“I could easily look at the negatives. There were a lot of negatives this year. But when you look at the snapshots of the positives and what our team accomplished individually, that excites me.”
Those words were spoken by New Jersey Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald at his end-of-season media availability. As a whole, the team struggled during the 2021-22 campaign due to a series of unfortunate factors including inconsistencies in the crease and the inability to remain healthy. Looking back on the season, there were multiple players who put up career numbers, and there are three specifically who will be looking to repeat last season’s success. Let’s start with the rookie who was a bright spot for fans and slowly emerged as a favorite.
The Newfoundland native made a name for himself last season after making the roster following a successful training camp. In addition to showcasing his scoring talents, he displayed durability being the only member of the team to appear in all 82 games. The 6-foot forward put up an impressive 42 points (17 goals, 25 assists) finishing sixth on the team, and even earned votes for the Calder Trophy given to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the NHL.
Dawson Mercer hit the ground running notching his first assist in his first NHL game against the Chicago Blackhawks. Four days later, he found the back of the net for the first time in his career beating Seattle Kraken goaltender Joey Daccord. After the game, he spoke with the media and said he was happy to get that first goal out of the way early and how the night was even more special because his family was at Prudential Center to witness it.
Mercer will now be entering his second season in the league, which has plagued some players with the dreaded sophomore slump. Devils fans are familiar with the phenomenon as defenseman Ty Smith struggled last season, which may have resulted in him being moved earlier in the summer to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for John Marino. Last season, Mercer found his way into the top six playing alongside Jack Hughes and filling in as the second-line center when Hughes was shut down with an injury. He carved out a role for himself, but there will be competition when training camp opens up.
As of right now, the team website has 13 forwards listed and that does not include Alexander Holtz, Fabian Zetterlund and others who will be looking to achieve what Mercer did last season. Before heading home for the summer, the rookie talked about his mindset of how he did not want to give the organization a chance to say no to him being in the lineup. The versatile forward will want to bring that same mindset with him in September to secure his spot in the lineup and improve upon last season’s numbers.
New Jersey fans learned a lot about the team’s young captain during the 2021-22 campaign. They saw Nico Hischier evolve as a leader and take a young rookie like Mercer under his wing, in addition to putting up the best numbers of his career. He finished last season as the second-highest point earner on the team behind Jesper Bratt.
Related: Devils Getting Solid Leadership From Nico Hischier
The 23-year-old had a phenomenal second half of the season. In his final 35 games, he put up 36 points (13 goals, 23 assists). In April, he led the team with 12 points in 12 games and was over a point per game player in February and March. There is usually a lot of pressure on a first-overall pick and Hischier is coming off his best season since his rookie campaign.
This week, associate coach Andrew Brunette made a guest appearance on the Cam and Strick Podcast and stated that Hischier has the potential to become the next Patrice Bergeron. At this juncture, it is safe to say that the Devils’ captain is underrated among his colleagues, but is on the right trajectory to becoming an impactful player in the league. The Swiss native will want to build off of his 60-point campaign and continue to prove why he was worthy of the first overall selection at the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.
Defenseman Damon Severson made his Devils debut during the 2014-15 season, making him the longest-tenured player on New Jersey’s roster. Over time, fans have seen him evolve into a leader for the team earning the “A” on his sweater for the 2020-21 campaign.
The Manitoba native put up the best offensive numbers of his career last season earning 46 points (11 goals, 35 assists) in 80 games. Additionally, he led all defensemen averaging 23:36 of ice time including a team-leading 2:33 on the penalty kill. Fans like to be critical of the 28-year-old, but he has been one of the team’s top defensemen the past few seasons. He is heavily relied upon to be a workhorse on the blue line and has delivered, even if his efforts are met with critique.
In my opinion, Severson has become the most intriguing player on the team’s roster this season as he is set to be an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of it. Fans saw his name pop up in the rumor mill around the trade deadline and as a right-shot blueliner he holds appeal for teams in the playoff hunt or looking to make a deep postseason run. It will be interesting to see if Fitzgerald will make it a priority to sign the defenseman or cash in while his value is at its highest. Considering it is a contract year, Severson will want to have a big season in order to secure his next deal whether it’s in New Jersey or somewhere else.
The Devils’ quest for the playoffs will begin in Philadelphia on Oct. 13. If the team’s young core can remain healthy and duplicate their individual performances of last season, they might just have a chance to remain competitive in a stacked Metropolitan Division.