the ice at five-on-five. He should probably begin the season in the Devils’ lineup rather than as the No. 7 defenseman. But Smith is a solid veteran third-pair defender with plenty of experience and will help a young squad in the early goings. Bahl may win the job by the end of the season, but expect both players to rotate on the third pair throughout the year.

Devils Goaltending Holds the Key 

Ah, this topic again. Anyone who followed the Devils closely last season knows their goaltending struggles were impossible to mask. They used seven different netminders and finished with a team save percentage (SV%) of .881, costing them about 10-11 wins in the standings. That wouldn’t have made them a playoff team, but they would’ve concluded the year with around 85 points, which would’ve made the season look much more respectable. 

The story is much of the same entering the new campaign. If the Devils get at least average goaltending, they should be competitive in the Metropolitan Division. Average goaltending is the bare minimum, though, and above-average netminding is what they should achieve in 2022-23. 

Even though he struggled last season, the Devils are betting that Mackenzie Blackwood will bounce back after dealing with injuries. So far, they may be right in making that bet, as he had a solid preseason. Aside from his start against the New York Islanders last Thursday, he played well, finishing with a .917 SV% at five-on-five and a high-danger SV% of .889. If he puts up similar numbers during the regular season, the Devils should win more games. 

Mackenzie Blackwood New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Blackwood will have help, though. With Jonathan Bernier having hip surgery last December and being unavailable to start this season, Fitzgerald acquired Vitek Vanecek from the Washington Capitals at the NHL Draft in July. Though his numbers may not impress, his career .908 SV% over the last two seasons is above the league average of .903. 

While Vanecek’s overall SV% of .908 is only above average, his five-on-five numbers a season ago were quite good. His SV% of .926 at that game state was ninth-best for goalies with at least 1000 minutes logged, while his .850 high-danger SV% ranked tenth. His preseason numbers were impressive, as he finished with a .964 five-on-five SV% and .938 high-danger SV%. Those numbers aren’t sustainable over 82 games, but if they’re similar to what he posted with the Capitals a season ago, he’ll end up with an overall SV% above .910 and as the Devils’ 1A netminder. 

Related: Devils News & Notes: 23-Man Roster & Possible Line Combos

The wild card in between the pipes is Bernier. He’ll begin the season on long-term injured reserve but is expected back at some point. If he can play at the level the Devils need from him, he could provide valuable depth as a No. 3 netminder, especially if one of Vanecek or Blackwood deals with injuries or is struggling later in the year. 

Depth With the Comets

No team is immune to injuries. That’s why it’s important to have depth from your AHL affiliate, and the Devils should be in good shape when needing call-ups from the Comets. Though Šimon Nemec is with the Devils at the moment, it’s a paper move for cap reasons. Once he’s sent to the AHL, he should play a prominent role for the Comets on the blue line. And he’s not the only defender the Devils may be able to lean on for call-ups. Reilly Walsh, Michael Vukojevic and Nikita Okhotiuk could also see spot duty in the NHL whenever the Devils need help along the blue line. 

Up front, the Comets have a few forwards that could be ready at a moment’s notice. Graeme Clarke had an excellent preseason and could be the Devils’ first call-up if a winger goes down with an injury and misses extended time. Though Nolan Foote had a so-so preseason, he’s likely next in line for a call-up after Clarke, while Tyce Thompson can play both center and right wing and should be in the conversation too.

Graeme Clarke New Jersey Devils
Graeme Clarke with the Binghamton Devils in 2020-21 (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In between the pipes, Akira Schmid and Nico Daws are entering their second pro seasons. Daws saw extended time in the NHL last season because of Blackwood and Bernier’s injuries, playing in 25 games and totaling a .893 SV%. He excelled in the AHL, though, compiling a .916 SV% in 21 games with the Comets. 

As for Schmid, he struggled in the NHL last season. But he also fared well in the AHL, finishing with a .911 SV% in 38 games with the Comets. He got some minutes during the preseason with the Devils and looked like an improved goalie. He’ll likely start the season as the Devils’ No. 4 netminder behind Daws, but his progress will be interesting to watch.

Devils Special Teams

The Power Play Can’t Be Worse

Much like goaltending, it’s no secret the Devils’ power play had its fair share of problems a season ago. That’s why Fitzgerald made a change and replaced assistant coach Mark Recchi with Andrew Brunette, a Jack Adams finalist for coach of the year in 2021-22. 

The Devils rarely had their primary power-play units together during the preseason, so it’s hard to assess if it’s improving. There was some good and some bad, but let’s start with the good. The good news is they generated more shot attempts per 60 minutes during the preseason than they were in 2021-22. The problem is they still lacked quality, averaging 4.18 expected goals per 60 minutes, ranked 29th in the league. 

Another issue that still needs addressing is turnovers and giving up shorthanded chances. That’s something the Devils struggled with mightily last season, and it was a problem during exhibition games. The hope is with Brunette taking over that these issues will get sorted out once players become more comfortable with a new system. Otherwise, there’ll be no one else to blame other than Ruff. That would be three years in a row of power-play struggles, and that falls on the head coach when the rest of his staff got an overhaul this offseason. 

Devils Penalty Kill Stood Out During Preseason

The Devils had a solid penalty kill under former assistant coach Alain Nasreddine last season, ranking 14th and finishing with a success rate of 80.2 percent. Still, Nasreddine and the Devils mutually parted ways this offseason, leading Fitzgerald to hire former Vegas Golden Knights assistant Ryan McGill

Ryan McGill with the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League (Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

Though it was only the preseason, it’s hard not to be encouraged by McGill’s penalty kill. The Devils gave up an average of 74.8 shot attempts per 60 minutes at 4-on-5, ranked ninth-best in the league. They also did a good job of preventing quality chances, allowing just 5.03 expected goals against per 60 minutes, ranked 11th-best.

The Devils killed off 20 of 22 power plays, a success rate of 90.9 percent. That isn’t sustainable over 82 games, but it appears their penalty kill has the potential to be one of their strengths this season. If they can sort out the lingering issues on their power play, their special teams could be a net positive for the first time in a while. 

Devils Are Good Enough To Be Competitive

That brings us back to how this article began: can the Devils perform to the expectations of their projections? The Metropolitan Division is still highly competitive, but their roster is now good enough to have them at least in the conversation. Palát and Haula will upgrade the team’s scoring, and Marino and Smith will give the team strong defensive depth. Plus, Vanecek should be a steady presence in net.

The playoff cutoff in the Eastern Conference was 100 points a season ago, but it’d be a surprise if that were the case again, especially since so many teams in the Atlantic Division improved. If the cutoff falls back into the mid-90s, the Devils should be within striking distance in March and April when playoff races are heating up. 

Related: Devils’ 2022-23 Roster by the Numbers

I wouldn’t bet on them making the playoffs, but the Devils should be good enough to finish with around 90 points, even a bit above. Scoring shouldn’t be an issue, specifically at even strength. And if their goaltending exceeds expectations, there’s no doubt they should be competitive. Playoffs are not out of the question, especially with a few of the oldest NHL rosters in the Metropolitan. But until proven otherwise, the Devils probably finish just on the outside looking in, though they take a significant step forward as an organization. There’s no reason that shouldn’t be the case in 2022-23. 

Prediction: 42-33-7, 91 points, 5th in Metropolitan Division, playoff bubble 

Projected Roster: 

  • Palát – Hughes – Holtz
  • Tatar – Hischier – Bratt
  • Sharangovich – Haula – Mercer
  • Wood – McLeod – Zetterlund/Bastian
  • Jesper Boqvist
  • Siegenthaler – Hamilton
  • Graves – Marino
  • Bahl/Smith – Severson
  • Vanecek
  • Blackwood

Regular-season opener: Oct. 13 at the Philadelphia Flyers, 7 PM

Home opener: Oct. 15 vs. the Detroit Red Wings, 7 PM

* * *

Advanced stats from Natural Stat Trick 

Latest News & Highlights