The 2016-2017 season was one for the New Jersey Devils to forget. A lack of finishing left the Devils finishing last in the Eastern Conference, and fourth to last in the league. This lack of goal scoring was disappointing after making a big splash and acquiring sharp shooter Taylor Hall in the offseason, and losing Adam Larsson certainly hurt New Jersey’s defensive play as they allowed 36 more goals than they did the previous year. Even during an underperforming season Cory Schneider did all he could to keep his team in games. Furthermore, Pavel Zacha, an expected candidate for a break out year did not produce offensively as the Devils would have liked but did progress as the season went along. With more consistency and secondary scoring the Devils should look to improve this coming year.
As terrible as the past season was for Devils fans, there was one silver lining, which was winning the lottery and landing the first overall pick. The Devils were thrilled with the opportunity to draft Swiss center Nico Hischier. Hischier should provide some much needed offense to the deflated Devils line up and will be a cornerstone of their rebuild. The Devils did not make any big splashes during free agency but did bring in a reliable center in Brian Boyle. The 6'7" pivot will take some pressure off the young players making their debut this season as well as helping with face-offs and penalty killing. Lastly, the Devils traded for Marcus Johansson from the Washington Capitals. Johansson still has a lot of offensive potential and will help the Devils with their underlying issue of scoring goals. The acquisition of Johansson will take away one of the forward spots that may have been claimed by a rookie, allowing them to develop further in th minors or junior.
Updated Top 10:
Notable Graduates: Pavel Zacha, Steven Santini, Miles Wood
1. Nico Hischier: The first overall pick will be a treat for Devils fans for years to come. If given enough ice time and power play time, Hischier should contend for the Calder this year.
2. Michael McLeod: If he continues to impress, McLeod may earn himself a full time roster spot this year. He should get at minimum a nine game look but its either NHL or OHL for McLeod this season.
3. Blake Speers: A very intelligent and hardworking player who may have a chance to play a few games for the big club, but will most likely spend most of the season in Binghamton. Speers is a defence-minded player that will need to adjust to stronger competition in his first pro year.
4. John Quenneville: A vast improvement was seen after a switch from center to wing in his first pro season with Albany last year. Quenneville may challenge for as roster spot, but could benefit from another full season in the minors playing his new position.
5. Mackenzie Blackwood: The expected starter for Binghamton this season leads the pack of promising young netminders in the Devils organization. An impressive showing this year in the AHL may lead to Blackwood backing up Schneider in 2018-2019.
6. Jesper Boqvist: The Devils second rounder proved his skills at the World Junior Summer Showcase. With a strong season in the Swedish Hockey League and a good World Juniors we may see Boqvist in North America quicker than expected.
7. Joey Anderson: The speedy forward has a knack for showing up in big games and will look to bring the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs back to the National Championship. Enter his second year in Duluth; Anderson will look to improve on his impressive numbers from last season. Devils fans should not be too worried about the lack of an NHL contract at this point but should hope he’s wearing the red, black and white soon.
8. Yegor Rykov: Entering his second full-time season with KHL champions SKA Saint Petersburg; Rykov will look to continue his impressive form from last season’s playoffs. Rykov is not expected to make a move to North America anytime soon as his contract with SKA doesn’t finish until April 2019.
9, Nathan Bastian: Bastian and McLeod should team up for Mississauga again this season, unless the latter makes the Devils roster out of camp. Neither player has reached the 20-year-old threshold to make the jump to the AHL, even though both could be ready.
10. Nikita Popugaev: Popugaev is the definition of a boom or bust prospect. The towering 6'6" winger had a great start to last season with the Moose Jaw Warriors but completely fell off after a trade to Prince George. There is still a lot of mystery surrounding whether he will play for Prince George again next year or return to Russia. If he is able to regain his previous form he may be one of the biggest steals of the 2017 Draft as his upside is high.
On the Rise:
Aarne Talvitie: The Devils sixth round pick was superb in the World Junior Summer Showcase for Finland. With the USHL as an option this year, Devils fans may get a chance to see how Talvitie performs on a smaller ice surface before heading to Penn State for the 2018-2019 season. If his development continues its course, he has the possibility of being another late round steal for the Devils.
Michael McLeod: Impressing at the Devils rookie camp is only the beginning for McLeod. With his great speed and vision McLeod may be able to help the Devils with their scoring woes. Given the right opportunities this season he could be a dark horse candidate for the Calder.
Reilly Walsh: Continuing the trend of college bound players; the Devils third round pick Walsh is known for his excellent skating abilities. His skating allowed him to dominate the United States High School league along with being featured in over 20 games in the USHL. Walsh is heading to Harvard in the fall and will look to improve his game against tougher competition.
Scott Wedgewood: The former third round pick may have just renewed his contract for another year but he looks to eventually be on his way out of New Jersey. Stuck behind more promising goalie prospects Blackwood and Kinkaid, Wedgewood has his work cut out for him if he ever wants to suit up for the Devils. Frequent injuries have derailed his once promising career and may leave him a free agent at the end of the season.
Mirco Mueller: Although Mueller seems to be trending upward since his first few years In San Jose, the defenceman has not lived up to his first round potential. A change of scenery may be exactly what Mueller needs but for now there are many risks associated with the Swiss defenceman.
Prospect Depth Chart:
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