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Thursday Thoughts: Elite Eight

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A look at 8 different small discussions surrounding our New Jersey Devils.

Florida Panthers v New Jersey Devils
Will Butcher may only be mentioned in passing in this article, but he’s got the number I need!
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

So there’s been a lot going on surrounding our New Jersey Devils since they last played Tuesday night in Columbus. From first goals, to multiple players now having 20 points, to new defenders acquired last week, it’s safe to say the Devil have been a busy team. Let’s dive in to some of these topics:

1.) Finally!

Travis Zajac finally got the monkey off of his back Tuesday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets with his first goal/point of the season. Some great hard work by Stefan Noesen helped to set up the goal, but Zajac made the finishing effort to jam the puck past Sergei Bobrovsky.

I’m not saying this is going to open the floodgates for Trav, but hopefully now that the pressure is off, he will find a way to contribute more regularly. The return of Kyle Palmieri in a few weeks should aid him as well; provided John Hynes inserts Palms next to Zajac and Marcus Johansson, Travis and Kyle could hopefully rediscover some of last year’s chemistry and go on to form a potent second line.

2.) Metropolitan Division’s Finest

With the win over Columbus, the Devils took over first place of the Metropolitan Division. The only team with any games in hand on Jersey is the Carolina Hurricanes, and they only have one while being nine points behind. The Devils have been playing some really strong hockey to start the season, and they need to continue pushing the tempo and competing as a team to maintain this pace. Winning our next two games in regulation over Columbus and Our Hated Rivals would be a big boost as well.

3.) “Torrid” Taylor Hall

With some true offensive talent around him, and a burning desire to see the NHL postseason, Taylor Hall has been outstanding for our Devils to start this season. He leads the team with 29 points in the first 27 games, pacing him for 88 over the full season provided that he plays every game. His career best to this point is 80 in 75 games; yup, Hallsy has been THAT good so far.

Additionally, Hall has found some nice chemistry alongside Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt. Letting those three speedsters stay together would be wise, even when Palmieri comes back, as I mentioned where he should slot in above. Why break up a line that works and currently features the team’s top three point contributors?

4.) Nico Hits 20

Speaking of Nico Hischier, he’s been no slouch himself, with 20 points in 27 games so far. Expectations were tempered to start the season, even for a #1 overall pick, but Hischier has answered the bell, taking over the team’s #1 center job, while being on pace for 60 points.

He may not be the most prolific scoring rookie in the league this year, but he is one of the youngest players producing at this pace, and he’s been an integral cog in the team being as offensively successfully as they have been.

5.) The Schneider Effect

Perhaps the real reason the Devils have been so successful this season is Cory Schneider looks like Cory Schneider again. While he’s had a couple of rough games this season, he’s been fantastic lately, especially in his 41 save performance against Columbus.

The Devils will need Schneider to continue to be a .923 save % goalie from here on out if they want to be a playoff team come four months from now. Cory has met all expectations so far this season; let’s hope he keeps rolling.

6.) Nah Nah Nah Nah Nah Nah Nah Nah Vat-man!

Sami Vatanen’s Devils career may only be 3 games old, but with limited practice, he hasn’t looked terribly out of place alongside Andy Greene. His presence has also allowed the Devils to solidify the right side of the defense, and to have a stronger six defenders being iced every night. I’m not sure I’m sold on having both John Moore and Will Butcher in the lineup (both need to be better in their own end, but at least Butcher has the excuse of being a rookie) but Vatanen has at least been a step in the right directions towards improving what was previously a not so great defense corps.

7.) Two Weeks?

Speaking of Kyle Palmieri, it’s been just about two weeks since he was placed on injured reserve with a broken foot. With an estimated recovery of 4-6 weeks, Palms could be as little as 14 days(ish) away from a return. News surrounding his injury has been slim, however, meaning that he may not be on track to return.

A Palms boost could be a good shot in the arm for Zajac and Johansson, so hopefully we start hearing positive news about Palms skating and practicing soon. Better we have him back in the fold prior to the calendar turning over to 2018 rather than after.

8.) Someone Owes Me a Coke...

Remember when I said Adam Henrique would be traded for defensive help due to the emergence of some players? Well, Zacha has yet to emerge and it wasn’t at the deadline, but Hischier and Bratt have shone, and Rico did get traded. Maybe my bold prediction wasn’t so bold after all...

Now I’d like to hear your take on any of these short topics; are you happy Zajac got his first point? Have the Devils exceeded your expectations by being atop the Metro? What of Hall, Hischier and Bratt being on fire? Will we see Kyle Palmieri sooner rather than later? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!