NEW JERSEY DEVILS
COACH: Lindy Ruff (834-652-78-149 over parts of 23 seasons).
SEASON OPENER: Oct. 12 vs. Detroit.
DEPARTURES: D Damon Severson, D Ryan Graves, F Miles Wood, F Tomas Tatar, F Jesper Boqvist, G Mackenzie Blackwood.
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ADDITIONS: F Tyler Toffoli, F Tomas Nosek, D Colin Miller, D Cal Foote.
GOALIES: Vitek Vanecek (33-11-4, 2.45 GAA, 0.911 save percentage) and Arika Schmid (9-5-2, 2.13 GAA, 0.922).
LAST SEASON: After losing their first two games, the Devils had a remarkable year, posting a 52-22-8 record (third-best in the league) for a franchise-best 112 points and their first playoff berth since 2018. They beat the rival New York Rangers in seven games the opening round of the playoffs and lost in the second to Carolina. This was a young team finding itself and making a statement it will be around to challenge for a Stanley Cup.
STRENGTHS: Youth, speed and scoring. The Devils have one of the fastest teams in the league and two of its brightest young stars in Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier, both No. 1 overall draft picks. Hughes had career bests of 43 goals and 56 assists. Hischier had 31 goals and 49 assists and plays on all the special teams. Add in Jesper Bratt and Dawson Mercer and that’s another 59 goals. The Devils finished fourth in the league with 291. There are also three young players waiting in the wings: D Luke Hughes, F Alexander Holtz and D Simon Nemec.
WEAKNESSES: Since Martin Broduer ended his 21-year tenure with the Devils in 2014, New Jersey has been looking for consistency in goal. The trade with Washington brought Vanecek to the Devils. He was 33-11-4 but ran out of steam in the playoffs (1-3). Ruff hopes having Vanecek and Schmid share the load this year will provide consistency.
WHAT TO EXPECT: The potential certainly is there to at least as good as last season. The core is intact with Hughes, Hischier, Bratt, Mercer and veteran forwards Timo Meier and Erik Haula. Veterans Tyler Toffoli and Ondrej Palat have won Cups and defense should be able to make up for personnel losses if John Marino has another good year and Kevin Bahl, Luke Hughes and Nemec step up. For the first time since the turn of the century, New Jersey has a real chance to challenge for a fourth Stanley Cup. They won No. 3 in 2003.
PLAYER TO WATCH: The other Hughes kid, Luke. While the Devils lost a lot in Severson and Graves departing, Luke Hughes showed incredible flashes late in the season and during the playoffs. He had a game-winning goal and an assist in two regular-season games and two assists when inserted into the lineup in Game 3 against the Hurricanes. The 20-year-old, No. 4 overall pick in the 2021 draft seemingly is bigger this season, skates like his brother and can play on special teams.
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