After an underwhelming first day of free agency, the New Jersey Devils made a trade on day two to acquire Washington Capitals’ forward Marcus Johansson. The Caps were in a cap nightmare (pun intended) and needed to offload an asset. Ray Shero was able to take advantage of their misfortune and dealt two picks that originally did not belong to the Devils for a top-six forward.
This was a great trade for the Devils. Johansson can play all three forward positions and is coming off his best statistical year. Another offseason, another heist for Shero.
First, it was Kyle Palmieri for a second and third-round pick. Then, it was Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson. Now, Johansson for a second and third-round pick, while keeping the Devils’ original picks in those rounds. Three tremendous trades from the Devils’ perspective. With those three skilled players in the lineup and several prospects on the cusp of making the NHL, let’s see what the lines might look like next season and what they can accomplish.
Taylor Hall – Travis Zajac – Kyle Palmieri
Adam Henrique – Pavel Zacha – Marcus Johansson
John Quenneville – Nico Hischier – Stefan Noesen
Miles Wood – Brian Boyle – Mike McLeod/Joe Blandisi
Talented Top-Six Lead the Way
The Hall-Zajac-Palmieri line was dominant last season for the Devils. They were one of the lone bright spots for the offense. Unfortunately, they were often split up by coach John Hynes as they were the only three productive players at times. With a little more depth on the roster, expect those three to start the season together and stay that way.
Pavel Zacha is the biggest question mark in the top-six. The Czech center had an up and down rookie year but showcased slick hands and a good hockey sense. Pairing him with a talented winger in Johansson and a reliable producer in Henrique should be a good fit. Also, if Zacha struggles with faceoffs like he did last season, winning only 40.3% of them, then Henrique could switch with him and the line would still be intact. The Devils need their 6th-overall pick to become a difference-maker in his second year and he has the opportunity to do that.
This is the best top-six the Devils have had since the Zach Parise/Ilya Kovalchuk days. It is full of youth and skill, which is new and exciting for Jersey’s team. Expect this group to be competitive and give Devils fans something to cheer about next season.
Youth Movement Arrives
It is here at last. The long-awaited youth movement has finally docked in Newark. I fully expect Nico Hischier, John Quenneville, and Miles Wood to make the team next season. After that, it’ll be a toss-up between Mike McLeod, Joe Blandisi and Blake Speers for the last spot. Regardless of who makes the cut, the bottom-six will be immensely more skilled than in years past. They will also be much improved in another area, speed.
Shero and his staff have emphasized a desire to create a quicker team, and this was evident in the last two draft classes, as most players selected by New Jersey had speed as a plus in their scouting report. It will be more evident next season.
Taylor Hall and Miles Woods’ skating ability is well known to Devils fans. Joining them will be Johansson, who is a good skater, and a gaggle of young players with speed to burn. Quenneville is a good skater, Blandisi is no slouch and McLeod is an elite speedster. Couple all of that speed with the skill of Hischier (who is fleet of foot as well) and the veteran presence of Brian Boyle and it’s a solid group. This bottom-six is loaded with potential and should be very fun to watch.
All Hail Ray Shero
There might be some minor alterations when the season officially begins, but let’s all take a second to applaud Shero. The Devils’ general manager took a roster devoid of talent in 2015 and has them on the cusp of being a playoff contender in 2017.
Before Shero arrived, the Devils were dressing an ageing roster, with multiple AHLers playing regular minutes while Jordin Tootoo was given significant time on the power play. It was not a pretty sight at the Prudential Center. Now, the Devils have a good looking forward core that can be great if Zacha, Hischier and McLeod can develop into stars. It has been a rocky road of late but Shero has turned this team around in short order.
Many fans were worried that he did not know what he was doing after missing out on Kevin Shattenkirk. But once again, he has proven everyone wrong and made a killer move. Shero has successfully infused youth, speed and skill into an offense that had almost none of it when he took over. And, I don’t think he’s finished.
He’ll still be looking for help on defense as the Devils desperately need help on the back-end. Whatever ends up happening throughout the rest of the offseason, I think all Devils fans can trust their general manager, as he has made good move after good move since taking the job, which includes vastly upgrading the offense.