The New Jersey Devils will be bringing back a mostly retained roster from the 2017-18 season to begin their 2018-19 campaign, and in many ways this is a good thing. The team qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2011-12, and overall showed themselves to be much stronger and more well rounded than they had been previously. At the same times, we must bear in mind this is still a team that is growing; there are a number of younger players in the lineup who have yet to reach their full potential, and there are some areas of weakness that need to be shored up.
With all of that in mind, the Devils will certainly be in the hunt for the postseason again throughout this hockey year, and much like last year, youth and speed will continue to be emphasized. The Devils will start the season with the same 5 players over the age of 30 as they did last year (I’m not counting Eddie Lack as he’s merely holding Cory Schneider’s spot if he is unable to begin the season due to injury) and with any luck, only 4 will be playing regularly. Now let’s get down to my roster breakdown:
Taylor Hall - Nico Hischier - Kyle Palmieri
Marcus Johansson - Pavel Zacha - Jesper Bratt
Blake Coleman - Travis Zajac - Stefan Noesen
Miles Wood - Brian Boyle - Joey Anderson
Extra: Nick Lappin
The first surprise here could be that I see New Jersey opening the season with only one extra forward, that being Nick Lappin. Hopefully Ray Shero, John Hynes and company realize that last season’s last-minute signings (Drew Stafford and Jimmy Hayes) were not exactly the greatest of moves. With the Devils having signed Anderson during the playoffs, I think they have high expectations of him; he gets the nod initially, but if he slips, Lappin can jump in while not being a liability.
Bratt moves off of the top line to reunite him with Johansson; they were only together a bit at the start of last season, but they showed some good chemistry; at the same time, if Zacha is to be successful as a 2C, it’s important to give him some speed and skill to work with, and MoJo and Bratt check both of those boxes. The first and third lines, as such, should be self-explanatory.
Some may be asking where John Quenneville and/or Michael McLeod are. Quenneville in my opinion will start the season in Binghamton, but will be the first guy up if there’s an injury; he’s going to just miss the cut. McLeod had a pretty rough season last year, so unless he has an incredible training camp, I think he’s going to be spending this season in the AHL.
Andy Greene - Sami Vatanen
Will Butcher - Steven Santini
Ty Smith - Damon Severson
Extras: Mirco Mueller, Ben Lovejoy
Oh man, I’m expecting that I’m going to catch some flack on this section, but hear me out! I’ll start by saying I do not expect Smith to stay all season, but I do think the Devils give him the 9 Game Look with the state of their defensive affairs. Once I had that in mind, I attempted to calibrate the defense pairings to have partners compliment each other’s play style. Believe me when I say that I re-wrote the above lines multiple times before I finally settled on things the way they are; I initially had Butcher on the top pair!
Right now Will is our best lefty, but he’s too similar to Vatanen in terms of bringing offense; as such, I put him with a bound to be hungry Santini who will cover the back end while Will rushes up and joins the attack. As such, Andy Greene retains his spot next to Vatanen on the top pair; Vats/Greene also will do a better job against tougher match-ups, hence why I’m not tossing the unproven Butcher/Santini duo out as the top pair.
This leaves of course Smith/Severson which by default would be better than Moore/Severson; I know Sevs can be polarizing, but he’s still a solid player, and this is by no means a demotion. If anyone on this roster knows something about making this roster and making an impact in their first few games, it’s Severson. If you don’t believe me, please go back and watch the first few games of his rookie year. We need that Damon back and putting him with a talented youngster that won’t make bad decisions that leave you yelling at your TV like his previous partner did could be just what he needs.
If the 9 Game Look leads to the Devils sending Smith down, then this all gets jumbled as lines do during the year anyway. I will say that in every version of the defense lineup that I made, Mueller and Lovejoy sat every time. Lovejoy is getting on in years and is a perfectly fine 7th defender, but his days as a regular should be done. Mueller meanwhile has done nothing for me anytime the Devils put him into the lineup; people complain about Severson’s defensive errors (and Severson is only 7 months older than Mueller) but Mueller looks even more lost in his own zone. I know the sample size is small, but he was passed over on the depth chart in San Jose by a few other players; I’m not optimistic about his NHL future.
Injured Reserve: Cory Schneider
Again, I’m simply operating under the assumption that Schneider isn’t ready to go by the season opener. If he is, or as soon as he’s ready, Lack gets waived and sent to the AHL. I know for the last couple of seasons that Cory hasn’t been the player he initially was in New Jersey, but I believe he can rebound and additionally there really isn’t anyone else available/ready at this point in time.
Now I’d like to hear your thoughts on my opening night roster prediction, as well as making predictions of your own! Does Smith get the 9 Game Look? Do the Devils choose to go 13-8-2 so that they can get a better look at some of their defenders? Will the forward lines shake out the way that I have them situated? Leave any and all comments and predictions below and thank you as always for reading!