Devils’ Expectations Heading into 2019-20 Season

The New Jersey Devils had arguably one of, if not the busiest offseasons in the NHL this summer. Not only did they hold the first-overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, but they also made some of the boldest roster transactions via the trade wire and free agency.

Normally blockbuster moves and busy offseasons increase expectations as teams head into October. Sometimes these expectations can be a little far-fetched, as we saw in the NFL over the weekend with the Cleveland Browns, but here’s a look at what Devils fans can realistically expect for their team in 2019-20.

Key Additions

Jack Hughes (selected first overall)
P.K. Subban (acquired from the Nashville Predators)
Nikita Gusev (acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights)
Wayne Simmonds (signed via free agency)
Jesper Boqvist (signed entry-level contract)

Nashville Predators P.K. Subban
Devils defenseman P.K. Subban (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes, File)

On the surface, there is a lot to like about what general manager Ray Shero and the recently-promoted assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald did this summer. They added a potential franchise superstar in Hughes, a top-pair defender in Subban, scoring depth in Gusev, grit in Simmonds and a ton of skill and speed in Boqvist. Not to mention, they are getting back a healthy Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri. Best of all, they were able to upgrade their roster without giving up anything significant.

It’s safe to say the Devils are going to be a very exciting team to watch this season. But, when you scratch below the surface and look past all the summer’s excitement, the Devils still have a few holes.

For starters, almost all of the Devils’ new additions have question marks. Subban and Simmonds are passing their prime and have shown signs of regression, especially Simmonds, who is coming off a dreadful season in which he was traded from the Flyers to the Predators.

Gusev is loaded with a talent and has the tools to be a legitimate goal-scorer in the NHL. His KHL production rates are along the the same lines, or better than, Artemi Panarin, Alexander Radulov and former Devil Ilya Kovalchuk before they made the jump to the NHL; and though all of them are top-line players in the NHL, Gusev still needs to prove he belongs.

Chart via Adam Gretz – Pro Hockey Talk

Similar to Gusev, the Devils’ top Swedish prospect Boqvist needs to prove his scoring rate from the SHL can translate to the NHL. According to Rob Vollman’s Hockey Abstract, Boqvist’s 0.67 points-per-game in the SHL would have translated to 32 points in the NHL last season, which is pretty impressive considering he was 20 years old at the time.

Furthermore, over the past decade, only 11 players 21 years or younger produced 35 or more points in a single SHL season, similar to Boqvist. This list includes top-six NHL forwards Oskar Lindblom, Andreas Johnson, and Marcus Kruger. It’s encouraging to see Boqvist surrounded by such company, but it’s up to him to prove that he belongs.

Hughes is still just 18 years old and will endure his fair share of growing pains as he matures at the NHL level. He’s a generational talent and will play in plenty of favorable offensive situations, which should translate to success early in his career, but his best days in a Devils uniform should be a few years down the line. He kicked things off on the right foot over the weekend, scoring a goal in his first game as a Devil in the Prospects Challenge up in Buffalo:

Jack Hughes goal up in Buffalo, NY at the Prospect Challenge

Goaltending Will Make or Break Devils Season

The biggest question mark surrounding the Devils is between the pipes. All signs point to Cory Schneider and Mackenzie Blackwood splitting time in net. The duo had the fifth-worst team save percentage (.912) and fourth-worst goals-against per 60 minutes (2.78) in the league. However, these numbers are a bit inflated when you factor in Keith Kinkaid’s .891 save percentage (SV%) and 3.36 goals-against average in 38 starts before being traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

New Jersey Devils Cory Schneider MacKenzie Blackwood
New Jersey Devils goaltenders Cory Schneider MacKenzie Blackwood celebrate. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Individually, Blackwood finished with a .918 SV% in 21 starts, while Schneider finished with a .903 SV% in 23 starts.

Schneider appears to finally be healthy after extending his season and participating in the IIHF World Championship as a member of Team USA. If Schneider and Blackwood can improve their play and give the Devils an above-average performance on a nightly basis, the team could find themselves back in the postseason after a one-year hiatus. If not, the Devils’ season could go south in a hurry.