Five days into NHL free agency season now, and our New Jersey Devils haven’t done much in terms of signings outside of some moves to improve the Binghamton squad. With fewer and fewer names available, I’m finding myself agreeing with what CJ said yesterday in that it’s okay if the Devils don’t make any splashes this offseason. While he touched upon it briefly, today I’m going to go more in depth with one thing that is going to help the team not go backward: the forwards.
Last season’s Devils forwards outside of Taylor Hall were a large pile of “meh” but many for good reasons. Nico Hischier being the second highest scorer with 52 points (with a large gap between he and Hall’s 93 points) is a great sign of the progress he will make going forward. Hall might regress slightly from his career best MVP season, but Nico growing his game and hopefully adding some more power play points should help.
And who’s to say that Hall will regress? Reports came to light at the end of the season that Hall had been playing with torn ligaments in his left hand; not just for a short period either, but since December! Many fans (myself included) were hoping to see the first 100 point season in Devils history from Hall, but he fell just short; a healthy Hall still in his prime with improved teammates could eclipse 100 next year.
Healthy seasons from Kyle Palmieri and Macus Johansson will help the team in all zones on the ice. Palms has shown himself to be a good defensive forward as well as a key contributor since his arrival in Jersey; while he missed 20 games last season, he still managed to contribute 24 goals. I’d imagine in a healthy season, he could easily hit 30 again. Johansson meanwhile will need to focus on
avoiding getting cheap-shotted by Brad Marchand staying healthy; I firmly believe he will be back and better than 14 points in 29 games.
Speaking of health, having Travis Zajac and Brian Boyle available for training camp and the start of the season should benefit both them and the players around them. Zajac came back early from his injury, and looked like he was done as an NHLer with only 2 points in the first 20 games he appeared in. The remainder of his season looked more like what you would expect/hope for from your 2nd/3rd line center with 24 points in his last 43 games. As per Boyle, well the man played through a leukemia diagnosis, and looks to be beating it, as he’s still going strong! I’m sure we will see the same strength and leadership on the ice again in 2018-19!
Some other young players who should take the next leap forward this year would include Pavel Zacha, Miles Wood and Jesper Bratt. Bratt was an awesome surprise last season, and though he gassed out halfway through the year, I firmly believe he will have a more successful campaign this year with one season under his belt. Miles Wood also had an amazing season last year; he was just shy of a 20 goal season and he should easily hit that total again if he continues to use his speed to his advantage. Zacha meanwhile showed some incredible flashes last preseason, but didn’t carry it into the regular season. He’s still very young, so it’s not worrisome just yet, but for New Jersey to have an extended period of success in the near future, Pavel will need to take a leap in the right direction this year.
Now I’d like to hear your thoughts on the state of New Jersey’s forwards for next season; do you believe that the team will take another step in the right direction just from improved forward play/health? Is there anyone in particular that your are looking at in terms of marked improvement? Is there anyone not mentioned here that you think will make a big impact? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!