It’s difficult for New Jersey Devils fans to not feel as though the offseason has been a bust so far; Ray Shero made no meaningful additions during free agency while losing a couple of last season’s regulars in Patrick Maroon and (not as importantly) John Moore. The only defense of consequence added was first round choice Ty Smith, and he will most likely not start the season in New Jersey.
So what does the team do to ensure they stay on last season’s course and make the playoffs again? In a conference where the difference between making and missing the postseason was a single point last year, Jersey can’t have any missteps; they’ll need someone to step up internally. Today, we look at 5 New Jersey Devils players who could take a leap forward rather than a step next season.
Zacha has become a player who could make a list like this perennially; he has a good chunk of potential, and has shown flashes of what he could be, but has yet to put it together for a full season. The 2017-18 preseason made it appear as though Zacha was poised to have a big year, yet when the season was said and done, his point total was only one higher than the prior season and with only one fewer game played.
The good news about Pavel is that he’s still very young, having just turned 21 near the end of last season. While the start of his NHL career was a bit rushed (some would argue out of necessity), there’s still a good chance that Zacha in his continued development still puts it all together. He probably won’t be a 1C, but he still has the tools to become a 2C behind Nico Hischier. Whether he can find the toolbox for all of the tools will determine whether he breaks out, or if he makes a similar list next season.
I hesitated to include Wood on this list due to him contributing 19 goals to the Devils last season, but I feel that if he’s utilized more this season, he could finish the 2018-19 campaign with even better stats. While left wing is a position of wealth at the moment for New Jersey, I think it would be worthwhile to find a way to put Wood in a role where he could contribute more offense.
Wood is the type of player that other teams hate to play against; he’s speedy, he’s skilled, and he plays with a bit of an edge as well. If he continues to utilize his speed to torch opposing defenses, and continues to grow his point totals, he could become a true top 6 threat in Jersey’s lineup.
I personally believe that Santini is going to come back hungry this season after having a taste of the NHL last year. While he certainly had his struggles in what was slated to be his first full season in New Jersey, he showed enough spark and snarl, which is quite different from what most members of the Devils defense bring to the table.
He’s not going to be the biggest point contributor, but Santini isn’t a slouch with getting the puck out of the zone either. At the same time, I don’t think the Devils paired him with a partner at any point last season that complimented his style of play. At any rate, I’d still expect a strong camp from Santini, and fully expect him to make the team. Whether he breaks out or not remains to be seen, but he should have the motivation and opportunity to do so.
Okay, probably the most far-fetched name on this list, but hear me out on this one. Let’s suppose the Devils aren’t happy with the left-side incumbents (Andy Greene and Mirco Mueller more so than Will Butcher) during training camp. Let’s also suppose that Egor Yakovlev is nothing impressive and winds up starting the season in the AHL. Last but not least, let’s say that Smith has an awesome camp and contributes to the team having a successful preseason.
If the stars were to align, and all of these events were to come and pass, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Smith get at least the “9 Game Look” with the Devils; if he doesn’t impress from there, they can send him back to juniors, no harm, no foul. Bear in mind that Smith was projected by many outlets to go higher in the first round than he actually did, and with a draft as deep as this past one, the league could have more 2018 selections make the leap straight away than they did from the 2017 class. Smith may not make the defense larger, or more imposing, but he can certainly increase the skill level and help the Devils to beat more teams by being fast, supportive and attacking.
Some might say that last season was Bratt’s breakout with New Jersey, but with his skill set, and the drop off in his production during the second half of the season, I’m not convinced that we’ve seen the best of Bratt just yet. Perhaps he played over his head, and what we saw will be what we get, but as he was a 19 year old rookie, I think there’s some room for growth.
I envision the Devils starting the season with Bratt playing alongside Hischier and Taylor Hall again, and starting with a cohesive line right from the start could lead to an increase in Bratt’s production. I think he may be the most likely of the 5 candidates to break out, but even if it is the most likely of the 5, it’s still better than having no one break out.
Who do you think will be a break out player for the Devils this season? Is it someone from the list above? Is it another player in the organization? Will we have multiple break out seasons? No break out seasons? Leave any and all comments below and thank you as always for reading!