There hasn’t been much to cheer about for the New Jersey Devils and their fans over the last decade. Regardless if the 2019-20 season resumes or not, the team was bound to miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the eighth time since 2009-10.
While New Jersey’s last 10 campaigns entailed plenty of struggles, here are three Devils who overachieved this past decade.
Forward Blake Coleman entered the 2019-20 season as one of just two Devils who recorded 20 or more goals in the year prior.
The chances are that management wasn’t expecting the 2011 third-round draft pick to fall in the top two for goals with New Jersey over the course of the last two seasons, either. While Coleman was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning in February, the winger would still finish in second with the Devils for goals if the season officially ended today.
It’s safe to say that No. 20 overachieved considering his expectations were to help the Devils as a depth skater while arguably skating on the team’s penalty-kill unit at the most. The reality is that the Devils were supposed to witness skaters such as 2017-18 Hart Memorial Trophy winner Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes and even the likes of Pavel Zacha net more goals than the Plano, Texas-native over the past two seasons.
Coleman had other plans, though. The forward earned a spot on either the team’s first or second-line by the end of the 2018-19 season and saw his average time on ice increase by almost five minutes from his rookie season in 2016-17 (12:51).
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Let’s not forget that Coleman’s annual average salary was less than $2 million, which means that Zacha, Miles Wood and defenseman Damon Severson all earned more than him this past season – three Devils who were criticized often in 2019-20. It’s clear that Coleman’s production outperformed his contract’s worth, making his value and time spent with the Devils that much sweeter.
His six shorthanded goals over the past two seasons also led the Devils, as did Coleman’s 391 total hits. The 5-foot-11 forward proved his clutch demeanor and heart during the 2017-18 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and fans have to hope that one their most overachieving players of the last decade returns to Jersey after his contract expires in 2020-21.
Forward David Clarkson’s tenure with the Devils almost seemed like it ended too soon and also with a sense of emptiness. Still, it’s fair to say that Clarkson exceeded expectations with the red and black over the last decade.
No, the undrafted forward didn’t necessarily shine nor overachieve on the stat sheet during his first few seasons, but No. 23’s 2011-12 campaign was admirable. Clarkson recorded a career-high 30 goals that same memorable season when New Jersey endured a Stanley Cup Final run, and finished second on the team with eight power-play goals (tied, Patrik Elias).
Let’s not forget that the 6-foot forward recorded 12 points during the 2011-12 playoffs and led the team with three game-winning goals (tied, Adam Henrique). The reality is the circumstances are admirable anytime a depth forward and role player such as Clarkson nets more than 20 goals in a season and helps a team advance to its fifth Stanley Cup Final in franchise history, especially after the Devils hadn’t advanced past the second round of the postseason since 2002-03.
Some fans might point out that the 2011-12 roster was stacked, which had an impact on Clarkson’s production, but how many times has Jersey’s team witnessed players that didn’t even meet expectations and disappointed? Plenty, we’re sure.
Clarkson’s grit and x-factor approach on the Devils cannot be overlooked either. His ability to offer a physical presence, drop the gloves and fight opponent’s notorious tough guys and chip in offensively displayed just how dynamic he was – perhaps the definition of a true Devils player.
It’s safe to say that an undrafted forward who scored 30 goals in a Devils sweater this past decade goes down as one of the most overachieving skaters. Only Hall, Palmieri and Henrique are the three other New Jersey skaters to net 30 or more goals in a season since 2011-12.
Let that sink in.
Most fans might hesitate to include a goaltender on this list after the legendary Martin Brodeur officially left Jersey’s crease back in 2013-14.
While Cory Schneider took over the reins between the pipes after the Hockey Hall of Famer’s departure, that doesn’t mean that netminder and emoji extraordinaire Keith Kinkaid didn’t have an opportunity to steal the spotlight.
The Farmingville, New York-native strapped on the pads in Jersey for parts of six seasons from 2012-13 until the 2018-19 trade deadline, while earning 64 career regular-season wins and posting a .906 save percentage and 2.90 goals-against average. Kinkaid’s numbers weren’t spectacular but No. 1 in the blue paint certainly won over fans’ hearts after the team’s memorable run to the playoffs in 2017-18.
It was almost as if Kinkaid took a page out of Brodeur’s book – he just found ways to win and was consistent when the team needed him most – no matter how it appeared or happened, Kinkaid just wouldn’t lose and shocked the hockey community.
“KK” earned the starting role in 2017-18 by the All-Star break and posted an 11-1-1 record down the stretch while helping the Devils clinch a playoff berth for the first time since 2011-12 by finishing one point ahead of the Florida Panthers in the standings.
It’s fair to say any goaltender in Devils history with that record over 13 games is Brodeur-like and automatically labeled as an overachieving moment. But the fact that Kinkaid earned those victories and was arguably the Devils’ MVP aside from Hall, inks his name on this list and in team history.
Kinkaid’s heroics that season were the goaltender’s lone shining moments in his NHL career to date, but the fact that he played such a huge role for a team that desperately needed a return to the postseason was remarkable for Jersey.
Let’s not forget that season was supposed to be Schneider’s time to rebound and prove that he was capable of carrying the Devils into the playoffs. Instead, fans were pleasantly surprised by a backup in Kinkaid who rose to the occasion and rewrote what an underdog story truly is in a red and black sweater.
While the Devils have two first-overall selections on their roster moving forward, the team can only hope it can still produce more diamonds in the rough to get back on track.
Kyle McKenna is a social media specialist & freelancer who also covers the NHL for Elite Sports New York, Fansided & Hooked On Hockey Magazine.