A new coach, developing players, and a shortened season. The New Jersey Devils will finally be playing an NHL game in January after missing the mark to participate in the NHL bubble in July. 5 bold predictions for the New Jersey Devils could possibly come true in the unprecedented season.
The Devils are set to start the 2021 NHL season on January 14th. The realigned Eastern division will feature some of the league’s top teams. Fortunately for the Devils, no NHL season has been completely predictable.
Therefore, here are 5 bold predictions for the New Jersey Devils in the upcoming season.
1. Jack Hughes Will Have A Breakout Season
The 2019 first round pick, Jack Hughes had an underwhelming rookie campaign in the 2019-2020 season. In 61 games, Hughes notched 7 goals and 14 assists for a total of 21 points with a -26 plus/minus rating. While the point total is underwhelming, Hughes showed flashes of brilliance in numerous games. His stickhandling, speed, and level of control were noticeable and promising. Hughes will be given a prominent role on the Devils and will most likely be featured on the power-play unit and log top 6 minutes against top-tier opponents.
Hughes has shown his ability to improve while still being one of the best players on the Devils. Transitioning to the NHL comes with challenges that Hughes experienced such as size change, experience, and competitive opponents. After having an NHL season under his belt and adding noticeable muscle during his offseason training, the probability of Hughes having a better season is highly likely. I predict Hughes to end the regular season with 23 goals and 25 assists for a total of 48 points in 56 games.
2. Lindy Ruff Will Make Or Break The Devils
After 4 seasons of John Hynes as the head coach, the Devils hired Lindy Ruff on July 9th, 2020. Ruff is coming off of an unimpressive 3-year stint as the New York Rangers assistant coach. Despite Ruff’s unsuccessful time with the Rangers, he has an extensive and impressive head coaching resumé. Ruff will be taking on a head coaching position again after spending 19 NHL seasons as the head coach with the Buffalo Sabres (1997-98 to 2012-13) and Dallas Stars (2013-14 to 2016-17). Among active coaches, Ruff ranks 3rd on the all-time wins list and 6th among all-time head coach wins. He also won the NHL’s top coaching award, the Jack Adams Award, in 2006 and placed 2nd in 2007 and 3rd in 2016.
Ruff will take over the young Devils squad and bring a new style of play that could jolt the Devils. Under Alain Nasreddine, the Devils overall play improved greatly and had a winning record of 19-16-8. Keeping Nasreddine on the coaching staff will be beneficial. Ruff’s substantial NHL experience alone could be enough to turn around a young team and set the stage for a gritty, skillful, and fast team. Ruff is known for an aggressive and fast style of play that could get the most out of the skilled and young team. Developing young players like Hughes, Hischier, Bratt, Smith, and so on, is a crucial part of the Devils future and their success as a team. Lindy Ruff has coached numerous skilled stars in the NHL and has developed them into who they are today. He will help make or break the Devils in the upcoming season.
3. The Devils Will Have One Of The Best Goaltending Duos In The League
Newly signed Mackenzie Blackwood and two-time Stanley Cup Champion Corey Crawford. After buying out Cory Schneider‘s contract, the Devils were in need of a second goaltender to work with Blackwood. The Devils signed Corey Crawford to a 2-Year, $7.8 Million contracts on October 10th, 2020. Crawford is a perfect fit for the Devils and will be a tremendously positive influence on Blackwood. Crawford is coming off of his 13th NHL season, all with the Blackhawks, carrying a 2.44 GAA and .917 SV% in the 2019-2020 season. Along with Crawford’s stats, Mackenzie Blackwood had a 2.72 GAA and .916 SV% and a winning record of 22-14-8 on an extremely poor defensive team. Blackwood and Crawford could very well split the games which could give the Devils an advantage in their division. Goaltending will be even more important in the shortened season and the competitive division that the Devils are in.
In the Eastern division, the Devils have the potential to have the best goaltending duo with Mackenzie Blackwood and Corey Crawford. The other goaltending duos for the division will most likely feature Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak for the Bruins. Carter Hart and Brian Elliott for the Flyers. Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev for the Rangers. Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin for the Islanders. Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith for the Penguins. Ilya Samsonov and Pheonix Copley for the Capitals. And finally, Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark for the Sabres. Goaltending can potentially be the dark horse for the Devils and replicate the success that the Devils are familiar with in regards to the position. Therefore, the Devils will have one of the best goaltending duos in the league.
4. The Realigned Division Will Help The Devils Develop
The Eastern division that the Devils find themselves in is full of legitimate cup contenders. Being the 3rd youngest team in the league, development is crucial to the Devils future success. With franchise players Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier, the team is young, skilled, and inexperienced. Playing the league’s top teams can be a tremendous opportunity for the young players on the Devils to gain valuable experience and face-off against some of the NHL’s biggest stars. Along with the difficulty of the division, the traveling time for the Devils has been incredibly reduced. The Devils will be able to travel to 3 of their opponents by bus and potentially take a train to their remaining opponents. The reduction of travel will keep players in better shape and let the younger players have an easier time with the rigorous schedule.
Unfortunately, there is no doubt that the Devils will struggle against some of the opponents in their division. Fortunately, they will be able to play the same teams numerous times and try and get better against them every time they meet. Most importantly, the opportunity of facing top guns of the leagues like the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers, and so on, will provide an experience that cannot be gained in one regular NHL season. Playing tougher opponents will force the Devils to play better and learn how to handle the teams. The realigned division could boost the development of the Devils and help them progress at a faster pace.
5. The Devils Will Not Finish Last In Their Division
Commonly described as the hardest realigned division, the Eastern Division will be a challenging and showing test for the Devils. Unsurprisingly, the Devils are predicted to finish dead last in the division. Based on a disappointing performance in the 2019-2020 season, the low rating could be an obvious choice made by multiple sports personnel. Except a lot went wrong for the 2019-2020 Devils that could have been the reason they seemed extremely uncompetitive. After Taylor Hall‘s departure, the Devils had a record of 18-10-9 until the pause in the season. Hall had an obvious effect on the Devils play proven by the improved record after his trade. Moreover, the Devils were extraordinarily close to making the cut for the play-in series for the NHL playoffs. They played two games less than the team ahead of them, the Montreal Canadiens, who did participate in the play-in series.
Furthermore, the Devils gave up 12 extra points in overtime or shootout losses. 12 points is a sizeable margin in a competitive league. The likes of a new coach, NHL experience that young players have under their belt, and a lengthy offseason could all be huge upsides for the Devils. Players who were expected to perform better like P.K. Subban and Damon Severson will have to perform better in order for the Devils to be competitive in the division. After mapping out what went wrong for the Devils in the 2019-2020 season, improvement is a likely scenario for the upcoming season. The boldest out of the 5 bold predictions for the New Jersey Devils is that I believe they will surprise a lot of people and will not finish last in the hardest division in the NHL.
Despite the harsh odds and hard division, the New Jersey Devils will be playing NHL hockey in January. After a 9 month wait, Devils fans are desperate to see the red and black on the ice again. It will be exciting and fun to see if the 5 bold predictions for the New Jersey Devils come true. Seeing the progression and change in players over the offseason will give Devils fans excitement for the future and hope that the core will be able to compete with the top teams in the league. The 2021 NHL season will be unpredictable, exciting, and unprecedented!