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New Jersey Devils 2016-17 Season Preview Part 4: Power Play

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Continuing the AAtJ preview series, we take a look at the Devils power play unit today. They’ve had some success in the past few years, but can they maintain the conversion rates they’ve put up? And can the new faces in New Jersey take them to another level?

Washington Capitals v New Jersey Devils
The Devils will look for a repeat performance from Palmieri on the power play this season.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The All About the Jersey 2016-17 Devils preview rolls on this afternoon with a preview of the Devils power play for the upcoming season. The Devils, despite their overall offensive struggles of late, have actually done a decent job with the man advantage over the past few years. Can the power play unit be counted on to help buoy the offense this season?

What Happened Last Season

The Devils, despite finishing last in the league in total offense, were actually a decent team when it came to converting on the power play. They finished the season with a PP conversion rate of 19.9%, which was good enough for 9th best across the NHL. The Devils did a good job of making the most of their opportunities when they got them, even with some shortcomings as an offense overall. As a matter of fact, the Devils have been pretty decent for a few years now at converting on the power play, finishing 7th, 12th, and 9th in the league over the past three seasons, respectively.

However, despite being strong at converting their opportunities over the past few years, they have not been able to make any headway as an offense overall. One would think a top-10 power play could propel a team out of being one of the worst three or four offenses in the NHL, but it hasn’t happened that way for the Devils. Part of the issue has been just how rough the offense has been at 5-on-5, but the Devils have also struggled to draw penalties to an extent, as well, finishing 30th, 28th, and 19th in penalties drawn (via Corsica) over that time. The Devils were a speedier team last season which might explain why that number ticked upward in 2015-16. If the Devils can continue to draw more penalties with a younger and faster team, perhaps a strong conversion rate can have more of an impact on their overall offense (to go with what is hopefully an improved 5-on-5 squad).

There is at least some reason for concern with the Devils’ power play though, and that has to do with how much they’ve leaned on a high shooting percentage. Last season, for instance, the Devils generated the second-fewest attempts/60 in the league with the man advantage but they were able to end up 10th in goals/60, thanks to the league’s third-highest sh%. Now, the power play is much different from even strength hockey, with teams able to be more selective with their scoring opportunities, but any time a team is riding near the top of the percentages league-wide, there is at least a little bit of cause for concern. The Devils have struggled to get set up at times on the man advantage, which is reflected in the number of attempts they put up, but the team has, for at least a few years running, made the most of their opportunities on the PP. The hope will be that they can keep up that trend this season.

On an individual level, the results were mixed for the Devils last season. There were standout performers on the power play, such as Kyle Palmieri, who was a shot machine as well as a scoring machine, and there were some disappointments, Damon Severson perhaps chief among them. Here are some of the Devils’ individual stats with the man advantage from last season (minimum 50 minutes):

Devils 2015-16 Power Play Stats Stats via Puckalytics.com

Kyle Palmieri clearly led the way for the Devils power play, as his 6+ points/60 puts him just outside the top-20 in the entire league. With the number of shots he put up, he wasn’t just riding a hot hand, either, Palmieri was a bona fide power play weapon in 2015-16. Reid Boucher and Mike Cammalleri were also strong performers with the man advantage at forward putting up good points and shots totals. Jacob Josefson was perhaps the biggest surprise as a power play contributor last season. Though his output wasn’t necessarily huge, the unit seemed to run smoothly with JJ operating on the half wall and the team had its second-highest GF60 and CF60 while he was on the ice. Adam Henrique, despite his 30-goal burst last season, was actually relatively quiet on the power play overall, and better output there could help him get back to that 30-goal mark again. One player who should be expecting a step back on the power play is Travis Zajac, who had pretty good numbers on the surface, but benefited from a big shooting percentage and struggled to put up shots overall.

On defense, the Devils unfortunately lost their top performer on the man advantage when David Schlemko left in free agency. Schlemko flew somewhat under the radar, as he is wont to do, but he ended up with the second-highest points (and primary points) rate on the team behind Palmieri. With him out of the picture, the Devils will probably be leaning on Damon Severson to pick up the slack. For him to do so, he’ll have to bounce back from a rough season, as he was one of the least productive Devils overall with the man advantage. John Moore, really the only other Devils blueliner to get substantial power play time had a similarly quiet season to Severson’s. For the power play to function well this season, the Devils will need some improvements from the D over 2015-16.

This Year’s Squad

There will be some changes to this season’s power play units for sure, with the arrival of big time talent, Taylor Hall, and the departure of the team’s most effective power play defenseman, David Schlemko. With new young faces trying to carve out a larger role this season, one place where there are perhaps some opportunities are in a power play that gave significant minutes to Jordin Tootoo, Tyler Kennedy, and Sergey Kalinin last season.

Taylor Hall will be an immediate addition to any power play unit just based on his skill alone. Hall has made a lot of his hay at 5-on-5 over the years, though, and, last season, didn’t put up particularly gaudy power play numbers. His 3.91 points per 60 on the Oilers last season were near the bottom of the team and his points rate would only put him middle of the pack on New Jersey’s roster in 2015-16. In general, he hasn’t been a consistently prolific power play performer like he’s been at evens. Even so, the Devils power play is almost certainly better with him on it than with him off.

Elsewhere, new (or newish) faces will be looking to force their way permanently onto a power play unit. Reid Boucher and Joe Blandisi (to a lesser extent) had some success on the power play at times, though Boucher’s shot seems to have more potential to be a lethal weapon on a power play unit. Pavel Zacha will also try to force his way onto the power play if he is in New Jersey this season. In the past the Devils have tried to throw any big body possible onto a power play unit, but Zacha may be able to combine that size with some skill to make him an effective presence.

Beyond some of the newer contributors, fans should also expect to see a healthy dose of Kyle Palmieri, Mike Cammalleri, and Adam Henrique as power play mainstays throughout the season. Josefson could fall back into his role that seemed to suit him directing traffic from the half wall. Devante Smith-Pelly, though not necessarily known as a big time power play threat, has shown a knack for cleaning up some messes in front, so he could fit as an option as well. Travis Zajac, while traditionally a power play mainstay for the Devils, would probably ideally be reduced to a fill-in role on the power play at this point.

As far as defensemen go, the Devils won’t exactly have a bumper crop of power play quarterbacks, so there may be some “forced into service” situations at times. Damon Severson is the obvious pick among the D for the power play, but he is going to have to bounce back considerably from a weak performance with the extra attacker. Andy Greene would be a capable PP contributor, but his responsibilities on the PK could prevent him from having a prominent role. John Moore is probably a fine stopgap on a PP unit, but not too much more. One intriguing possibility for the defense is one Yohann Auvitu, who put up 3 assists in a game the other night and has been seeing power play time from John Hynes thus far in the preseason. If he turns out to be a strong power play contributor, that could go a long way to the Devils maintaining their form.

Moving onto the actual power play units, it’s really difficult to pinpoint who exactly will see time on what unit, but we have at least an idea of some of the faces we should be expecting. These are purely just a guess but seem like a possibility for the top two units.

PP Unit 1

Palmieri - Henrique - Boucher - Hall - Severson

PP Unit 2

Smith-Pelly - Zacha - Cammalleri - Josefson - Auvitu

Expectations for This Season

For something as volatile as the power play, it’s hard to determine exactly what to expect from a team in a given season. With some fresh talent coming into New Jersey, though, hopefully the Devils can keep on capitalizing on the opportunities they get. Taylor Hall is a more dominant force at 5-on-5 than he is on the power play, but he should still help out a team that has traditionally lacked a deep talent pool up front. Other new faces will hopefully force their way into the picture and limit the amount of time the Devils will have to give to grinder-type players on power play this season. If the Devils can improve their outlook at 5-on-5, they might even draw a few more penalties to capitalize on as well. Though there are some worries related to how many shot attempts the Devils tend to generate while on the advantage, the hope will be that they continue to find the right openings in 2016-17.

Your Take

So what are your thoughts on the outlook of the Devils’ power play this season? Do you expect Taylor Hall to have a big impact on the man advantage in New Jersey? Are you worried at all at the Devils falling back in their goal output due to not getting enough pucks on net? What are your preferred power play units heading into this season? Are there any unexpected faces you think might belong on the ice with the extra attacker? Sound off with all your thoughts on the power play in the comments below. Go Devils.