New Jersey Devils hockey is back! Later tonight the Devils will hosts the Winnipeg Jets at the Prudential Center to begin their 2019-20 season. The Devils are coming off of a great summer that saw them add another first overall pick in Jack Hughes as well as acquire the talented P.K. Subban and Nikita Gusev. These additions, along with the Devils young core, certainly give way to more optimism heading into this season.
In today’s post in our season preview series, the staff will share our predictions on this upcoming season. These will be presented in alphabetical order by first name. Below are your 2019-20 New Jersey Devils season predictions from the AAtJ writers.
So, I believe almost everyone has to predict some sort of improvement for the Devils over last season. Even for those who still predict that the team will finish last in the division, does anyone really think they will end with anywhere near 72 points? No one with a conscious really can, given the new additions on this team. Last season, we were hoping for continued success despite losing players, and it didn’t happen. This year, we know improvement is coming, the question is just how much?
There are a few factors, and the most important of those I’ll explain below. But some others are how quickly Jack Hughes will adapt to the NHL level, if Subban and/or Simmonds can have a bounce-back year, the growth of the other young talent like Jesper Boqvist or even Ty Smith, and of course the health of Hall. To me, if enough of those hit, this is a playoff bubble team. I could see them gaining 18-20 more points than last season, 9-10 more wins. But will the low-90s in points be enough to make the playoffs? Call me a pessimist, and rightly so, but I think this year they just miss out on a wild card spot. This is a building year towards next year, where my optimism begins to shine and I think they breakthrough and become a playoff mainstay once again. Will Hall re-sign with a 90 point, competitive season and a very bright outlook? I think so.
X-Factor - Goaltending
Initially, I was going to write just Blackwood for the x-factor, but it is honestly both goalies. How well they can play will most likely be the main difference between whether this team finishes just outside the playoffs, or just inside them. If those two combine to generate top-10 goalie production this year, this is a playoff team. If they generate bottom-10 goalie production, NJ doesn’t reach 90 points. How they perform could mean that much. I am high on the continued growth of Blackwood, but is this the year he becomes a definitive no.1? I think that could be a year away.
Standings: With the improvements that Ray Shero has made to this team, along with a healthy Taylor Hall and Cory Schneider, I think the Devils are going to finish 4th in the Metropolitan Division and make the playoffs as a wild card. The Devils have a top 6 filled with highly skilled players and should have a 3rd line that can contribute secondary scoring. I like that they have the option to go with either young players on the 4th line with a bit of skill or a more traditional physical element on that line depending on what John Hynes wants depending on match ups. P.K. Subban is a huge boost for the blueline and I expect Damon Severson and Will Butcher to keep improving this season. The goaltending is a bit of a wildcard but there are certainly reasons to be optimistic about the Cory Schneider and Mackenzie Blackwood duo heading into this season. I expect the Devils to put up a lot of goals this season and be an entertaining team to watch.
Bold Prediction: Jack Hughes to win the Calder Trophy.
X-Factor: I think this team will go as far as the goaltending takes them. Ray Shero has drastically improved the team up front by adding Jack Hughes and Nikita Gusev to give the Devils a respectable top 6. The addition of the dynamic P.K. Subban will have a huge impact on their blueline. The Devils don’t need amazing goaltending but they need the Schneider-Blackwood tandem to at least be league average if not slightly better to secure a playoff position. Schneider seems to finally be healthy and Blackwood is poised to take that next step in his career. Both goaltenders played well in preseason action so their is a lot of optimism going into the regular season for this duo. Hopefully they can provide the Devils with solid, reliable goaltending over the course of the season.
Standings: 3rd in the Metropolitan Division at about 99 points. I think that we can expect some regressions elsewhere in the Metropolitan Division, and I also wouldn’t be surprised if there was an Atlantic wild card (or two) that had more points than the Devils, while the Devils make the playoffs. The last two years the third place Metropolitan teams had 100 and 98 points, so 99 would place the Devils about there.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say this team outperforms two years ago with a much deeper forward lineup, Taylor Hall and now P.K. Subban.
Bold Prediction: I think that the Devils will make a trade for a left side defenseman by the 30th game of the season. They might not feel the need to change because of Greene being on the first pairing alone, but I doubt Mirco Mueller and Damon Severson will mesh well, and I expect Mueller to be scratched or sent down if he isn’t playing well. With the cap the Devils have left, they have some flexibility. But like the Henrique-Vatanen trade, Shero won’t want to wait until the trade deadline to pull the trigger on a chance to fill the biggest hole on the team. Having three potentially-reliable left side defensemen could allow Greene and Subban to get more of their shifts in offensive situations.
X-Factor: Jack Hughes. I don’t see John Hynes giving a line with Nikita Gusev and Jesper Bratt a whole lot of shifts in defensive situations - especially with a small first-year center. Hischier and Zajac’s lines are going to be taking the majority of defensive zone starts and top six matchups. Therefore, Jack Hughes is probably not going to be facing as difficult opposition Hischier faced his rookie season. Hughes could get a great chance to put up 60 or even 70 points based on his likely matchups. If he does, the Devils will have the scoring depth they need to make the playoffs, given a regularly healthy roster.
I think the Devils will finish 8th in the Eastern Conference, 4th in the Metropolitan Division. The general consensus among most prediction models that I’ve seen has the Devils at 9th, but I think that the models, among other things, generally underrate the value of Hughes and Gusev since they have no NHL data off which to base their projections. Between Florida, Montreal, and virtually the entire Metropolitan, it’s a tight competition, and I think the boost from the new faces will be enough to put us over the edge.
Here’s one for ya: Blake Coleman scored as many even-strength goals as Patrik Laine (13) and outperformed him in expected goals (16-12) -- a stat in which he was top 50 in the league. My bold prediction is that, in a team juiced with talent, Blake Coleman will be a top 3 goal scorer again. He looked like a top 6 forward last season, looked great again in preseason. He’s a volume shooter on a team full of playmakers. It’ll happen all at even-strength, but I think he racks up surprising numbers a second straight year.
I think I do this every year, but the X-factor is goaltending. It just is. Over an 82-game season, the difference between the best goaltending in the league (NYI: 0.925) and worst (SJS: 0.898) translates to about 90 goals of value -- and with small-sample Blackwood; and aging;injury-prone Schneider; it feels like we could fall anywhere in that interval.
Standings: I think the Devils will finish first in the Wild Card, behind Washington, Carolina and Pittsburgh in the Metropolitan. A lot of people are underestimating this goaltending duo...
Bold Prediction: Jesper Bratt hits 70 points playing alongside two great centers and scoring wingers all year interchangeably, making him the X-factor of this Devils season.
After a large step backward in 2018-19, the New Jersey Devils made a variety of moves this offseason in an attempt to take a massive leap forward in 2019-20. With Jack Hughes, P.K. Subban, Nikita Gusev and Jesper Boqvist standing out most among their fancy new toys, the Devils could be in line for a return to the postseason after just one campaign’s absence. A large part of where they finish will depend on Taylor Hall and the team’s goaltending; if Hall is back to being the Hall of old (preseason returns were encouraging) and the goalies can deliver at least league average results, the Devils could vault back into the discussion of competitive clubs rather quickly.
Where They Finish: The Devils will have some growing pains in the early going, as they attempt to find the right combinations necessary to achieve the desired results. They put everything together in time to make a big run over the last couple of months, finishing 3rd in the Metropolitan Division.
Bold Prediction: By the All-Star break, Jack Hughes will have assumed top line center duties. He will also win the Calder with a 70 point season.
X-Factor: Taylor Hall: The team goes as he goes; if Hall goes down again, I don’t see the Devils struggling as much as they did last season, but it could take enough wind out of their sails for them to miss out on the playoffs. If Hall is healthy and plays the whole season (or close to it) with the new supporting cast around him, then perhaps we see the first 100 point season in Devils history.
Prediction: I’m aiming for a wild card spot for NJ. I think we’ve got too much talent and guys that are way too hungry for success, especially after last season, to miss the playoffs again, but the entire division is looking pretty stacked right now so it still probably won’t be a lock for us.
The X-Factor is definitely going to be goaltending this season. That was our downfall last year and the lack of confidence in our netminders really tore the team apart. Assuming Cory can be the Cory of old and Blackwood can continue the trajectory we all hope for him, we’ve got one of the most solid one-two goalie punches I’ve seen in a long time. I expect the confidence boost of having a pretty stacked lineup for once plus a pair of top notch goalies is going to be the driving force that brings us to playoffs.
I do not think anyone questions whether the Devils are a better team than what they were last season. The question is really in how much they will improve and whether it will be enough to make it into the postseason. The Metropolitan Division is very competitive on paper; it will not be easy for the top three teams to earn their spots this season. As for the wild card, Montreal and Florida in the Atlantic Division will compete very hard for those two spots as well. The fact of the matter is that for the New Jersey Devils to make it to the postseason in 2020, they will need to take as many points as they can. Similar to 2017-18, this season’s team will need to grind out plenty of games to go beyond regulation as needed and, ideally, win quite a few of those overtimes and shootouts to get the additional point.
I am more confident than I was back at the beginning of June that the Devils can do this. In preseason, both goaltenders played extremely well. I agree with the larger concerns about how well the goaltending will perform. They are the X-Factor in a division where most teams have question marks in the crease. But given that both Cory Schneider and Mackenzie Blackwood were splendid amid some heavy workloads in exhibition, I am actually looking forward to what they can do in 2019-20 as opposed to just hoping for the best. The additions at forward and P.K. Subban on defense will provide many more contributions and options for attacking as needed. As much as it is not a guarantee, I really do think Jack Hughes and Nikita Gusev will make major and positive impacts on the team. Subban will make the blueline much more dynamic. No, it will not resemble the bluelines of past Devils teams but the game has gone away from those days too. The team now boasts four defensemen who can breakout the puck well, support the attack well, and play well defensively in at least the transition game. These are real upgrades to the roster. Not only will they make the team more entertaining and exciting, it will make them more successful.
Yes, the Devils will absolutely finish ahead of Our Hated Rivals; that is not a question to normal, well-meaning people who know the Devils are good and that the Rangers inherently suck. But there is more to life than just dunking on a rival. And the expectations in 2019-20 are higher. I firmly believe that the Devils organization is shooting for the playoffs. I have been burnt on past predictions, so feel free to take what I am about to write with a grain of salt. I am choosing to be optimistic for 2019-20. I think the Devils finish fourth in a very tight race in the Metropolitan Division and make the playoffs in the first wild card spot. It will likely be a roller coaster all the way to the end with tons of scoreboard watching and sitting on the edge of one’s seat by the ends of games. The Devils may have a real chance at third - or even second! - given how close together everyone in the Metropolitan may be. But I think they will finish ahead of everyone except Washington and Carolina in the Metropolitan, barely finish behind Pittsburgh, and just edge out Florida and Montreal.
Standings: The Devils have been bestowed with the dreaded “offseason champs” label, which frequently ends poorly for teams. But I fear that cannot stop me from hopping on the hype train, regardless. The Devils had a lot of things go wrong last year, which makes me feel like that team wasn’t as bad as the standings ended up, and Ray Shero really did add a lot of talent to this lineup. I feel like the top 9 this season can be genuinely formidable enough to create matchup problems for teams at times and adding Subban to the defense doesn’t fix all of that unit’s ills, but it makes a big difference. As long as the Schneider-Blackwood tandem puts up average-ish goaltending, I think this can be a playoff team. I say they finish 4th in the Metro behind the Caps, Penguins, and Canes and grab the WC1 spot in the East, finishing just ahead of WC2 Florida to dodge Tampa in round 1.
Bold Prediction: Kyle Palmieri cracks 35 and approaches the 40 goal mark. With Jack Hughes and Nikita Gusev now in the fold, Palmieri going to be awash in quality setup men on this team. He’s been hot and cold at times like a lot of scorers, but he may never have a better opportunity to hit 40 in his career. He should have at least one, if not two, of Hall, Hischier, Gusev, and Hughes on a line with him at all times this season, and it’s hard to be in a much better position as a trigger man.
Prediction: Given how tight the Metro looks to be once again, it sure feels like two or three points will likely separate the middle of the pack teams, which is where I think the Devils will end up. The Capitals are the class of the division, but after that? Good luck in that second tier. It feels like the Hurricanes are set up for another good season, and then I want to think the Devils slide into that third spot as other teams take steps back.
My best guess:
Beyond that, I think the Devils win at least one series in the playoffs.
Bold prediction: I think the Devils will have two nominees for awards: Jack Hughes for the Calder (and I think he wins it) as he takes the league by storm in year No. 1, and P.K. Subban back up for the Norris as he shows he’s healthy and still one of the league’s best defensemen. Both are poised for huge seasons in my mind.
X-Factor: Goaltending. Even with all the big, exciting additions the team made this summer, the biggest difference will need to come from two players already in the organization. If Cory Schneider’s return to form is legit, and we continue to see what we have out of Mackenzie Blackwood … look out. I think we’ll see a good season out of both guys in a 1a/1b situation that keeps both players fresh heading into (a hopefully long run in) the playoffs.
We’ve had our say, now we want to hear your thoughts and predictions. What do you think the Devils will do in the 2019-20 season? What would make this season a success in your opinion? Do you view this team as a playoff team? Do you have any bold predictions or x-factors? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!