It’s not secret to anyone who’s played fantasy hockey over the last seven-ish years that the New Jersey Devils are not a team filled with fantasy juggernauts and sleepers. The team’s always been known for somewhat of a conservative style (though complaints about the trap long exceeded the team actually using it, but that’s a story for another day), and have had few breakout players offensively. But with John Hynes pushing a more up-tempo system and the Devils bringing in more offensive talent, i.e. Taylor Hall, is this the year that changes?
Before Brent Sutter went crazy in 2008-09 and started playing John Madden, Jay Pandolfo and Brendan Shanahan upwards of 20 minutes a game, the Devils were an offensive dynamo. Zach Parise and Patrik Elias were both scoring at over a point per game. Jamie Langenbrunner had 69 points (nice) while Travis Zajac and Brian Gionta just broke 60. Then Sutter quit for his farm, Jacques Lemaire came back on and the team hasn’t been that offensively gifted up and down the lineup since.
The Devils’ main fantasy strength since then has been at the very top with one or two significant fantasy players in Parise or Ilya Kovalchuk and in goal. Those were the only worthwhile players in fantasy the team had. And maybe David Clarkson for his penalty minutes in concert with his decent goal totals. But you were never looking for sleepers or breakout players on the Devils. You look on the Blackhawks and Penguins and Sharks for that kind of thing.
Taylor Hall, however, is probably the most offensively gifted player the Devils have had since Ilya Kovalchuk decided to un-defect and Zach Parise wanted to go home to -30 degree weather. He may be even more gifted than Parise overall and Kovalchuk by the time he got to the Devils. He may be the best purely offensive player since peak Patrik Elias that the team's had.
And make no mistake: the man isn’t just a goal scorer. He put up 53 assists in 2013-14 in Edmonton and hasn’t had more goals than assists in a season since his second full season in 2011-12. He can make his teammates’ goal totals increase. Adam Henrique has a much better chance of putting up 30 goals again playing next to Hall than he would with any other player on the roster. Nobody has the playmaking skills he does. And whoever is the third man on that line may be able to flirt with 20 goals just from picking up garbage. There’s a fantasy sleeper on the Devils, whoever that man is.
That makes Henrique an interesting pickup with the potential to greatly increase his assists setting up Hall, a player he has familiarity with and one whose talent can't be matched by anyone Adam's played with since Kovalchuk left. Even with 30 goals, he was still only ranked in the 130s in Yahoo!'s fantasy hockey rankings last season, so hopefully Hall can help him increase his shots and assist numbers to be a worthwhile pickup.
Kyle Palmieri was unquestionably the Devils’ top fantasy forward last season. He put up 30 goals on 222 shots, making his goal totals much more repeatable than Henrique’s (not accounting for whatever Hall’s impact will be). He had 27 assists as well and easily led the team in powerplay points (Travis Zajac was second to tell you how pitiful that list was). He’s a solid bet for the upper 20s of goals once again, no matter who he plays with. He wasn’t exactly playing with peak Wayne Gretzky last year and still provided numbers solid enough to vault him into Yahoo!’s top 50 at the end of the season.
I’m probably the only person who thinks this, making me insane, but Mike Cammalleri is worth a late draft pick as well. We all know he’s barely going to play and once he gets hurt, it’s pretty much kaput for the season. But before he gets hurt, the man can average nearly a point per game and be one of your scoring leaders. And then once he gets even a papercut, blast him off into space. He had 38 points last season barely playing half the games. That point per game average, even for half a season, is worth it, in my opinion.
The rest of the Devils’ forward group leaves little for fantasy purposes. I’m excited to watch Pavel Zacha and rumors of him, at least his rookie season, being a minor penalty machine will make him more valuable than he otherwise would be in fantasy, provided Hynes lets him play consistently. But unless you think he’s getting top line minutes or putting up 20 goals, he’s probably not worth a spot to start, with guys like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins regularly going undrafted in standard leagues.
Devante Smith-Pelly, if he gets those top minutes with Hall and Henrique may be worth a waiver pickup. He adds a decent amount of penalty minutes and did score at a pretty high rate (read: nonrepeatable) once he came over from Montreal. He’s a threat for 20 on that line and may be worth a flyer if you’re desperate for PIMs later. But he’s probably not worth a pick or even consideration of one until you know for sure that he’s on that top line.
Remember how a couple of paragraphs ago, I said the Devils forwards have been pretty bad (fantasy-wise) for a decent amount of time now? Well the defense has been fantasy garbage since Brian Rafalski left. That was a decade ago. The highest ranked Devils defenseman in fantasy last season was Damon Severson at 405 overall and he wasn't even good last year! Andy Greene’s a tremendously underrated defenseman, but that doesn’t matter for fantasy purposes; all that matter are offensive numbers and his 13 points aren’t worth a spot on your squad.
Severson is the only guy I think that might be worth a flyer later in the draft. We all saw how good he was paired with Greene two seasons ago before getting hurt. If he can do that again, he could put up points in the 30s and add some powerplay points as well, though not too many since it looks like New Jersey's going with four forwards on the powerplay to start at least. If he doesn't reach and exceed those heights, he's not worth having a spot on your team, however. Last year he wasn't ranked inside the top 400 overall. He'll likely be on the waiver wire, so if you see that strong start, grab him. It's not like anyone outside of New Jersey knows who he is or about his potential, anyway.
Players like Steve Santini have potential to be really fine defensemen in the NHL, but scoring wise, it doesn’t look like they’re putting up above 30 points this season or maybe ever, so they’re certainly not worth drafting. Maybe Santini is worth taking in a keeper league, and Severson certainly is, but for this upcoming season, I’ll have to see it before I touch Santini and Severson is nothing more than a late round flyer based on potential in the future.
I know Cory Schneider is great. You know Cory Schneider is great. He may be the best pure puck stopper in the league. If he’s not, he’s probably only right behind Carey Price and Ben Bishop. Save percentage is the best way we have currently to analyze goaltending performance and Schneider’s been as good as anyone throughout his career. Too bad that fantasy includes other stats as well for goalies.
Wins, goals against average and shutouts, in addition to save percentage, are the chief fantasy goaltending stats. Schneider isn’t going to be at the very top of any of those except maybe goals against average. Wins are what will really hurt him, however, as the Devils just aren’t as good a team as the Lightning, Kings, Capitals, Sharks or Penguins, so their full time starting goalies (assuming Pittsburgh decides on one before they lose one in the expansion draft) are going to generate fantasy value that Schneider won’t regardless of how much better Schneider may be.
Cory was only the eighth ranked fantasy goalie last season despite his objectively great performance and that’s chiefly due to the lack of wins. Someone will probably overdraft him due to the reality that he is a better goalie than Marc-Andre Fleury or Jonathan Quick or Martin Jones, but because he won’t generate as many wins and his defense isn’t as good, raising his GAA in all likelihood as more shots will be generated against New Jersey unless the Devils remain such a low event team, Cory Schneider just likely won’t be as valuable as those guys in fantasy this season.
It pains me to say, but I wouldn’t draft him as highly as he’s projected currently (25). If he falls to you after that, cool, but I think less heralded or talented goalies may be the better fantasy value.
And this probably doesn’t need to be said, but whoever wins the Devils’ backup goaltending job isn’t going to play enough to warrant being on your fantasy team. If Cory gets hurt, however, they may be able to generate decent stats if the Devils remain a low event team in terms of shots for and against.
So there you have it. The Devils have more fantasy potential this year with the addition of Hall and the potential of Damon Severson, along with Cory Schneider’s traditional greatness, but there probably isn’t much overall here for your fantasy team unless players like Henrique or DSP show great improvement.