Okay, quick show of hands; who predicted the New Jersey Devils going 5-1-1 this preseason? Anybody? No? I’ll be one hundred percent honest here in saying that I foresaw this preseason being one full of growing pains, especially with Travis Zajac down until at least December, an influx of younger players, and an inexperienced (and in some cases, inept) defense.
Suffice to say, what we’ve seen in many cases was what many of us were hoping for, but not expecting. Pavel Zacha has looked the part of a big-bodied Top 6 center so far this preseason, and he’s cashed in on some chances while crashing the net. Nico Hischier has been the revelation we’ve hoped for, with 7 points in his 4 appearances; he may have played his way into a Top 6 role, since Adam Henrique certainly hasn’t.
On the defensive side of the coin things never fell apart the way we expected them to; to be fair, I think we all expected to watch Ben Lovejoy get coned a couple of times, which he did. The rest of the defense, outside of players who weren’t going to make the team anyway, all have played very well, including Dalton Prout. Damon Severson has looked very good with his new contract, and the young trio of Will Butcher, Steven Santini and Mirco Mueller have all looked as though they can be competent, good pieces moving forward.
While the preseason has been exciting, I find myself thinking at the conclusion of the Devils’ preseason that we need to still keep our expectations realistic for the regular season. The team isn’t sending the same players out night after night, game after game, so the consistency over an 82 game season needs to be found. Additionally, the quality of competition faced was not full strength, and Jersey never played a team like the Penguins with their elite center depth.
The kids have looked great so far, and it’s an encouraging sight for our once proud franchise that has missed the postseason for 5 years running. Hopefully, what has happened in the preseason does carry over this year, but I don’t think it’s fair to expect that to be the norm. As the season goes on, players will more than likely have scoring droughts, but as long as it’s not a Cammalleri-esque scoring drought from last season, we need to be patient and chalk it up as growing pains in a season where nothing is expected from this team.
Am I excited for this season? Yes. Am I hoping for better results from last season? Absolutely. Am I secretly hoping for some Devils playoff hockey come April of this year? Definitely. Am I expecting the team to be a competitor for certain this year?
I think that this season is going to be an awesome ride, and it should be exciting even if the results aren’t where we want them to be right away. I wrote last week about how Ben Lovejoy should be waived, and I’m still of that school, but if it doesn’t happen, we could be in for a long season of watching players blow around him for open chances on Cory Schneider or Keith Kinkaid. Personnel usage could also factor into how successful of a season that we have, so John Hynes should be under a bit more scrutiny than last season; I’m not saying this is a make or break year, but any criticisms of his player usage could be more justified this year.
I’d like to hear your thoughts on the expectations for the upcoming season; have the preseason games inspired more hope in you? What are your expectations for the team this season? Do you think the playoffs are a possibility? Leave your comments/thoughts below and thank you, as always, for reading!