Devils’ Young Core a Silver Lining in Lost Season

And just like that, it’s over. For one final time this season, fans flocked to Prudential Center to see their New Jersey Devils host the Detroit Red Wings. It was Fan Appreciation Night in Newark with the party starting at 4 pm on Championship Plaza as fans were met by an on-site DJ before they made their way into the arena. The team wore their third jersey as“Welcome to the Black Parade” echoed throughout the building prior to puck drop. Thousands of fans spent their night with the Devils before the offseason, and while the result was not what anyone hoped for, players smiled as they signed autographs and took photos with fans before they headed home.

It has been a trying season for the players, coaches, and fans who were left feeling disappointed after 82 games, but when you’re at the bottom, there is nowhere to go but up. These season steps were made and while the team as a whole did not get the job done, there were individual player performances that give hope for the future. Fans saw a handful of players make their NHL debut this season, and what these kids were able to do when given the opportunity is reason alone to be excited about next season.

Young Talent Steps up in New Jersey

There are several reasons to be excited about next season, and it starts with the young players who made an impact in the past few games. Dawson Mercer was a beacon of hope, as he made the roster out of training camp and never looked back. The 20-year-old became the only Devils player to appear in all 82 games this season. Mercer got the scoring started last night at Prudential Center getting a late goal in the first period to tie up the game. Fans have seen the 6-foot forward go through the expected highs and lows that are part of a rookie season, and can’t wait to see what he does in his second year as he emerged as a key member of the team’s core.

Related: Devils’ Dawson Mercer Having an Impact on & off the Ice

Forward Fabian Zetterlund has been difficult to ignore as he has led the team with shots in two of the Devils’ last three games. He finished with four points in the last three games and scored New Jersey’s final goal of the 2021-22 campaign. After his audition with the big club this past month, fans are expecting he will make the roster in October, stealing a job from a player like Janne Kuokkanen or Andreas Johnsson.

Nolan Foote also completed the season on a three-game point streak (three goals, one assist) including New Jersey’s second goal last night. The 21-year-old has been one of the team’s best forwards this past week and showed a physical side with six hits over the past three games. The Colorado native is 6-foot-3, 196 pounds which makes him one of the bigger forwards on the team. Size upfront is something the Devils desperately need and if he can consistently have a physical presence he could check a box off for general manager Tom Fitzgerald this summer.

Nolan Foote New Jersey Devils
Nolan Foote, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

This season the Devils gave an opportunity to defensemen Kevin Bahl, Nikita Okhotiuk, Colton White, and Reilly Walsh to step into the lineup, and all four did a stand-up job when called upon. Last night Bahl and Okhotiuk were both on the ice combining for five hits. With Subban becoming an unrestricted free agent, it is guaranteed that one spot will be open for one of these young guys. Things get interesting when fans think about what the future holds for 22-year-old Ty Smith. Head coach Lindy Ruff once again scratched the young blueliner last night and it is safe to say that he will not be guaranteed a spot in the fall. He will have to work hard to earn a roster spot, and out of all of the Devils players, fans have to think the most pressure will be on the 5-foot-11 forward to prove this season was a fluke and he can return to his rookie form.

Devils Conclude the Season on a Six Game Losing Streak

Entering last night’s contest, the Devils were on a five-game losing streak and had not celebrated a win on home ice since March 27. While this game did not mean anything as far as the standings, it did to the fans, and no one was more disappointed with last night’s final score than team captain Nico Hischier. He met with the media and his disappointment was apparent before he answered a single question.

Nico Hischier, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

“We really wanted to win that game,” Hischier said. “Right now, I’m just disappointed. After a season like that, the fans deserved the last win at home. That’s all that mattered to me tonight and we couldn’t do it. So it’s just disappointing right now.”

Last night’s game was a true reflection of how the entire 2021-22 campaign went for New Jersey. The team consistently battled back, showing life until the Red Wings took a 4-3 lead with under 10 minutes left in the third period. Dougie Hamilton was unable to swipe the puck away prior to it passing the goal line, and even though it was initially waved off by the referee, it was easy to review and confirm that it was the game-winning goal.

Another season has come and gone and for the fourth consecutive year, the Devils have missed the playoffs. It is easy for fans to write these past few months off as a failure, but that is far from the truth. The goaltending issue can and should be rectified and for the first time in a while, there is a young core to build around. New Jersey has eleven different players who just wrapped up the best offensive season of their careers. Growth and progress take time and the organization took a step forward this season, whether fans want to admit it or not. It is going to be another interesting offseason as Fitzgerald looks to improve his roster for the 2022-23 season.

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