After last night’s (very) late 2-0 victory over the Vancouver Canucks, our New Jersey Devils have started a season 9-2-0 for the first time in their history. Let that sink in for just one minute; it’s a small sample size, but we are off to the best start in the entire 35 year history of Jersey’s Team. I was already questioning if this team could be for real, and after hearing that information come out of last night’s game, it only made me question the idea more that maybe we are ahead of schedule.
When General Manager Ray Shero came in all the way back in 2015, the mountain looked like it would be a steep climb back to the promised land. He had the tremendous task of shedding a number of undesirable contracts, restocking a depleted prospect pipeline, and bringing a declining team back into the light of relevance; no one envied the job that he was taking on. With all of Shero’s work, the Devils look like they’re back on the correct track; the team has gotten much younger (from being one of the oldest teams to now one of the youngest) and they are out from under a few burdensome contracts. Additionally, the prospect pool has been refilled thanks to Shero hiring Paul Castron to replace the seemingly out-of-touch David Conte.
The team on the ice this year has been a revelation, thanks to a number of players injecting youth and speed into our lineup. Jesper Bratt has to be the first name touched upon, as he is turning out to be the steal of the 2016 Draft with 10 points through the first 11 games of the season. Prior to the start of the season, many wondered if Bratt would even be able to secure a spot on the team; now he’s a staple in the lineup, capable of playing any wing position in the Top 9. Nico Hischier, the team’s first ever first overall draft pick (at least as the New Jersey Devils) has gone a bit cold lately, but 7 points through 11 games and realistically only one major mistake to his name so far (and Clayton Keller is no slouch) is pretty good for an 18 year old NHLer.
Will Butcher was one of the prized college free agents available this summer, and his addition to the Devils team has been spectacular. He hasn’t found the back of the net yet, but he has 11 assists through 11 games; not bad for a free asset. Additionally, Taylor Hall needs to be talked about, even though he definitely isn’t a rookie. While he’s only found the net 3 times across 2 games, Hall leads the team with 15 points, and is playing like a man possessed. You can tell just from Hallsy’s body language that he wants the postseason badly for the first time in his career, and with the way the team is playing, it’s so close he can taste it.
The craziest part of the season so far? The Devils are playing some awesome hockey, and they’re not even at all full strength. Kyle Palmieri has missed some games due to injury, and when he’s been healthy, he’s been playing with a similar fire to Hall. Brian Boyle made his Devils debut last night, and he certainly gave the team a boost in physical play and the faceoff dot. Travis Zajac hasn’t been cleared to play yet, but he is skating and will certainly provide the team with a defensive boost.
I also don’t want to jinx anything by making a comparison, but I’m going to do it anyway; in a few ways, this team reminds me of the 2011-12 Devils. Now that I’ve officially damned us to a last place finish this season by speaking this blasphemy, allow me to explain. That Devils team featured some premier names up front (Benedict Parise and Benedict Kovalchuk), a good amount of depth scoring, a not very well known defense, and an aging legend in net. No one expected that team to make any noise, and they came up 2 games short of the franchise’s 4th Stanley Cup.
While we don’t have an aging legend in net, we have an above-average (at the very least) goaltender in Cory Schneider. We sit with a defensive unit that could certainly use one part, but the 2012 team was short a Marek Zidlicky up until the trade deadline. This team has 3 lines spread with scoring talent, just as that team wound up having as well as each having a 4th line full of speedy players causing havoc for the opposition while contributing offensively. I’m not saying that fate will take the 2017-18 Devils down the same path, but again much like that season, the Devils aren’t being seen as a team that will make any noise. If I were them, I’d keep using that as a driving force.
I know the pessimists will come out; I know the team started well last season too before the wheels fell off the bus; I know I’ve doomed the team by comparing them to the last time we made the postseason. The fact right now remains that with roughly 1/8 of the season played, the Devils are thriving. They’re finding ways to win games that they almost certainly would have lost last season. It may not be sustainable, but man it’s fun to watch!
How do you feel about the team’s start? Do you think they can sustain this pace? Do you think the reinforcements such as Palms and Zajac will aid the team in remaining consistent? Do you see any parallels to any past Devils teams? Will Taylor Hall finally see the postseason? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!