Like it or not, New Jersey Devils fans will be embracing a new era of Devils hockey this season. The last remaining member of the 2012 Stanley Cup run is gone, and the young core is ready to step into the spotlight. Led by their captain, Nico Hischier, the team will be looking to make the postseason for the first time since the 2017-18 season.
During Devils Media Day, multiple players expressed their excitement for the upcoming season and their continued goal to become more competitive and make the playoffs. General manager Tom Fitzgerald made a splash this summer by signing defenseman Dougie Hamilton and trading for Ryan Graves. He also added Tomáš Tatar and goaltender Jonathan Bernier to back up Mackenzie Blackwood.
“Today it’s just exciting to be back at the rink again, and seeing everybody’s faces, and getting to know each other,” said defenseman P.K. Subban at Devils Media Day. “It’s exciting, it represents opportunity, and I think we have a tremendous opportunity this season to take another step forward as an organization.”
There are a few things working in the team’s favor ahead of the season opener, as opposed to the prior seasons. The team that reported to training camp is young and hungry for success. A healthy Hischier, confident Jack Hughes, and players looking to step into leadership roles can be the recipe needed for attaining their goals on the ice.
A Healthy Nico Hischier
A healthy Hischier has the Devils beginning the season on the right foot. The captain said he is ready to go, and having him in the lineup from game one is an advantage for the team, who will be playing in arguably the toughest division in the league. He only appeared in 21 games last season and missed the beginning of the season due to a leg injury. This will be his fifth season with the Devils and his second as their captain.
“He was always really good in the locker room. He was talking between intermissions even before he was captain, I think he took the role to the next step,” said Zacha during training camp. “He is more talkative and always pushing guys to get better, that’s another step he took, even in this training camp. I’m just excited for next season and for him to lead us as a captain.”
A Confident Jack Hughes
There has been pressure surrounding the 20-year-old since the Devils selected him first overall in 2019. Hughes saw a vast improvement in his stats from year one to year two and says he is ready to take his game to another level this season. He completed his rookie season with seven goals and 14 assists. Last season he scored 11 goals and finished with a total of 31 points.
“I trained hard,” said Hughes. “I think my game is going to pop one more time and I should have a great year. I’m expecting to have a great year.”
When Hughes was asked about the departure of veteran Travis Zajac, he explained that this is now Hischier’s team. It is time for the young core to step up. The young core will be led by Hughes along with fellow first overall pick Hischier. The acquisitions of both Tatar and Hamilton should assist him in having the great year he is expecting.
Emergence of New Jersey’s Next Leaders
The oldest player on the Devils roster is 33-year-old Bernier. The veteran for the forward core is Tatar at the age of 30, and Subban for the defense core at age 32. Several players expressed interest in taking on a more involved leadership role with the team including Jesper Bratt and Damon Severson.
Severson has been with the team since the 2014-15 season. Throughout his seven-year NHL career, he has appeared in 486 games and tallied 184 points. He is the longest-tenured Devil, and last season was named an alternate captain. The Manitoba native is looking forward to helping his teammates on and off the ice.
“I’m more than happy to help any young player, or anybody for that matter. Whether it’s where to live off the ice or what restaurant to go to or anything that you might not know as a newcomer to the organization or city,” said Severson during Media Day. “I’m one of the guys that I guess guys will be coming to ask me those things. That’s great, I enjoy that stuff. I’m fortunate to have been here a long time and I hope to stay here for a long time. It’s one of those weird things that I am the veteran guy now, but I definitely enjoy that.”
Bratt is beginning his fifth season with the club and is looking to take on a bigger role on the ice and in the locker room. He has played 231 games for the Devils and has 130 career points. During Devils Media Day, he explained that he spent time during the offseason working on shooting and goal-scoring with a goal to become a leader on the ice.
“When I looked at back at last season, the shooting and goal scoring part was what I wanted to improve the most,” said Bratt. “That was something I put a lot of extra time in. I had an extra three sessions a week for the last five weeks with a shooting coach that I was working with to improve that part. The goal scoring and shooting mentality part can take my game to the next step. That’s something I worked on and hopefully it pays off on the ice.”
Like Hughes, the 5-foot-10 forward is looking to take his game to the next level. Bratt’s goal is to be a leader on the team and a player his teammates can trust. With the departure of Zajac and Kyle Palmieri, there is an opening for him to take a bigger role with the franchise if he chooses to take it.
There is a feeling of excitement around the team as training camp progresses and opening night draws near. The players will continue to come together off the ice and perfect their skills on it. After years of waiting, the future finally looks bright in New Jersey. With a one-two punch of Hischier and Hughes, fans will have plenty to cheer for when the puck drops against the Chicago Blackhawks for the 2021-22 season opener.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and covers both the Nashville Predators and New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a co-host of Chicks & Sticks, a weekly Youtube show produced by THW. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettosBlog and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.