Since the conclusion of the Stanley Cup playoffs on June 12th, the NHL offseason has already gotten off to a hot start. The Capitals and Flyers swapped defensemen, the Winnipeg Jets lost their minds when they sent Jacob Trouba to Our Hated Rivals for mere peanuts, and then the Flyers upped the level of ridiculousness. First they inked Kevin Hayes to a contract that will see him earn over $7 million a season and then parted with a couple of draft picks for a “meh” defenseman.
While I certainly hope all of those moves come back to bite all of the above teams involved (they are rival teams after all), that’s not where the focus of this article will be. No instead it’s worth noting that our New Jersey Devils have yet to do...well, anything. Yes, it’s early, yes the draft and free agency aren’t even here yet, but for a team that was successful for the better part of the last three decades, the Devils need to make some moves to see themselves get back to the peak of the mountain.
...or have they already done so?
Call me crazy, but the Devils may already be improving their roster, and they might not be spending $7+ million per season on a player that has never hit 20 goals in a season either. Ray Shero should still look to be active this offseason, but there are three key pieces that will be making their way to New Jersey this season that should have a large impact on the team’s play: the 1st overall pick, Ty Smith and Jesper Boqvist.
The 1st Overall Pick
While the general consensus is that Jack Hughes will go first overall, there’s still discussion that Kaapo Kakko could be the choice as well; for the purpose of this article, we’re going to go with the crowd (as well as our writers) and assume Hughes to be the choice. He may not start out on the Devils top line, but the projections show Hughes to have more potential than Nico Hischier, though Nico is certainly no slouch himself.
Some are a bit worried about Hughes being undersized, but his skill set is undeniable, and there’s another American-born player of similar size who doesn’t seem to have any difficulty putting up points. While Patrick Kane may have put up over 70 points in his first season, Hughes may or may not put up that many depending upon who he plays with. I would honestly estimate that 60 (give or take a few) is a realistic rookie total for points for Jack.
Hughes has met or exceeded expectations at every level he’s played at so far; he’s been the consensus #1 choice for well over a year, and with the Devils’ success in 2017-18, the thought was that he would never be a Devil. Well the injury woes of last season have given New Jersey the ability to take a premier prospect, and Hughes (or Kakko) will be an immediate impact player next season.
The current reigning Bill Hunter Trophy winner (as the top defender in the WHL) and CHL Defenseman of the Year, it’s academic that Smith will be joining Jersey’s Team this year. He honestly played well enough during the preseason last year that he could have made the Devils’ 2018-19 opening night roster; instead was one of the last players cut due to his contract situation, as others would require waivers to be sent elsewhere. The good news for the Devils and we the fans is that that extra year of development may have made Smith even more dangerous.
While he saw a slight decrease in points from 73 to 69 this season, he appeared in 12 fewer games, meaning he actually averaged more points per game. He also owns the season record for most assists by a defenseman with 62. I looked back at the prospect profile I wrote on Smith before his draft class, and noticed the stats listed pre-draft are different from his current stats; according to Elite Prospects, he’s grown an inch and put on almost 10 lbs. meaning that if this info is accurate, he’s much closer to the “average” NHL player size.
Smith has always had excellent skating, and last preseason was a good sample showing of his excellent on-ice vision. Additionally, he was no slouch in his own zone, which will enable him to help the Devils in every zone of the ice. He shouldn’t be the only change Shero looks to make on the back end, but adding a young talent on an entry level contract who can be a difference maker is never a bad thing.
Prediction? I see around 35 points with Smith establishing himself on the top pairing by the end of the season.
The Devils second round pick from the 2017 NHL Draft, Boqvist signed his entry level contract earlier this month and will be given every chance to make the Devils’ roster out of training camp. Boqvist had a breakout season in 2018-19 with Brynas IF of the SHL last season, where he contributed 35 in 51; also of note is that this was his first full season in the SHL as the season prior he split time with Brynas and their under 20 club.
To continue with stats about his scoring, his 35 points tied him for 14th in the league as a rookie; more impressively, he ranked 2nd in the entire SHL (not just rookies) in scoring at even strength. The narrative of him playing against men (as many European prospects do) must not be forgotten as well; Boqvist is already having success in a competitive league against fully developed players. All of those factors should get fans excited for what Boqvist could do in New Jersey.
Boqvist brings decent size (an inch taller and 2 lbs. heavier than Smith) and excellent speed to the table, which should help him fit in nicely with Jersey’s Team. From what I’ve viewed of him, he’s also smart with finding good positioning on the ice and he’s creative with the puck as well. I expect a strong showing and a strong (at least 30 point) rookie campaign from him.
The Devils may not be busy making moves like other Metro teams just yet, but they still have pieces that will be added to improve the team? Do you believe these young players will all make an impact in Jersey this season? Is there another player not mentioned in this piece that you think will make an impact with the big club in 2019-20? Which rookie are you most looking forward to and why? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!