What a start to the regular season huh!? It is one thing to know you have a good team and to see that team perform well. Like I am sure that fans of the Chicago Blackhawks are fairly happy with their team’s start, but that was to be at least somewhat expected anyway. There was a level of expectation around that team that if they started out 0-4, there would have been some serious concern.
For most of us who made predictions, what the New Jersey Devils have done so far has been nothing short of awesome. If they had started out 1-3 or 1-2-1 instead of 3-1, no one would have really batted an eye. This team had no expectations around it this season in terms of on ice production. We were hoping to see strong things from some of the young skaters; if they looked to be improving, then we would know that this team was moving in the right direction. However, with a 3-1 start!? This is a team that is turning heads all over the hockeyverse. I mean while others have complained that the Devils are not in the top 10 in Dan Rosen’s recent power rankings, he did have them in his top 16 already! To me, that is a huge statement in the positive direction.
Now, although it is awesome that there is energy and excitement surrounding this team, something that has not happened in 5 years, getting overhyped about this team is also possible. Remember: the Devils also started out 3-0-0 in the 2014-15 season, and they ended up 32-36-14. So while there is nothing wrong with being excited and energetic and fully on board with this new group, I wouldn’t all of a sudden say cup contenders either. I mean, their 5v5 shooting percentage is through the roof, even after last night’s game. Regression will come on that front.
However, that is not the point of this article. What I want to say is that regardless of how the Devils’ record turns out this season—and there is a realistic chance that the team’s final record is better than most of us predicted—they are going to be fun to watch.
You know the drill as a fan of New Jersey hockey. The team is low event, and boring. Everyone says so. Like here, where it is noted the Devils lack “watchability”. And here, where the problem of NJ hockey being boring is equated to racism, sexism, and homophobia. And also here, where a well-thought out argument is made that the Devils sort of created a “Dark Age of defensive hockey” that led to the 04-05 lockout. Also, you of course famously had the owner of the Ottawa Senators, when referring to his team in 2014, say that “we’re not New Jersey. We don’t play boring hockey.” There are instances all over. I mean, just ask a New York fan of either team how the Devils play hockey.
Most any fan of the team could of course argue against that statement. Like you most likely, I’ve watched the Devils for the last couple decades, and I didn’t think they were boring. However, you could say what you want about the 2017-18 Devils. You could be convinced that they will contend for a playoff spot after watching their first few games, or you could still be skeptical. However, what you should not be skeptical about is their watchability. Regardless of the team’s record come April, the New Jersey Devils will continue to be fun to watch this season.
That fact is just plainly evident. Will they continue to score 5+ goals per game at a regular clip? Of course not. But even in 2-1 games, just looking at how this team plays hockey and the way that the young skaters go about moving all around the ice, they will simply be an exciting team to check out each and every time they take the ice. This is no longer Lou Lamoriello’s team employing the neutral zone trap. This is a team of young, talented players using their speed and skill to skate around and through the opposing team to find twine.
What they have become, at least at the start of this season, is what Ray Shero wanted to bring in when he got here. They are fast, attacking, and supportive. Boy are they fast. Miles Wood is a wonderful example:
However, it is not just him. Jesper Bratt has some legitimate speed as well. And Nico Hischier, while also able to turn up the jets, is especially impressive with his stick handling. His hands are incredibly quick, and his ability to maneuver the puck in tight spaces is awesome. The plays that are generated from this speed and ability are extremely fun to watch.
And as a fan, being supportive is also really exciting to see. Watching Nico stick up for Kyle Palmieri was heartening, even if I wanted Hischier nowhere near a fight in that case. Seeing Adam Henrique stick up for a teammate the other night was equally as awesome to see. Are those specific plays themselves exciting? Not particularly. But they help to generate exciting hockey. By playing for each other, the team bonds and trusts each other, and that leads to better hockey. Watching the amazing, crisp passing in tight spaces that led to Pavel Zacha’s power play goal against Toronto was impressive, and comes about by teammates trusting each other and trusting the process.
So, while us as Devils fans may have always considered Devils’ hockey to be fun to watch, there is no question that throughout the course of this season, more and more people around the NHL and the game of hockey will come to see New Jersey as a fun, exciting team to watch. Their watchability level will certainly be high this season thanks to the team running out young, fast skaters each night with the hopes of watching them develop and grow. So while betting on the team continuing to win might not be a sure thing, betting on them to continue to be fun to watch will pan out for sure. More so than ever, you need to mark your calendar each time the New Jersey Devils take the ice, as it will be must-watch television.