The New Jersey Devils come into 2019-20 with a much improved roster from the last few campaigns they have played through. With four fairly noteable offseason additions in Jack Hughes, Nikita Gusev, Wayne Simmonds and P.K. Subban, the Devils are showing their desire to be a more competitive squad. While injuries will always have a say in any team’s success (as they did last season), having more talent that can play at the NHL level can help mitigate the impact of injuries.
But what happens if a big name player goes down for an extended period? How do you replace that offense? Simple really: a young player that hasn’t put it all together yet sees an increase in ice time, and their play takes off. We see it all the time when players finally have their breakout season, either due to someone ahead of them on the depth chart getting injured, or the team increasing the player’s role out of necessity or belief in their skill. Today, I look at five Devils who I believe could breakout in one way or another this season.
Wood is the lowest name on this list after he disappointed a bit in 2018-19, dropping to 13 goals after 19 in 2017-18. While appearing in 12 less games, Wood posted 8 fewer points overall, while also seeing his penalty minutes climb. Working against him breaking out as well is the fact that his role could actually decrease this year due to the number of highly talented lefties the Devils now possess after this summer.
In order for Wood to truly breakout in his fourth season, he needs to become at least a 20 goal guy, while being more consistent and taking less dumb penalties. While many have him penciled in to start the season on the fourth line, the Devils’ fourths could be a pretty speedy depth scoring line depending on how everything shakes out. If that’s the case, Miles will need to use his incredible speed to torch opposing defenses, while making sure he puts the puck into the net, and stays disciplined. I have no problem if he stills wants to be a guy who stands up for his teammates, but he has to watch some of the minors that he takes, as I remember him last season being called for quite a few penalties that were outright avoidable.
Okay, this one might be cheating a bit since Gusev is already 27 years old (same as Taylor Hall and Blake Coleman) and has played several professional seasons in the KHL. I’m still counting him though, as he has not played a single NHL game and therefore can breakout at the NHL level. Gusev’s acquisition just under a month ago was seen as not only the Devils yet again under Ray Shero taking advantage of a cap-strapped team, but the cherry on top of the summer sundae.
Gusev has been over a point per game player for the entirety of his time with the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg. Entering his previous season’s stats into Dobber Sport’s NHLe Calculator sees last season’s 82 points in 62 games equate to 79 points over a full NHL season. If the Devils get anywhere close to the production from Gusev this season, not only will he have broken out, not only will he be the biggest steal of Shero’s tenure, but he would also give the Devils another bona fide NHL star winger...which, you know, never hurts to have.
Another possibly debatable name, I could foresee Butcher breaking out, but not in the traditional sense of player suddenly starts contributing a whole lot more offense. Nay, I think if Butcher breaks out this season it will be point totals back to his rookie level (maybe a few more) while also playing more meaningful minutes. Butcher has seen himself played in a mostly sheltered role as an offensive specialist for his career up until this point in New Jersey. With Andy Greene aging, and not many other options on the left, Butcher could see himself thrown into harder minutes by default.
Will’s advanced stats show him to be capable of pushing play forward even if he were to stack up against more difficult competition. The hope here would be that in his third full season now, he will put all of the skills he has together to be the #1 lefty for Jersey’s Team. At the absolute worst, he becomes a left handed Damon Severson (talented top four player prone to obscene gaffes at times), which isn’t the worst thing in the world.
If I’m picking one defender from the list of players who could break out at the NHL level this season, I’m going with the most obvious choice here in Ty Smith. One of the final cuts from last year’s training camp, Smith’s 2018-19 WHL season shows that he really has nothing left to prove in juniors. He is unable to play for Binghamton this season however, so it will be NHL or back to juniors, with the latter being pretty pointless.
I feel positively about Butcher and he could be the player to seize the top LD spot; I’m going to go slightly crazy here though and predict Smith not only starting on the top pairing, but thriving in the role. Will he play the most minutes every night? At even strength he could, but he more than likely won’t be killing penalties, so if the Devils take a lot of those he won’t. I truly believe Smith has the most potential out of all the defensive prospects the Devils have had in a long time; him panning out into a top pairing defender would go a long way towards making the team consistently successful.
Much like Smith, Bratt is my pick for forward to break out this season, though some may say for what you expect of a former sixth round pick, he already has. I think with a better supporting cast (and no freak preseason injury) Bratt is poised to have his most successful NHL season yet. While his rookie year was a roller coaster, his sophomore season saw more consistency when he was healthy, and Jesper recorded only two fewer points than his first season while appearing in 23(!) fewer games.
This will be the season where Bratt picks up from where he left off last season, all while having a highly-talented center whose last name starts with H next to him. Combine this with either Hall or Gusev riding on the other side, and things are looking good for Bratt. He has shown himself to be a very creative player in his thus far and with consistent talent around him, this should be Jesper’s biggest season to date.
Now that you’ve seen my five choices, who do you believe will have a breakout season for the Devils? Do you agree with some of the name on my list? Why do you believe your choices will breakout this season? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!