Now that we have completed the AATJ Top 25 Under 25, and we have seen what the future of the New Jersey Devils has to offer, along with some of the present, it got me thinking a little bit. Free agency is long gone, and we know the makeup of the organization and its roster. Given all of that, what would the Devils have to do this upcoming season for it to be considered a success?
First off, before I go into that, I feel like someone on this site might have written something similar to this within the last few months, but after a quick search I did not see anything jump out at me. If there was a similar article to this, I apologize. Second, this actually takes into account that there will be an NHL season with a decent amount of games by which to judge success. That is not certain at this point, and who knows what will end up happening. If they play a 48 game season like they did after the lockout in 2013, that would be a big enough sample size to judge these things, but if it’s less than that? Hard to say, as the smaller the sample size, the more room for error one way or the other. They could play a 24 game season, somehow make the playoffs with a hot streak from Mackenzie Blackwood, then go back to being terrible the following season.
To start off, the benchmark has to be based on where the team ended last year. For there to be any success, the team needs to have a better point percentage by the end of the season, however long. Last season, in 69 games, the Devils had a point percentage of .493, worst in the Metropolitan Division. That came with a -41 goal differential, again worst in the Metro and third worst in the Eastern Conference. The next worst team in that regard in the Metro, Columbus, had a differential of only -7, so the Devils were nowhere near any of their competition within division. In fact, the difference between the best team in the Metro in goal differential, Philly at +36, and Columbus in 7th place was only 43, meanwhile the difference between 7th place and 8th place was 34. New Jersey was not even close to the competition.
If we want to look at some other statistics too, the Devils were last in the Metro and second worst in the entire NHL in possession, rocking a 46.08 CF%. Their xGF% was no better, again worst in the division and 4th worst in the League at 46.85%. They were slightly better at high danger, producing a HDCF of 48.26%, good for 7th in the Metro and 24th in the NHL. Again, only slightly better.
So when you look at this information, if you want to base success on simply improving over last year’s results, the answer is that it should be really easy to find success. Last year’s team set a really low bar in these categories. Even a mediocre team should easily be able to eclipse a -41 goal differential or a 47% xGF. But honestly, I don’t really think that anyone would believe that say a -35 goal differential and a .501 point percentage would be considered a successful year. Yeah it would be better than last year, but it would still be a poor Devils team that would be out on the ice night in and night out, and they would probably still end up in 7th or 8th in the Metro.
We know, for the most part, who is on this team now. We just went through the organization’s up and coming players. And honestly, I felt that this year’s top 25 under 25 was one of the deeper ones, at least in terms of the top talent. But why does that matter for this season, and finding what would be success this year? Well, in our list, among our top 10, we realistically have 7 or 8 players who will be in the NHL this season. Alexander Holtz will remain in Sweden, tearing up the SHL, and Dawson Mercer is still at least a year away from playing pro hockey. Among the others, most are definite NHLers, and there is a chance Nolan Foote gets NHL experience this year too. That is a bunch of young players who will be playing for New Jersey, gaining experience and getting better.
This matters, in my opinion, because it is among the youth where we expect to see the most growth. Guys like Jack Hughes, Jesper Boqvist, Mackenzie Blackwood, and the others could and hopefully should continue to get better. That is improvement from a good half dozen players on this team. Add that up over the course of a longer season, and it should lead to improvement for the Devils overall. A young team can be raw and make a lot of mistakes, but in the long run, will continue to get better, assuming the talent is there. And I think the talent is definitely there, between multiple first round picks and 2 #1 overall, a 2nd round goaltender, and other roleplayers.
To that end, if they continue to get better and gel together and adapt to the NHL, it will mean a better Devils team overall. Then, add in the addition of Andreas Johnsson, and also that #11 on the list, Janne Kuokkanen, could also get NHL experience this year, not to mention bringing in Dmitry Kulikov on defense, and you should have an improved team. Of course, the key word there is should, but the odds of improvement are strong, just given how young the roster is overall.
So, back to the initial question, what would be considered success from this team this year? Obviously, the most important area of success will be seeing growth from those important young players, and it is possible that they can grow and develop, but the team itself remains poor. However, I would like to think that their development this season would also translate into success for the team as a whole. I think at a minimum, we need to see a large growth in the goal differential. -41 across 69 games is atrocious. If the team can cut that in half, I would take that for sure. That should come with a bump in point percentage, and hopefully some better underlying numbers, especially xGF. You would think it might also come with better possession, but that is more of a wild card. The Devils have been a bad possession team since Peter DeBoer, and it will depend a lot on how Lindy Ruff puts this team together. I think in the end, the goal should be to become competitive once again in the division. They most likely will not make the playoffs, and that is understandable for now, but if they are competing for a middle position within the division, that would be a huge improvement, and I would consider that a success this year.
However, what do you have to see out of the Devils this season to consider it a successful one? Again, this is assuming we see a fairly decent sized regular season. What specifically are you looking for in terms of team production? Please let us know in the comments below, and thank you for reading.