The New Jersey Devils have delivered some mixed performances since officially dropping the puck on the 2016-17 season. People may have differing opinions on how far the team is capable of going but one thing that is hard to argue is how certain new players have stepped up.
During the offseason, general manager Ray Shero addressed many of the team’s offensive struggles by adding key players who need to perform in order for the Devils to compete for a playoff birth. Fortunately for New Jersey, several of those roster additions have done just that.
Since debuting with the Devils, forward Taylor Hall has undoubtedly lived up to the expectations that come along with his name. From his skating ability to his quick hands and fast shot, Hall delivers the skillset needed for head coach John Hynes speed-driven game. Many people are hoping to see New Jersey become a more offensive and attacking team. To open the season, though, the club has struggled to score, which has left many fans dumbfounded. However, Hall has already netted two game-winning goals for the Devils and has been a source of offense to start the year.
A potential reason for the Devils lack of offense could simply come down to chemistry. Becoming comfortable with linemates does not happen overnight and whoever becomes Hall’s center will play a key role in the team’s offensive ceiling. Rookie Pavel Zacha, as well as forwards Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique, have all played alongside the NHL’s former first overall pick. However, it would be beneficial for the Devils to identify Hall’s center sooner rather than later to help establish familiarity. If New Jersey’s 2-1 overtime victory against the Minnesota Wild is any indication, Henrique should retain his position as the team’s top line center and he could be vital in helping Hall reach 30-goals for the first time in his career.
Forward P.A. Parenteau was not on anyone’s radar until days before the regular season opener when the New York Islanders waived the veteran goal scorer. It is safe to say, though, that he has already won fans over. Like Hall, Parenteau has played a critical role thus far and has helped carry New Jersey’s offense. After being claimed off waivers, Parenteau immediately brought about comparisons to former Devils forward Lee Stempniak who played a major role for New Jersey last season prior to being traded at the deadline.
Parenteau provides Hynes with versatility and is the perfect depth player for the team as he has the ability to play on virtually all four lines. The Devils will want to see him repeat his 2015-16 season performance with the Toronto Maple Leafs where he tallied 20-goals (20-21-41) and after the start he has had this year, there is no reason to assume that he cannot repeat it or even surpass those numbers.
The Devils acquisition of former Pittsburgh Penguins forward Beau Bennett was one of the more predictable offseason moves. Bennett was drafted 20th overall in 2010 by Shero but had trouble staying healthy and establishing a role with the Penguins. Unlike Hall and Parenteau, Bennett has yet to break through on the scoring sheet and as frustrations mount for New Jersey’s offense, people will be looking at the team’s bottom six to help add a spark.
Consistent secondary scoring is crucial for teams looking to take the next step. To win and compete, a club must get scoring from not only its top players but from its role players as well. Previously, the Devils were not receiving much offensive support from the bottom six and that was an area that was and is expected to be different this year. Bennett has the skillset and offensive capabilities to add bottom six scoring and while he has yet to get his first goal, he has gotten several good looks. Hopefully for Bennett and New Jersey’s offense, once he gets his regular season first goal, he can continue to tally up the points and be a real difference maker for the Devils.
Forward Vernon Fiddler may not be the flashiest addition to New Jersey’s roster but he is a solid one. He debuted with the Devils alongside two young rookies, which is not an easy task. Nonetheless, the line was not a liability against two of the NHL’s elite teams — the Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning. While he has not scored for the Devils, Fiddler has done exactly what New Jersey brought him in to do. He is a stabilizing, veteran player who not only offers the potential for fourth line scoring but also a strong presence in the faceoff circle and on the penalty kill. Like Parenteau, the Devils ideally would like to see Fiddler mirror his 2015-16 stats (12-10-22), but any offense he can provide will be a welcomed addition.
He is a not a forward like the other four players on the list and he is not yet a household name. Unless a person follows the Finnish Elite League, defenseman Yohann Auvitu may not be a player that he or she is familiar with. However, Auvitu is now someone that Devils fans are becoming quite fond of.
Prior to the season there were rumblings about Auvitu and his potential, but it was not until training camp that people fully realized what the 27-year-old could bring to the Devils. He delivers speed and a skillset that helps anchor the team’s third defensive pairing. He has seemingly adjusted quickly to the NHL’s style of play as well as New Jersey’s system. Furthermore, he is not hesitant to pinch in offensively and appears to have a shoot-first mentality. Although, the Devils power play as gotten off to a sluggish start, Auvitu can be a positive addition to New Jersey’s specialty teams as the year rolls on.
New Jersey’s offensive woes to begin the season are frustrating and for some confusing, but the roster is too skilled not to believe that the team is going to overcome its struggles. Make no mistake — even with some ups and downs to start the year, the Devils are greatly improved from the 2015-16 season and that is mainly due to several of the additions listed above.
Amanda Rosko is an avid hockey fan. This is her second year covering the New Jersey Devils for The Hockey Writers. She graduated with honors from Rutgers University in 2014 with a B.A. in Journalism and Media Studies.