The preseason ended on Wednesday for the New Jersey Devils, as they beat the Washington Capitals 4-1 in D.C. Both teams dressed most of their starting lineups but the Devils still came away with a victory. Even though it was not a regular season game, New Jersey really took it to Washington in the first period and did not let up throughout the game. The result was a convincing win against a team that has won back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies.
Obviously, this means nothing in terms of the 2017-18 season, but it is still the best the Devils have looked in five years. The offense finally lived up to the expectation of being fast, attacking and supportive that general manager Ray Shero placed on them two years ago. The Devils finished the preseason with a 5-0-1 record, their only loss coming in overtime to the New York Rangers. So, let’s see why the Devils were so good and if they can translate that success to the regular season.
Hischier Is the Real Deal
One of the biggest reasons for the Devils’ success in the preseason was their first-overall pick, Nico Hischier. Hischier recorded four goals and seven points in his first four games against NHL competition. He was instrumental in every game he played in and really stood out against the Caps on Wednesday. He finished that game with a goal and two assists and appears to be a future star.
His torrent play has led head coach John Hynes to place him in the top-six before the season has even begun. The young Swiss center has certainly earned that spot and will look to make an impact early on. He has already found some chemistry with Marcus Johansson and Drew Stafford but fans will have to wait until October 7 to see if that trio stays together.
Zacha Is a New Man
If there is one player that has been overlooked this preseason it has been Pavel Zacha. A lot of focus has been given to new additions like Hischier, Johansson, Stafford and Will Butcher and for good reason — they have all played well.
Zacha, though, has looked just as impressive, if not more so, than the names above. He had three goals and five points in four games and has looked like a different player than last season.
Zacha’s new found confidence has helped him onto the Devils’ first line, where it appears he will start the season. Playing between Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri should catapult the Czech center to new heights this season. If he can prove he belongs on the first line, he may even exceed the expectations I had for him in his second year.
If the Devils wish to have success in 2017-18 then they must have strong play down the middle. With Travis Zajac’s injury, they will need a lot of their younger guys to step up. Fortunately, both Hischier and Zacha appear ready to do that and help New Jersey fight for a playoff spot.
Devils Defense Could Surprise Many
The biggest surprise from New Jersey in the preseason was their offense, but their defense was a very close second. The entire group looked good. Both Butcher and Mirco Mueller played really well and appear to be great additions. Damon Severson was very good as always while Andy Greene looked solid. John Moore was flying around the ice in every game he played in and would pair well with Steven Santini’s impressive defensive-minded play.
With Ben Lovejoy and Dalton Prout also in the mix, that adds up to eight defensemen that could make the final roster when the season begins. Not all of them will make the squad, but it gives the Devils depth on the blue line for the first time in a while. This group also possesses a lot of mobility for the first time in a long time. It will be interesting to see who dresses for the first game of the season on Saturday but this defense could be better than many expect them to be.
Devils Final Observations
It is unclear if the Devils preseason success will translate into regular season success but all the pieces are there. The offense is young, skilled and incredibly fast. The defense is young, mobile and has a lot of potential. With a fantastic goaltender in net who should return to form, the Devils have all the parts in tow to be a surprise team next season. I am probably getting ahead of myself but if nothing else, New Jersey should be an exciting team to watch in 2017-18.