There is a ton of buzz surrounding the New Jersey Devils amid a strong offseason that saw the club add some tremendous pieces who will be in black and red for a very long time. Jersey once again found themselves near the top of the draft order this offseason and used the opportunity to select defenseman Luke Hughes, an outstanding prospect that also happens to be the brother of Devils center Jack Hughes. Additionally, the pickups of top free-agent defenseman Dougie Hamilton and veteran forward Tomas Tatar signaled to fans that the team is ready to turn the proverbial page in their rebuild and finally start competing for a playoff berth.
There’s no question about it; this Devils roster is much improved from last season. Alongside Hamilton, former Colorado Avalanche defenseman Ryan Graves joined the team via trade, rounding out a strong top-four that includes Ty Smith and Damon Severson. With a young group of forwards who harbor a ton of potential, New Jersey hockey could become very exciting again in 2021-22. So, as excitement swells for the Devils’ potential, let’s take a look at their schedule and highlight a few must-watch games for this coming season.
You won’t want to miss these.
Tuesday, Oct. 19 vs. Seattle Kraken
It’ll only be the second game of the season when the Seattle Kraken voyage over to New Jersey for the first time ever, meaning fans won’t have to wait long to set their eyes upon those sick new jerseys (no pun intended). Of course, many fans likely had their first matchup against the Vegas Golden Knights circled back in 2017-18 when the NHL’s then-newest franchise was in the midst of its first-ever season. Back then, the Devils had to wait until all the way to March 4th to host the Knights, a 3-2 loss for the black and red. It won’t take so long to welcome the newest team in the league this time.
The matchup provides an interesting dynamic for the two teams as they try to make statements for themselves in the early going of the season. Are the Kraken good enough to replicate Vegas’ success and make a playoff run in their first year? Are the Devils finally going to make a bid for the postseason after making some big-time additions in the offseason? Neither question will be answered by the second game of the season, but both teams will surely be playing with a hunger to prove themselves in the league.
It’ll also be a bit of a reunion for the Devils and a selection of Kraken players. Of course, Seattle selected forward Nathan Bastian from New Jersey’s roster during the expansion draft. But former Devils Adam Larsson, Marcus Johansson, and John Quenneville have also joined the NHL’s newest club. It’s storylines galore in just the first week of the season.
Thursday, Nov. 11 vs. New York Islanders
Which sounds better: the New Jersey Islanders or the New York Devils? Because the New York Islanders ought to change their name to one of those. Since legendary hockey executive Lou Lamoriello joined the Islanders in 2018, it’s easy to see that he fancies employing a former Devil or two.
2020 saw the Islanders deal for veteran New Jersey defenseman and captain Andy Greene to bolster their blue line. One trade deadline later, they also acquired Devils teammates Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac. To cap it off, there were rumblings this offseason that the Isles and former Devils captain Zach Parise had agreed upon a contract, though no further details have been released yet. Hey, what can Lou say? He really likes homegrown talent, even if that talent is from a team he used to manage.
While nothing is set in stone yet, reports and Lamoriello’s track record suggest that it’s quite likely we’ll see Palmieri, Parise, Zajac, and Greene back with the Islanders before long. That sets up a very interesting — and perhaps emotional — season series against New Jersey, which begins in early November. Oh, and don’t forget that the Islanders are one of the best teams in the league; after struggling mightily to score against them in their season series last year, the Devils could do well to show how far they’ve come with an improved game against some of their former teammates.
Saturday, Nov. 13 vs. Boston Bruins
Our next game comes just two days after the Islanders-Devils matchup from above. This one is interesting for a few reasons. First and foremost, it will be interesting to see if New Jersey can continue the success they had against Boston last season (5-1-2). The eight-game series between the two teams proved to be an extremely entertaining one, which came as a surprise given the powerhouse that the Bruins are contrasted to the rebuilding efforts the Devils were still engaged in.
In fact, the Bruins were the only team that the Devils managed to secure five wins against last season. A large part of that success was due to the superb play of goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood, who seemingly became a brick wall every time he shared the ice with Boston. Despite being peppered with more shots than any other opponent last season, the young netminder posted a stellar .944 save percentage to go along with a 1.91 goals against average, plus this spectacular save you’re sure to remember:
Besides seeing Blackwood’s streak of elite play continue against Boston, fans will get to see two marquee players face off against their former teams. Those skaters would be newly re-signed Boston forward Taylor Hall, who won the Hart Trophy as a member of the Devils in 2018, and Devils defenseman Dougie Hamilton, who began his career as a Bruin. Neither of them left their respective clubs with the most heartfelt farewells, so it should be interesting to see how the fans react to them throughout the season. They’ll play each other three times in total.
Friday, Dec. 31 vs. Edmonton Oilers
When the best player in the world walks into your arena, you should relish the opportunity to watch him work. But when arguably the two best players in the world strut down the tunnel, you’re in for a treat. That’s exactly what Devils fans should expect when the Oilers come into town with Connor McDavid, the undisputed best player in hockey, and the formidable Leon Draisaitl backing him up.
I recently wrote up a list of center duos in the NHL that have provided their team with a steady core to build a contender around. Playoff success was one of the main requirements used for that list, which, alongside the fact that they tend to play together on the same line a lot, is why I left McDavid and Draisaitl off of it in favor of more experienced players with proven track records. But from a pure skill perspective and a blind eye turned to their listed position versus where they actually play, these two centers from Edmonton would likely qualify as the best center duo in the league. Unfortunately, Oilers management hasn’t been able to put a great team around them just yet.
However, the Devils and their fans will get to see the product of aggressive moves made this offseason in an attempt to right the ship for Edmonton, mainly in the additions of winger Zach Hyman and veteran d-man Duncan Keith. The game will be a fun one in New Jersey, where the Devils will try to stymie the dangerous offense of McDavid and Draisaitl with their own hopeful duo of Hughes and Nico Hischier.
Friday, March 4 at New York Rangers
As one of the first few games following the NHL All-Star break and the time set aside for the possibility of players participating in the 2022 Winter Olympics (Feb. 4th-22nd), this matchup against the Rangers will serve as a commencement for the extremely difficult month of March — and early April — for New Jersey. This could very well be the most important stretch of the season for the Devils, and it all begins with their arch-rivals.
Right after taking on the Rangers, the Devils will return home to face the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, and Winnipeg Jets. Shortly afterward, they’ll embark on a trip out west to visit the Calgary Flames, Oilers, and Vancouver Canucks. A brief return home against — guess who? — the Rangers will then precede a two-game road trip to Toronto and Washington, which will be followed up by a home game against the Montreal Canadiens. As if that wasn’t enough of a daunting stretch, the Devils will then travel to face the Bruins on March 31 and then come back home to host the two New York teams and the Florida Panthers to start the month of April. Hear that? It was the anxious gulp of Devils fans everywhere.
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Yeah, the entirety of March and early April will be a true test for a Devils team that believes they’re ready to play meaningful games. Well, here are a whole bunch of them that will undoubtedly have a say in New Jersey’s playoff aspirations. It all begins — and ends — with a Rangers team that is also looking to make a name for themselves in the league after rebuilding the last few years as well.
Saturday, March 26 at Washington Capitals
As a part of that ridiculous gauntlet of great teams and west coast travels, the Devils will get a chance to avenge their lackluster season series against the Washington Capitals last season. In eight games, New Jersey couldn’t muster up a win against Alex Ovechkin and company, their worst showing against any divisional opponent. Their performance against the Capitals deep into next season could be telling of their progress as a team.
In the Capitals, the Devils will find a team on the complete opposite end of the spectrum in terms of organizational progress. New Jersey is building the core that they hope will eventually lead them to playoff contention. The Capitals are in the final stages of their status as a yearly contender and are trying to maximize the few years they have left of Ovechkin and others. Should New Jersey want to enter the next phase of their rebuild, beating teams with the experience and skill of the Caps will be paramount to their success.
This game will take place towards the end of the 2021-22 season, and how the Devils play in contrast to their struggles against Washington last season should be a good marker of how far they’ve come. After another year of development and an offseason full of roster additions, the expectations are as high as they’ve been in a long while for the Devils. If they’re still in contention for the playoffs by the time this game rolls around, they’ll have accomplished a great deal.
Vincent Velotta is an NYC based freelance journalist who covers the New Jersey Devils for The Hockey Writers. He has covered sports and entertainment for a variety of outlets including the Village Voice, Minute Media, and more.