New Jersey’s regular season is not over until the final horn sounds on April 9th and the Devils are proving that they are not giving up regardless of what the standings may portray. The team’s recent effort, particularly since goaltender Cory Schneider went down with a sprained right knee has been valiant. But there is no hiding the fact that the Devils’ chances of making the postseason are slim. However, even if the team does get mathematically eliminated, New Jersey still has business to take care of.
Throughout the vast majority of the season the Devils were carried by terrific goaltending, a sound defensive game plan and strong play from the team’s top six. Two of the biggest offensive contributors typically play on separate lines but both have already achieved career high seasons. Forwards Adam Henrique and Kyle Palmieri are both chasing 30-goals.
Palmieri, a first year Devil, easily surpassed his previous career high of 14-goals and is currently sitting on 29. Meanwhile, Henrique who is in his fifth year with the organization currently has 27-goals, beating his NHL career high of 25. The Devils’ offensive woes are well-known. But to have two players potentially reach the 30-goal mark after the team has been void of a 30-goal scorer since the 2011-12 season would be a morale boost as well as a great achievement.
It would be particularly gratifying to see Henrique reach the milestone. Since his rookie season, Henrique has experienced the highs and lows with the team. This year alone he has seen his fair share of different line mates either due to injuries or trades. Nevertheless, he has had one of his most consistent years and has exuded leadership on the ice. Fans have watched him develop and a 30-goal season is the next step in Henrique’s playing career.
Assess the Young Talent
Much like how Henrique got his start with the Devils, several young players are getting their opportunity to make an impression at the NHL level due to players going down with injuries. Forward Reid Boucher and defenseman Seth Helgeson are not strangers to the NHL as both have been called up previously with the organization. But forwards Joseph Blandisi and Blake Pietila, defenseman Vojtech Mozik and goalie Scott Wedgewood have all made their NHL debuts this year.
Every successful team has to have depth, and not just on its NHL level roster. Injuries occur in bunches, which the Devils know well. Players need to be able to come up when called upon and help fill gaps in the lineup as well as minimize the impacts of a certain player’s absence. Most recently Mozik, Pietila and Wedgewood have faced that responsibility. Wedgewood had a storybook start to his NHL goaltending career, including 120-minutes of shutout hockey. The 23-year-old was asked to play back-to-back games against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, which resulted in allowing only one goal that eventually came in overtime against the Capitals.
However, Wedgewood’s terrific play should not overshadow Mozik and Pietila who have been impressive since joining the Devils. Like Wedgewood, both Mozik and Pietila were thrown straight into the fire and faced two of the league’s top teams. But neither player appeared shaky or hesitant almost as if they had played in the NHL before. Furthermore, neither shied away from playing a physical game and instead injected themselves right into the play, which should keep them in Hynes’ good graces.
As the Devils approach the offseason and have several free agents and substantial cap space, general manager Ray Shero needs to see who can be a full-time NHL player next season. Fans have to hope that several of these young players are going to create some tough roster decisions for Shero this summer as they all are vying for a spot.
The overall goal of any professional sport is to win a championship and for the Devils that would mean hoisting the Stanley Cup. Nonetheless, another backdrop to any sport is playing and giving a full effort until the clock hits zero. The Devils are a prideful organization and a franchise that has always put the logo on the front of their sweaters before anything else. While a playoff berth may not come to fruition, the team has performed too well this season to pack it in if they do get eliminated from contention. But even though it is not probable that New Jersey will make the postseason, it is not impossible yet.