The New Jersey Devils played two preseason games on Monday night, one against the Ottawa Senators and one against the New York Islanders. They came away with an 8-1 win against the Sens and a 3-0 loss to the Isles. Fortunately, the roster that won mainly consisted of NHL starters while the roster that lost was basically an AHL team with a few Devils’ regulars. Veteran players and coaches wanted to be harder to play against this upcoming season and that certainly was the case against Ottawa. Hopefully, that can transfer over to the regular season and the Devils can find some success.
I have already projected the offensive lines and the defensive pairings earlier in the offseason but there have been a lot of changes since then. So let’s see who should make this team and who shouldn’t. The line projections may change but I believe the players below should all make the squad.
Taylor Hall – Pavel Zacha – Kyle Palmieri
Marcus Johansson – Nico Hischier – Drew Stafford
Jesper Bratt – Adam Henrique – Stefan Noesen
Miles Wood – John Quenneville/Brian Boyle – Joseph Blandisi
Andy Greene – Damon Severson
Will Butcher – John Moore
Mirco Mueller – Steve Santini
Surprise Additions May Have Big Roles
The biggest surprise from camp, Bratt, should make the team. He just cannot be sent back to the London Knights without a chance at the NHL level. Bratt has five points in four games and has been a difference-maker every time he has been on the ice. The sixth-round pick from 2016 has displayed great hands and incredible poise. Every time he gets the puck you expect something to happen because of his patience, passing ability, and skill. It will be fun to see that in some meaningful games.
The same could be said for the newcomer Stafford. Stafford came in with low expectations but has looked great in every game he’s played in. He and Hischier connected twice against the Sens on Monday and it is worth seeing if they can continue that chemistry. If nothing else, he brings solid production and skill to the bottom-six but he could have a big impact next season in the top-six.
I placed Hischier on the third line in my original line combinations but now I am not so sure he belongs there. The first-overall pick of the Devils scored his third preseason goal in his third game on Monday. He has looked more comfortable and confident with each game and has earned the second center position for right now.
The Bottom-Six Is Rounded Out
Blandisi has done enough to ensure a roster spot. He has four points in four games, possesses good speed and has solid hands. Blandisi narrowly beats out Jimmy Hayes for the position in my opinion, as he is just a bit faster and is under team control at an affordable cap hit of $680,000. However, this battle is a close toss-up that could go either way.
Quenneville is potentially battling for that spot as well. The second cousin of Joel Quenneville has had a solid, albeit not great, preseason. There may only be one spot open for those three but there could be another, which brings me to the last part of the roster, Boyle.
Boyle believes he will play on opening night and I hope he does. As most know, he was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia last week. Thankfully, it was caught early on and is very treatable. Boyle is a warrior and hopefully will suit up on October 7. But if he can’t then Quenneville will take his position until the Boston College product is well enough to return. At which point Blandisi and Quenneville will most likely battle for the final spot.
The biggest name not on that list is Ben Lovejoy. I know Lovejoy signed a decent-sized contract last summer but he underperformed last season and has not looked great this preseason. He was beaten badly a few times by Chris Kreider when the Devils played the New York Rangers and again by Mathew Barzal on Monday, as seen below.
On the flip side, Butcher, Santini, and Mueller have all been impressive in the games they have played. I would be fine will all three making the team. The best six defensemen should play, regardless of age, and right now that is the six mentioned above. It may not happen due to management’s fondness for Lovejoy but I believe it would be the right move for him to start in the AHL.
Unfortunately, it seems as if Mike McLeod and Blake Speers will also be in the roster cuts. Both players have a lot potential but may not be ready for full-time NHL duty. The pair has combined for zero points despite receiving good ice-time throughout the preseason. Head coach John Hynes has mentioned some aspects that McLeod could work on and he may get the opportunity to in the OHL this season. The same goes for Speers in the AHL.
2017-18 Season Preview
The NHL season is less than two weeks away. The Devils have looked very good throughout the preseason and fans should get excited. The offense appears ready to take the next step with Hall, Palmieri, and Johansson leading the way. Zacha and Hischier are ready to make an impact as well and should have big years. The defense could surprise a lot of people with Mueller and Butcher looking like great additions. And with a better supporting cast in front of him, you can expect Schneider to have a bounce-back year.
I know it’s incredibly early but the Devils have looked much better this preseason than they have in the past five seasons. They look faster, more skillful, and harder to play against. It’ll be interesting to see if they can replicate their performance in the regular season.