Grab your pumpkin pie and hot apple cider, it’s officially October, and hockey is back this week. The New Jersey Devils will have a tall order to fill if they expect to return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It is safe to say the Metropolitan Division is easily the most competitive in the NHL. All 32 NHL teams provided their final rosters on Monday, and the Devils have the youngest and least experienced team in the league with an average of 25.2.
A lot of factors will need to go right for the Devils this season if they plan on competing for a playoff spot. For the next few days, fans are left to speculate what the team will look like on the ice until the puck drops later this week. I decided to break down three bold predictions for this season because if we are going to make predictions, why not be fearless.
McLeod Becomes the Next Coleman
In the eyes of most fans, it will be hard to replace Blake Coleman, who remains a favorite in New Jersey. Losing Coleman, along with the departure of Travis Zajac, leaves a void on the ice. Last season the Devils’ penalty kill was one of the worst in the league. Both Zajac and Coleman served as crucial penalty killers, which means there has been and remains an opening for players who want to take on more responsibility.
“You have to find someone like that, who is the next man up,” said Nasreddine when asked about Coleman’s importance on the penalty kill. “If we all remember when he first came to us he wasn’t the Coleman he is now. We had to work with him, he took pride in it and he was committed. That’s what we need. There will be new guys who will have just as big of an impact. Who is the next Coleman? Who is the next Zajac?”
Entering the conversation is Michael McLeod, who became a regular in the Devils’ lineup, last season playing 52 games. This season he made the opening night roster and will most likely be playing on the fourth line. If he is waiting for his opportune moment, this is it. During preseason he had a chance to prove himself and build trust as a penalty killer who can win crucial faceoffs. Last season, he finished with 15 points and a faceoff percentage of 51.5. Coach Lindy Ruff has put faith in the 23-year-old, and we can expect to see him in a prominent role this season.
Mercer Named Calder Trophy Finalist
Oddsmakers have the Calder Trophy coming down to either Cole Caufield of the Montreal Canadiens or Trevor Zegras of the Anaheim Ducks. Dawson Mercer will be the surprise third finalist for rookie of the year. There is a lot of buzz around 19-year-old who made the Devils opening night roster. He was drafted by New Jersey 18th overall in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. The well-spoken Newfoundland native made the most of his time in training camp and finished preseason with three points in three games.
“He’s played well. He’s been a real good surprise for me and everybody who watches him play, ” said Coach Ruff. “He has a lot of fun playing the game, he’s got good energy, he understands where to be defensively, he competes hard.”
The six-foot forward will begin the season on the Devils’ third line. He will not face the same pressure and media scrutiny as other rookies, which will allow him to quietly play his game. Last season he played with the Chicoutimi Saguenéens and finished with 36 points in 23 games. All fans ask is that he continues to do the little things right each shift, and the rest will come naturally… like the Calder Trophy.
Ty Smith Finishes the Season with 45 Points
I mean, we are talking about bold predictions, right? If Ty Smith puts up 45 points in an 82-game season, he would be in the realm of where John Klingberg and Seth Jones finished in the 2018-19 season. Now, if you’re reading this thinking I am insane, let me introduce this statistic to you.
During the 2018-19 campaign, Damon Severson finished the season with 39 points. The prior season it was Will Butcher who led all defensemen with 44 points in 81 games. You know the same Butcher the Devils gave to the Buffalo Sabres for free. Smith finished 7th in Calder Trophy voting last season, and his 23 points led all defensemen.
The Devils defense got an extreme makeover this offseason, and all eyes will be on the newly acquired Dougie Hamilton and Ryan Graves. Jointly they will make up New Jersey’s first pairing. Smith will be part of the Devils’ second pairing, which means he won’t have the daunting task of covering the Connor McDavids of the league. Smith will be playing in the shadow of Hamilton, which will allow the youngster to pick up right where he left off last season.
Leave a comment below with your bold prediction. The Devils will hit the ice with a vastly improved roster, but only time will tell where they land in the standings. In the meantime, there is plenty for fans to cheer about, whether it is the young forward core or improved defense. The Devils will open the regular season in front of the home crowd this Friday when they face the Blackhawks.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and is a credentialed correspondent covering the New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettos_NHL and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.