New Jersey Devils management took a lot of steps this offseason to surround the young core with complementary pieces to expedite their rebuild. New additions like Ondrej Palat, Erik Haula, Vitek Vanecek, John Marino and Brendan Smith, paired with the hope that young players continue to develop on an upward trajectory, may position New Jersey to improve vastly. Here are three bold predictions for the 2022-23 Devils.
1. Hischier Will Lead the Team in Scoring
Hughes is the obvious choice to lead the Devils in scoring, but Hischier may have the best chance to achieve this feat if he has steady linemates. Even though 50 percent of Hischier’s even strength time on ice last season came with five different combinations of wingers, he still managed to score at a 70-point pace.
Hischier may technically be New Jersey’s second line center behind Hughes, but his line with Palat and Bratt should see the same, if not more, time on ice as the top line. Hischier will also see plenty of time on special teams, specifically on what hopes to be a much-improved power play under newly hired associate coach Andrew Brunette.
Hischier recorded 60 points with a rotation of wingers with all sorts of skill levels and as a part of an abysmal power play. If the 23-year-old is given some stability and quality on his wings and a league-average power play, expect him to rack up points very quickly.
2. Bratt Will Get Traded Before the Deadline
Bratt is becoming one of the NHL’s best young wingers. His super smooth skating and electric play-making ability make him a highly coveted player around the league. New Jersey hopes to keep Bratt in town for many years to come, but if the last two contract negotiations are any indication of what the future holds, then his time in the Garden State may be short-lived.
Bratt held out prior to the 2021 COVID-shortened season in search of a new contract, which eventually resulted in the Swede signing a two-year deal worth $2.75 million just four days before the start of the Devils’ season. Fast forward two years, and he found himself in a similar situation.
Bratt signed a one-year deal worth $5.45 million in July just minutes before his scheduled arbitration hearing. Although the player and team avoided arbitration, a one-year deal is an outcome that neither preferred.
It was reported that the Devils had a multi-year offer on the table that would’ve kept Bratt in New Jersey for many years, but Bratt and his agent turned it down in search of a shorter-term deal, allowing Bratt to test free agency before his 30th birthday.
“We have made Jesper (Bratt) an offer, an offer that shows the commitment the (managing partners) have.” – #NJDevils GM Tom Fitzgerald on Jesper Bratt— Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) July 6, 2022
If Bratt continues to improve his production while holding strong on his stance on contract term, Devils general manager (GM) Tom Fitzgerald may consider trading him. If the GM isn’t comfortable offering Bratt a shorter-term deal, he can move him while his stock is at an all-time high.
3. Siegenthaler & Hamilton Will Form the NHL’s Best Defensive Pair
Jonas Siegenthaler surprised many last season by emerging as one of the NHL’s best shutdown defensemen. He led all Devils’ defensemen with 98 hits, was second amongst defensemen with 106 blocks and was third on the entire team in short-handed time on ice.
New Jersey acquired Siegenthaler from the Washington Capitals for a third-round pick after he struggled to get consistent ice time on such a veteran-heavy team. The 25-year-old proved to take full advantage of the increased minutes with the Devils.
Okay, we finally selected TOP10 defensive defensemen of the 2021-2022 season. It was not easy to pick number one here. In the end, the decision was between Siegenthaler, McAvoy and Heiskanen. We feel Siegenthaler deserves to be there. He had great defensive season! pic.twitter.com/SrkwbJQJUv— Andy & Rono (@ARHockeyStats) June 28, 2022
Dougie Hamilton had an extremely frustrating first season with the Devils after signing in New Jersey before the 2021 season as the big fish in the unrestricted free agency pool. Hamilton suffered a broken jaw that held him out for almost two months and forced him to play uncomfortably with a full cage for the remainder of the season.
Hamilton had 20 points in his first 30 games but only recorded 10 points over his last 32 games after returning from injury. Hamilton looked like a completely different player post-injury, and not in a good way.
The former ninth-overall pick has 93 goals since 2016, which is fifth most amongst all defensemen in that time span. He is an elite offensive-minded defenseman when he is playing to his full capabilities. If Hamilton returns to the level he played at before his injury and all of his career, and Siegenthaler continues his development as one of the best defensive-defensemen in the league, the Devils will have the best defensive pairing in the NHL.
New Jersey finally seems to be exiting their rebuild stage. The young core is finally surrounded by complementary pieces and veterans that should kick start the team’s growth, but as we’ve learned in the past, most Devils’ seasons are full of unexpected surprises.