Three reasons to be optimistic about the New Jersey Devils in 2022-23
While the Devils didn't add any marquee players this off-season, they have positioned themselves to be much more competitive.
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It has been a disaster of a decade for the New Jersey Devils. They’ve made the playoffs only once since their magical Stanley Cup run in 2012, winning one (1) playoff game over that span. One.
While it will likely still be a couple years before the Devils hit the peak of their powers once again, there’s reason to believe they could start enjoying some level of success sooner than later.
In no particular order, let’s take a look at three reasons to be optimistic about the team in 2022-23.
An elite 1-2 punch down the middle
Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes have arrived. There are no more ifs, ands, or buts with them. There are no more prefaces. They are legit, top-line caliber players at the sport’s premium position; and they’re just scratching the surface of what they can be.
Hischier started last season a little slowly. He had a rotating cast of linemates in the early going and many of the players he had by his side had no business being there; Jimmy Vesey and Nathan Bastian come to mind. Heck, even Pavel Zacha has long proven to be an inefficient 5v5 piece.
Despite that, Nico set a career high in goals and piled up 60 points in 70 games. At 5v5 he matched the outputs of star pivots Aleksander Barkov and Sebastian Aho while out-producing the likes of Evgeny Kuznetsov, Roope Hintz, Mathew Barzal, Anze Kopitar, and Patrice Bergeron.
He might well look even better in terms of efficiency. Dynamic, superstar-caliber players like Mikko Rantanen, Patrick Kane, and Sidney Crosby all generated fewer points per minute played at 5v5.
I get it, you want to see power play production as well. So do I; but it simply wasn’t happening for anybody last season.
I feel like it’s safe to say coaching was the main reason as opposed to high-end players like Nico, Jack, Jesper Bratt, and Dougie Hamilton all just sucking with extra time and space to work with. Just my opinion.
Nico is a very efficient point producer, he drives play, he handles himself admirably against top competition and, again, he’s only 23. He’s still getting better.
Then there’s Jack. Some – especially those who don’t follow the Devils that closely – may forget he was straight up dominant last year.
He always has the puck on a string in the offensive zone, dancing around defenders until a gap opens up for a teammate – or himself – to attack.
In my experience tracking Devils players the past few years, I’ve never seen a player come close to facilitating shots the way Jack does at 5v5.
It’s not a case of ‘that’s great and all but where is the production?’ either. He produced at a 44-goal, 94-point pace last year. At age 20.
Jack and Nico figure to give the Devils one of the best 1-2 punches in the league down the middle and, with any luck, they’ll combine to play more than 119 of 162 games (72.5%).
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