The 2010s will end on January 1, 2020. It was a tumultuous ten years for the New Jersey Devils franchise. Big trades, a player controversy, and massive changes in ownership, management, coaches, and players surround seasons where the Devils fell from past glories. It is not a decade that will be fondly remembered with some exceptions. It is a decade that forced the Devils to make some difficult, messy, and necessary changes. And as this decade closes, we can only hope that the changes that continue to be made will lead the Devils back to making the playoffs regularly, challenging for Stanley Cups, and perhaps being the model franchise for others once again. Before it ends, let us look back one more time at the 2010s with a now daily series of posts summarizing each of the previous ten seasons up to New Year’s Day.
In the eighth part of this series, this post will summarize the 2016-17 season. The previous season was pleasantly surprising and an overachivement. This one was a slog to watch and write about as it happened. Plenty of players were not performing well. The harsh reality is that a rebuilding team means suffering through some really poor seasons in the hopes of getting premier prospects for a better tomorrow. Knowing that did not make the experience any better.
This is meant to be an overview of that season and the resulting offseason. I hope to capture all of the major events. And if you feel there were things I missed or there was someone or something that you really liked (or disliked) that should have been highlighted, then feel free to share it in the comments.
The 2016-17 Season
The Record: 28-40-14, 70 points, Eighth in the Metropolitan Division (Source: Hockey-Reference)
The Head Coach: John Hynes
The Team Captain: Andy Greene
The Top Scorers: A tie. Kyle Palmieri - 26 goals, 27 assists, 192 shots, 53 points; Taylor Hall - 20 goals, 33 assists, 238 shots, 53 points
The AAtJ Season Preview: For this season, we expanded the season preview to eight parts with a part devoted solely to fantasy hockey with respect to the Devils. Our predictions for the season were in the eighth and final part. All of the parts can be accessed in this section.
The Biggest In-Season Move: There were plenty of moves by Shero but none could really be described as big. Vernon Fiddler being dealt for a fourth rounder? P.A. Parenteau going for a sixth rounder? Kyle Quincey for Dalton Prout? No, no, and no. While Parenteau put up some production for a waiver wire pick up (which technically happened before the 2016-17 season), the bigger move was picking up Stefan Noesen off waivers on January 25. Noesen did not produce a lot but he was filling in a bottom-six right wing position while also not being young. Noesen would go on to make his mark in the following season. As with a lot of 2016-17, it was middling. As were the other in-season moves.
A more significant move for the organization was reported in late January. On January 25, Pete Dougherty of the Albany Times-Union reported that the Albany Devils would be moving to Binghamton for the 2017-18 season. The Devils’ second term in New York’s capital city lasted for seven seasons. For the second time in the decade, the Devils’ AHL affiliate would move to a new city. The team in Albany at the time was not bad. They would go on to make the playoffs for the second straight season. However, attendance was the worst in the AHL, and the costs were more trouble than it was worth. After the news that the Binghamton Senators were moving to Belleville, Binghamton’s arena staff was able to make a sweeter deal to convince the Devils to move there. They took it. The news became official on January 31.
Playoffs?: No. The Devils bottomed out in 2016-17 and finished dead last in the Eastern Conference and 25 points behind the second wild card owner, Toronto. The 70 points earned in this season would be the fewest among all of the seasons covered in this retrospective series. I really hope the 2019-20 team does not challenge for that “honor.”
The Months in Review: Here is a link to each of the Months in Review for the season - which includes the Devil of the Month (DotM).
- October 2016 - AAtJ DotM - Cory Schneider
- November 2016 - AAtJ DotM - Travis Zajac
- December 2016 - AAtJ DotM - No one
- January 2017 - DotM Honorable Mention - Taylor Hall; AAtJ DotM - Cory Schneider
- February 2017 - DotM Honorable Mention - Travis Zajac; AAtJ DotM - Cory Schneider
- March 2017 - DotM Honorable Mention - Taylor Hall; AAtJ DotM - Kyle Palmieri
Yes, December 2016 was bad enough for me to declare that no one would Devil of the Month. I have done that for past honorable mentions and even axed the runner-up for a few seasons. Never for the actual Devil of the Month. That should tell you how awful 2016-17 was at points. I also formally brought back honorable mentions in January 2017’s month in review.
The Player Awards by the Blog: Once again, the staff came together ahead of the end of the regular season and decided on the player awards for the 2016-17 season. The final three games did not really impact the results of who we voted for. Here is the full post on who we picked; here were the notable results:
- MVP: Taylor Hall
- Best Defenseman: Damon Severson
- Best Goaltender: Cory Schneider
- Best Rookie: Pavel Zacha
- Best Defensive Forward: Travis Zajac
- Best Offensive Forward: Taylor Hall
- The Sergei Brylin Award for Versatility: Travis Zajac
The 2016-17 Season Stats: This is similar to the charts in the By the Numbers sections in the current month in reviews. For this series, I put 5-on-5 stats, expected goals for 5-on-5 and all situations, power play, and penalty kill stats all in one chart for the season. Rankings in green were top ten in the league in 2016-17; red is for stats in the bottom ten. The stats primarily come from Natural Stat Trick with special teams stats being pulled from NHL.com.
2019 Thoughts About the 2016-17 Season: It was a rough one to witness and write about then. It is a rough one to look back at. Whatever that went right in 2015-16 seemingly did not go so well in 2016-17 and that led to a lot of losing. The Devils’ offense was still well behind everyone else’s in the NHL. The defensive efforts were weaker. The sticks on the power play was not not hot so the power play was not as successful. The penalty kill was surprisingly vulnerable. There were no pleasant surprises like Lee Stempniak or a hot streak of scoring from unlikely players like Bobby Farnham or Devante Smith-Pelly. P.A. Parenteau was it and even that was just 13 goals and 27 points. A lot of younger Devils in the organization received chances to perform and few made their case for more minutes. Pavel Zacha jumped right into the NHL and there were more than a few nights where you wondered why he did. Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid were not bad as a whole but definitely not as good as in 2015-16. Knowing that Schneider had surgery in the 2016 offseason makes me wonder whether that was the start of his decline. Support for Kinkaid grew by season’s end and 2017-18 would only make it more vocal. Still, that was the least of the Devils’ concerns as they had a team that was not that fast and definitely not attacking or supportive.
Fans are generally fickle and the team’s setbacks in 2016-17 started to call into question whether Shero and Hynes were the right ones to lead the Devils into a new era. Winning only three games since the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline will do that. (That was an impressive amount of futility.) However, the Devils were just in their second season in a rebuild. Rebuilds require massive changeovers and those are rarely successful in the short term. This was part of the rebuilding process. Whereas Shero’s low-risk moves yielded some rewards in 2015-16, they did not in 2016-17. Whereas Hynes’ methods seemed to be good for the team in 2015-16, they were shown to be flawed in 2016-17. But the biggest issue was still the same issue before 2015-16: a lack of offensive talent.
The acquisition of Taylor Hall was made in part to address that. Plus, anytime you can get a player of Hall’s caliber for only Adam Larsson, then you make that move every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Hall’s production was not so impressive. He tied with Palmieri in points whilst only scoring 20 out of 238 shots. However, it was quickly apparent that he was moving faster than most of the other Devils, he was more aggressive on the puck than most of his teammates, and he was pushing the play forward when most of his teammates could not. Hall was a standout on a team that had a lot of players fade in the background. He was someone to build around and one of the few bright spots in a dismal season. Look at it this way: imagine how terrible the offense would have been if Shero did not trade for Hall. I shudder at the thought even as I just wrote it - not to mention how it would have impacted next season.
Adding to the low fan morale was the announcement that Patrik Elias would retire from being a hockey player. Elias tried to make a comeback in 2016-17 but it was not to be. He made a statement about his retirement on March 31. He would take one last warm-up skate with the 2016-17 Devils before the team’s last home game on April 8. He was honored and received a standing ovation. Sticking with the theme of the season, the Devils proceeded to lose that game to the Isles. It was not a bad performance but knowing Elias was gone just hammered another nail into the coffin of the Devils illustrious past. The Devils were terrible and rebuilding. As Mike wrote before that game, it felt like the new normal for the team.
It would not become a new normal but it would become somewhat familiar. The following season brought a glorious respite from all of the losing and futility. But I cannot stress enough how bad this season really was. This was the season where I introduced Sherman Abrams, the representation of all pro-tank fans, to the blog. This was the season that wiped away any optimism one would have about the Devils in the short term, at least. This was the season for when they helped close Joe Louis Arena in their season ending game, they were stomped on by Detroit and conceded a goal to a player who had scored zero all season long. As I wrote in the headline, “This season is finally over.” I wrote a full recap of that game but today, I look at it and I wonder why did I bother. I should have left it with that. That’s how bad 2016-17 was. Things would get better, but I can understand feeling otherwise in retrospect.
The 2017 Offseason
The 2017 offseason would give the Devils something they never had in New Jersey before. It would also involve an expansion draft. And it also included a potential return of a not-so-well-loved-anymore player. Here are the main points from the 2017 offseason:
- On April 11, the NHL formally announced the lottery odds for all of the non-playoff teams of the season. For this draft lottery, the top three picks would be selected at random. With the Devils finishing 27th in the NHL, they had odds to either take first, second, third, fifth, sixth, seventh, or eighth overall. The most likely result was fifth overall. At the same time, NHL Central Scouting Services revealed their final skater rankings with Nolan Patrick listed as the #1 overall North American skater. Despite being the consensus #1 pick going into and throughout most of 2016-17, there were challengers for that position.
- On April 20, the Devils signed another defenseman out of Europe: Yaroslav Dablenko was given a two-season contract worth $1.85 million. He was previously playing for Spartak Moscow of the KHL. He was the first signing of the offseason, although Michael Kapla was signed to an ELC out of college in March - making him the first signing of 2017 from outside of the organization.
- April 23 brought back the name of a Russian winger that may have well been called “mud.” You know what? I’m giving it its own section but not in the middle of this list. Go past the end if you want it.
- History was made on the evening of April 29, 2017. Specifically, at 8:17 PM ET. The New Jersey Devils won the first overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft Lottery. For the first time since their days in Colorado, the franchise would be selecting first in the NHL Draft. They were unofficially on the clock. Almost immediately, the question arose: Nolan Patrick or rising #1 contender Nico Hischier? I put up a poll with the lottery results and Patrick initially won it by a near 2:1 ratio.
- On May 23, Andrew Gross reported at NorthJersey.com that Sherry Ross was relieved of her duties as an analyst for Devils games on the radio. Whereas MSG controls the television, the team has a say for the radio team. Lou wanted Ross back and hired her for the position in 2007. The organization decided to make a change. Also per Gross’ report, equipment manager Rick Matthews and video Taran Singleton were also let go. More moves to clean out the organization of old and make way for a newer one.
- On May 25, Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy at Yahoo! reported that the Devils were one of the teams set to have an update to their uniforms as adidas was taking over the manufacture of NHL jerseys. Yes, 2016-17 was the end of the bottom stripes for the Devils.
- A trade was made on June 17. The Devils sent the second rounder picked up from the Lee Stempniak trade in 2015 and the fourth rounder from the Vernon Fiddler trade in 2016 and sent them to San Jose for Mirco Mueller and San Jose’s fifth round pick in 2017. This was a head scratcher then. Given Mueller’s wide range of performances from “pretty good” to “please be benched next game,” this would often cited as one of the worst trades Shero made. The picks would end up being used for Mario Ferraro and Brandon Crawley.
- On June 18, the NHL released the protection lists for all 30 teams ahead of the expansion draft for the Las Vegas Golden Knights. The Devils went with protecting eight skaters and a goalie. They were: Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique, Kyle Palmieri, Travis Zajac, Andy Greene, Damon Severson, John Moore, Mirco Mueller, and Cory Schneider. Moore was a surprising inclusion to me at the time. Moore did score 12 goals in 2016-17 but I figured he was not going to repeat that (true) and his flawed defensive game was not worth keeping around (also true). Mueller’s performances did not necessitate protection but the Devils just traded picks for him so losing him for nothing would have been a major failure on Shero’s part. In any case, that is who the Devils went with to keep from going to Vegas. Mike Cammalleri was most definitely available.
- Adidas revealed their new jersey designs for 2017-18 on June 20. They revealed the new ones for the Devils, which they use to this day. I did not like it then. I still prefer the jerseys worn from 1992 through to 2016. I still wear one to games today. Initial reactions were not good but I think fans have become used to it by now. Adidas’ “explanation” for the new design remains poor to this day, by the way.
- The Las Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft took place on June 21. The Devils lost Jon Merrill in the draft. I did not see it as a significant loss. It really was not.
- The 2017 NHL Draft took place on June 23 and 24, 2017. As with the other posts in this series, this will get its own section. Spoiler: They chose Nico.
- On June 26, the Devils qualified several of their pending restricted free agents. That is not really news. What was news was that Beau Bennett was not qualified. This meant he would become an unrestricted free agent. He would sign with St. Louis on July 1.
- On June 29, the Devils announced that they re-signed Keith Kinkaid to a two-season contract worth $2.5 million. Kinkaid remained as the #2 goalie behind Schneider in 2016-17. This secured the tandem for another two seasons. Kinkaid was otherwise a pending UFA.
- On the final day of June, the Devils placed Michael Cammalleri and Devante Smith-Pelly on unconditional waivers for the purposes of buying out their contracts. DSP was not very effective in the lineup in 2016-17 and there was little reason to keep him around for another season. Cammalleri’s contract was large and he was not able to live up to it. He was not providing the offensive opportunities or production that was expected when he was signed years back. Both cleared waivers and both were sub-sequentially bought out. Cammalleri’s buy out is still on the books through 2020-21.
- July 1, 2017 was a more quiet day for Ray Shero compared to last season. There was one significant signing made. The Devils signed Brian Boyle to a two-season contract worth $5.1 million. Maybe that was a bit of an overpay but he did a lot of things decently to be useful. He was also a fan-favorite with every other team he played for. Spoiler: He’d become a fan-favorite in New Jersey. The other signings were mostly for Binghamton: Re-signing Brian Gibbons and signing Bracken Kearns and Brian Strait. I was disappointed with what Shero did back in 2017. I wanted him to do more to make the team better after a terrible 2016-17. Especially with an incoming #1 overall pick to the roster and with multiple departures (Cammalleri signed with LA, Bennett with St. Louis, Jacob Josefson to Buffalo, etc.) needing at least players to fill in. The team absolutely needed some secondary scoring. In retrospect, I should have been kinder. The team was still re-building and so there was little need to spend a lot of cap space.
- On July 2, I was thrilled to see the Devils acquire a player who could provide some secondary scoring. The Devils traded Florida’s second rounder in 2018 (the pick from the Marc Savard trade) and Toronto’s third rounder in 2018 (the compensation pick for Lou going to Toronto back in 2015) to Washington for Marcus Johansson. Washington was up against the salary cap and so the Devils helped them while helping themselves. Johansson was also signed for two more seasons so it was not a totally short term deal. He also could play any forward position so he could be used in a lot of different ways. I thought this deal was great at the time. I was not alone in this. Alas, Johansson spent a lot of his time as a Devil injured, which undercut his attempts to get into a groove with the lineup.
- On July 15, the Devils signed Nico Hischier to a maximum entry level contract. The maximum meant that Hischier was able to achieve all of the possible performance bonuses and get compensated for it. As he was drafted first overall, it was no real surprise he received the maximum amount possible.
- The Devils signed a bunch of RFAs on July 25 and July 26. On the 25th, Joseph Blandisi, Scott Wedgewood, and the recently-acquired Mueller all received new deals. On the 26th, Blake Coleman, Stefan Noesen, Kevin Rooney, Blake Pietila, and Ben Thomson were all re-signed as well. I listed those five in order of future value and importance. At the time, only Noesen seemed like an actual NHLer. Let the record show that Coleman did very little, if anything, with his first 23 NHL games in 2016-17.
- On July 29, the now Binghamton Devils revealed their new logo and jersey. Unlike the Lowell Devils and Albany Devils, the Binghamton Devils had a character logo instead of bedeviled ‘B.’ I like it.
- During the 2017 offseason, there was an ongoing issue out of Colorado. Defenseman Will Butcher was not expected to sign with Colorado after finishing his senior season with Denver University. The third round pick from 2013 blossomed into one of the best players in college and won the Hobey Baker Award in 2016-17. Why would he not sign with Colorado? Apparently, their former GM, Patrick Roy, told him that they were not interested in signing him. While Roy was out in 2017, the damage was done. The bridge was burnt. And so Butcher would be seeking out his options. I wrote a post saying that the Devils should pursue him. For once, this would turn out to happen.
- When Elias announced his retirement at the end of March 2017, the team announced that they would retire his number during the 2017-18 season. On August 2, the team made it official: Elias’ number retirement would take place on February 24, 2018 prior to their game against the Islanders.
- On August 7, 2017, the Devils announced that they hired Amanda Stein. She was previously with TSN690 and covered Montreal. As an employee of the Devils, she would provide updates and news about lineups, practices, and more. Kind of like a beat reporter but working for the organization instead of with it (and questioning it).
- The Devils reported some bad news on August 17, 2017. The team announced that Travis Zajac had a torn left pectoral muscle, the injury required surgery, and he would be out for the next four to six months. With the Devils becoming dramatically younger for 2017-18, Zajac was one of the veterans on the squad expected to contribute. This was a significant loss.
- On August 25, the Devils announced that they signed veteran winger Drew Stafford to a one-season contract. This kind of addressed a need at the time. A need for a right winger. A need for a depth player to chip in some offense. At the least he could help on shootouts, which have been somewhat problematic since that notorious 2013-14 season. Was he better than, say, Beau Bennett? I leave that for you to decide.
- Do you remember how I stated that Will Butcher was available and the Devils should pursue him earlier in this list? It was just five points ago. The Devils not only did that but they succeeded. Shero’s pitch worked and Butcher chose to sign with the Devils as a free agent. Given his age, the contract was a two-season entry level contract. I thought this was a good signing then. I still do.
- Do you remember Adam Larsson’s new contract from 2015? A similar one was given again. On September 11, 2017, the New Jersey Devils announced that they have signed Damon Severson to a six-season contract worth $25 million. For all of Severson’s issues (penalties, defense when pinned back), I think his defensive game is underrated. His talent in handling the puck going forward was and is quite good. He has an offensive game that Larsson never had. I really liked the signing then. I still kind of like it today.
- The Devils and the hockey world were stunned on September 17, 2017. The Devils announced that Brian Boyle was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia. Boyle insisted that he still planned on playing in the season opener on October 7. He would not, but Boyle would play and play well for the Devils in 2017-18.
- The Devils had Jimmy Hayes in their training camp on a try out basis. On October 1, the Devils signed him to a one-season contract. They believed he earned a spot on the roster; hence, the signing.
- Related to the Hayes signing, the Devils’ initial 23-man roster announced on October 3 included Steve Santini, Butcher, and sixth-round draft pick from 2016, Jesper Bratt. Bratt was very impressive with the Devils in the offseason. From the Prospect Challenge to preseason, he made it as difficult as possible for the coaching staff to cut him. So they did not. Bratt started the season with New Jersey and he has been here ever since. Of note for the future (covered in Part 9) is that Joseph Blandisi was cut out of camp and started the season in Binghamton.
- On October 5, the Devils announced that Chico is back. Glenn “Chico” Resch was announced as the new analyst for the Devils’ radio broadcasts alongside Matt Loughlin. He also was named an ambassador to the team. Chico is beloved by the fans so this was welcomed news. The radio team would be on WFAN and The One Jersey Network. The what network? Back in November 2016, the Devils and iHeartRadio NY announced The One Jersey Network, which intended to be a new media platform for the Devils. It basically led to the radio team doing 53 games of 2017-18 on it before the team made a deal with Entercom/Radio.com in 2018.
- In a last bit of news for the organization for this post, it was reported in the New York Times that the Devils started a three-year partnership with the Riveters of the National Women’s Hockey League. This was not the first NWHL connection with the Devils; they hosted the league’s first championship series at the Devils’ practice rink in 2016. The team name changed from the New York Riveters to the Metropolitan Riveters and changed their color scheme to match the Devils. The Riveters would play at the RWJ Barnabas Health Hockey House (the practice rink, f.k.a. AmeriHealth Pavilion). The Devils would get to say they are a part of growing professional women’s ice hockey. Remember that this was a three-year agreement.
It was not as quiet of a offseason as 2016. There was always something to discuss, consider, debate, and look forward to in this one. Having the first overall pick was a big deal. The Kovy Affair ‘17 was another big deal. Free agency and the following trade for Johansson. The normally dead period of August was taken up by hope and eventual celebration of the Devils signing Will Butcher. Preseason featured the rise of Bratt. And there was a growing general sentiment that 2017-18 could not be as bad as 2016-17. That would turn out to be more correct than anyone would have guessed.
The Ilya Kovalchuk Drama Part 3: I called this Kovy Affair ‘17 because, well, anything involving this player was never simple or easy. It all began again on April 23 when reports came out that Kovalchuk wanted to return to the NHL. He spent the previous four seasons with SKA St. Petersburg, winning two championships and being a big fish in a small pond. He was 34 so returning was a little complicated since he
quit on the Devils voluntarily retired back in 2013. The initial report came from Elliotte Friedman and was relayed by Tom Gulitti, so it was a legitimate bit of news. Both outlined three options for Kovalchuk to return.
- The Devils just sign Kovalchuk and he plays for New Jersey
- Kovalchuk stays out of the NHL for a season and makes a return in the 2018 offseason. He will be 35 and therefore can become free to return as per the NHL Contract Bargaining Agreement.
- The Devils sign Kovalchuk and trade him to a team that will sign him and that he will play for.
The third option seemed like the best one to me. I did not want Kovalchuk back. Few Devils fans did. And if Kovalchuk did not want to wait, it was the only viable option.
The sign-and-trade seemed to be the way to go based on the news reported on May 9, 2017. Pierre LeBrun reported that Ray Shero spoke with Kovalchuk’s North American agent Jay Grossman, confirmed that Kovalchuk wanted to return, and agreed to let him and his client speak with other teams about a contract. Once that was agreed upon, Shero would try to make a trade happen provided it would make sense for New Jersey. However, the sign and trade would have to happen on July 1 at the earliest since that was the first date that Kovalchuk can sign a contract with the Devils. And Bob McKenzie confirmed that he would need to sign a contract to get off of the voluntary retirement list.
This yielded a lot of speculation about what the Devils could get in return, what would be reasonable, and who they may have to deal. Unlike the NBA, sign-and-trades were (and are) just not done in the NHL. This was a unique experience, which was not so unique given who is involved. I was not expecting much since Kovalchuk had all of the leverage from where I stood. Kovalchuk and his agent would need to find a team, ensure they would agree to terms, and then hope Shero can make a trade happen. If Kovalchuk was not satisfied with any of this, then he was free to return to the KHL for a season and then just sign with whoever next season.
The latter became more of a possibility when Dmitry Rachitsky of TASS.ru reported that SKA St. Petersburg was claiming they were going to re-sign Kovalchuk on May 29. This casted more doubt on what would happen while also keeping the flames of speculation going. The offseason between April and the NHL Draft usually lacks action so having the Kovy Affair’17 to kick around was popular among Devils fans. It was something to think about. At best, it was a found asset in waiting.
The report out of Russia turned out to be accurate at the end. On July 4, 2017, multiple media members reported that Kovalchuk would stay with SKA for one more season. I saw it first from Larry Brooks and confirmed by Andrew Gross and Mike Morreale, who obtained further confirmation from Jay Grossman, Kovalchuk’s North American agent. There would be no sign and trade for the Devils. The Devils would not be adding anything to their roster through Kovalchuk. The Kovy Affair ‘17 ended with nothing.
It also ends the drama with Kovalchuk and the Devils. In 2018, he would be 35 and able to sign with whoever he wanted as an unrestricted free agent. I am happy to state that this is the third and final separate section just for Ilya Kovalchuk in this retrospective review of the 2010s for the Devils.
The 2017 NHL Draft: You know what is better than drama involving Kovalchuk? The draft. And the Devils were picking first. While the initial reaction after the lottery had more fans hoping for Nolan Patrick, the tide of opinion turned to Nico Hischier as the preferred pick. We had a big roundtable discussion amongst ourselves on the site. We settled on him as our mock draft pick on the network. I put up a poll similar to the one back in April after the draft lottery and Nico was preferred over Nolan by a near 2:1 ratio. A reversal of fortune in less than two months. I want to say that the change of opinion grew around the NHL combine when it was revealed that Patrick had two sports hernia injuries in his draft year. But who is to say; the popoular preference became Nico Hischier. Still, the decision was not up to the fans. It was up to the Devils organization: Nico or Nolan?
The Devils chose Nico. They selected Nico Hischier first overall in the 2017 NHL Draft. While the draft class overall is still developing, Hischier was an early success out of all of the players picked. He became the Devils’ top center in the following center and has continued to develop as a two-way force at the position. He is not even 21 yet. He has certainly achieved more than Nolan Patrick. He was also given a list of things to do as the Devils promoted him right away after being selected.
While Hischier was out and about, the Devils were very busy on the second day of the draft with ten selections. The picks, in order, Jesper Boqvist, Fabian Zetterlund, Reilly Walsh, Nikita Popugaev, Gilles Senn, Marian Studenic, Aarne Talvitie, Jocktan Chainey, Yegor Zaitsev, and Matthew Hellickson. The amazing thing is that the Devils stockpiled these picks; they did not make any deals during the draft to move up or down.
There have been some initial successes out of this draft class already. Hischier jumped right away to the NHL. Senn and Boqvist made their NHL debuts in this season; Boqvist stuck in NJ instead of returning to Sweden whereas Senn got a call up and his first start due to with the Devils’ current #2 goaltender out hurt. The others are either in minor pro hockey or still developing with their initial teams. I liked it a lot at the time. It was a very European draft class and another draft class that aligned with Shero’s desire for a “fast, attacking, and supportive” team. More years will be needed before we can fully declare whether this was a good draft or not, but early signs are positive. If nothing else, the Devils found a #1 center in it.
Site Notes and Etc.
With the news that the Albany Devils were moving to Binghamton, an opportunity presented itself on SB Nation. The move happened after the Senators announced their affiliate was moving to Belleville. Over at Silver Seven, writer Jeff Ulmer and photographer Alicia Strauch covered the Sens when they were in Binghamton. I asked if they would be interested in continuing their work by covering and taking photos of the B-Devils. They were. On June 26, I formally announced Jeff and Alicia to the site. You have seen their work throughout the site for the past two seasons. With their additions, the site had dedicated blogging about the AHL affiliate from someone who had their fingers on the pulse of it. Jeff has been a star at covering the Binghamton team, getting a group together to assess how they players are doing, and has continued to do so currently to this day. His writing made it such that we no longer needed stat updates in Brian’s weekly prospect articles; Jeff’s work provided a regular account of how the AHL team was doing. Alicia has since moved on, but her photos provided an original look at the team and added to Jeff’s posts. I thank both Jeff and Alicia for agreeing to come to All About the Jersey and for the great work they have done past and present.
For the last time, I would end up asking for more volunteers for the site. Chris and Steve were doing great with the news, but I believe Chris was moving on, Steve’s availability was reduced and so I needed more help. So I requested two more members from the community to volunteer to step in with news as it happened provided that they could do so. Devin was a great help with the previews and recaps, but I needed more help as my own availability was reduced. So I asked for two more people to volunteer and serve in the same role that Devin did. You may have noticed in 2018-19 that I do not write nearly as many previews as I used to and not as many recaps. Personal timing made that not possible. This made it possible. This would end up being the final call for volunteers due to a change in how SB Nation did business.
I put the call on July 18 and by July 24, I had all four spots filled. It was an impressive turnaround thanks in large part to a community that wanted to help the site. Chris Fieldhouse and Ryan Grosso joined the site to help with previews and recaps. Chris is still with us today while Ryan moved on during last season. For the news, Nick Varney and Dan Rozel joined up with Steve. Dan is still with us in a completely different role. He is the host, producer, editor, and poster of the All About the Jersey podcast, Garden State of Hockey. He also helped me with the name of this series of posts and convinced me that a series of posts was better than one giant post. Given how much I have written to this point, I fully agree.
Lastly, during the offseason, the NHL released a statement of principles. People online, specifically social media, made fun of it and noted how the NHL did not fully live up to it. While snark is great for clicks, retweets, and likes, I think that was the wrong way to go about it. Improvement is incremental, it is never just an event that happens. To that end, I declared set of principles for the site that I still think is a good set to this day. The only real change I would make is that in #8, I would call you, the best readers - The People Who Matter. Because at All About the Jersey, you - the Devils fan and the reader - matter.
A Short Preview of Part 9, the 2017-18 Devils: Superstar Taylor Hall.
Thank you for reading. Part 9 will be up tomorrow, which is the penultimate season and offseason covered in this series.