On Thursday, all New Jersey Devils players will report to Newark for Media Day, which signals the unofficial start to training camp. As the team prepares for the preseason and the start of the 2019-20 campaign, there are a number of things to keep an eye on.
Devils New Additions
For starters, training camp will give us an idea of what the roster will look like following the Devils’ biggest off-season to date under general manager Ray Shero. We’ll get an inside look at how head coach John Hynes plans to deploy new additions, Jack Hughes, P.K. Subban, Wayne Simmonds, Nikita Gusev and John Hayden, among others.
The Devils made it clear that they wanted to add more skill and scoring up front, and they have the pieces to roll out one of the more skilled lineups in the NHL, but it’s all relative to how the new additions mesh with the pieces already in place.
Only after the Devils make the majority of their cuts near the end of training camp and after seeing all the new additions in practice and exhibition games will we have a good idea of which direction the Devils are headed come opening night.
Can Jack Hughes Live up to the Hype?
The highlight of the Devils’ summer was selecting 18-year-old USNTDP product first-overall in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
The first overall selection comes with an exorbitant amount of expectations, and while the Devils do a tremendous job of channeling the hype and letting their star players feel at home, as we saw with Nico Hischier through the early stages of his career, all eyes will still be on Hughes in training camp.
The biggest question surrounding the young center will be how quickly he can adjust to the NHL level at his young age. He fared well over the summer when he played in the IIHF World Championships and played a significant number of games against older competition in the USHL during his time with the National Development Program, so this competition isn’t completely new. He’s a lock to make the NHL roster out of camp, but it’ll be interesting to see if he starts the season as a top-six center, or if the Devils ease him in and play him in a bottom-six role to get his feet wet.
Is Ty Smith Ready?
With six returning veteran defensemen – Sami Vatanen, Damon Severson, Will Butcher, Connor Carrick, Mirco Mueller and captain Andy Greene alongside the addition of Subban, the Devils’ blue line is crowded. However, Smith seems poised and ready to make the leap to the NHL and solidify the eighth and final roster spot on the back end.
Despite being on the ice for a goal against in his very first shift in Buffalo at the rookie challenge, the 19-year-old rebounded well and played solid through the rest of the tournament. Smith’s offensive ability, above-average skating, and popularity with the Devils’ fan base make him a favorite to break camp on the Devils roster. If not, he’ll either return to major junior or embark on a brief stint in Binghamton to get adjusted to the pro level.
Can Jesper Boqvist Contribute on Offense?
Boqvist’s situation is a bit tricky. Due to an agreement between the IIHF and SHL, if the Devils’ top-forward prospect doesn’t make the big league club out of training camp, he’ll be sent back to Sweden to play for Brynäs IF for the entire 2019-20 season.
The 2017 second-round pick possesses a rare combination of foot speed, agility, and above-average puck-handling skills that often lead to match-up problems for opposing players; all were on display over the weekend in Buffalo. However, the Devils need to be convinced he’s ready and can log significant minutes at the NHL level to offer him a roster spot and not hamper his development.
It seems that he’s already on the inside track to the NHL:
The Taylor Hall Saga
After suiting up for 33 games last season due to a knee injury, the Devils’ top player will enter his fourth training camp in New Jersey with question marks surrounding his health and his ability to get back to MVP-caliber play. He appears to be on track for a full return after training all summer without any setbacks, and he should benefit from all the talent the Devils added this summer.
The biggest question mark surrounding Hall is the long-term contract discussions that have been hovering over the Devils and their star winger like a black cloud. Despite Shero being adamant that extension talks have been ongoing through the offseason, unless Hall puts pen to paper and an extension is signed early on, it will continue to be a topic of discussion all season. Hall is set to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career in July, and he’s made it clear that winning is his utmost priority at this stage of his career.
Training camp is the first opportunity for the Devils to showcase their young core and flashy new additions to prove to Hall they’re ready to seriously contend. Perhaps it will give the former Hart Memorial Trophy winner incentive to stick around and see things through in New Jersey.
The Devils kick off their seven-game preseason schedule with a pair of games on Monday, Sept. 16, at home against the Boston Bruins at the Prudential Center and on the road against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre. Puck drop for both games is 7:00 PM EST.