Tomorrow night, the New Jersey Devils will step on the ice for the first time in over 10 months; it’s been a long wait, but at last Devils Hockey will be back! The team has changed quite a bit since we last saw them, both in terms of on ice and off ice personnel, so it will be a different product when the Boston Bruins roll into town tomorrow. So how will the team do? Who’s going to play a big role for the team? Today, myself and seven other AAtJ writers take a look at how we believe the team will perform in the 2021 season.
AAtJ Staff Predictions
Season Prediction: I think the Devils will finish with about 60 points, putting them 6th or 7th in the Division. I don’t think they’ll be particularly far out, and whether they can compete for a playoff spot depends on if the Flyers and Rangers perform to expectation or not.
Bold Prediction: I think that Ty Smith will earn Calder votes. It would take a 30-40+ point season for him to win it (and for Lafreniere to not perform to expectation), but I think he’ll be in the mix - especially if Ruff smartly gives him power play time. As of now I think he’ll finish in the 3-6 range in votes. I don’t think he needs AHL seasoning, and given his goals count in the WHL last year probably could’ve been our third pairing defensemen then.
X-Factor: Jack Hughes is the X-factor. If Nico Hischier is out, you don’t want Zacha or Zajac taking top line duties (and I believe they can make an impact too - just not as our top center). But when Nico is back, a real 1-2 punch that we didn’t get to see last year would do wonders for the team. I’m expecting a big jump for him this year, and his performance is of greater importance than our goaltending issue.
Season Prediction: Regardless of its format, I think the goal of the 2020-21 season for the New Jersey Devils is to show some kind of improvement from last season’s faceplant of a season. With Tom Fitzgerald now acting as the general manager, Lindy Ruff behind the bench at coach, and the team still being so young, I think that is a fair goal for this coming season. I do not think there will be a lot of expectations for the playoffs. Especially not in a division filled with tough opponents and only four playoff spots available. The news of Corey Crawford retiring makes the Devils’ already small chance of being in the playoff picture even smaller and even those hopes were reliant on the 36-year old Crawford and Mackenzie Blackwood playing wonderfully in net throughout the next five months. I do not think the Devils will make the playoffs. However, I do think the Devils can be a more competitive team provided some players improve (e.g. Jack Hughes), some continue to excel and produce (e.g. Nico Hischier, Kyle Palmieri, Nikita Gusev, Blackwood), and some younger names emerge (e.g. Yegor Sharangovich?). I think they have enough talent to finish seventh in the East Division ahead of Buffalo, a franchise that will need time to stop being a dumpster fire from the top down. Ideally, I would like them to finish sixth ahead of Buffalo and Our Hated Rivals; but last season and the Coronavirus Pandemic have taught me to keep my hopes low.
Bold Prediction: Jack Hughes apparently added 14 pounds of muscle and 16 pounds total in the offseason. He will add at least 14 more goals to his even strength goal total from last season for 16 goals. Jacked Hughes will jack up his goalscoring.
X-Factor: The X-Factor for this season is Lindy Ruff and his systems. One of the reasons why the Devils were in the lottery for four out of the last five seasons was because the team was regularly bodied in 5-on-5 play. How Ruff utilizes his players and organizes their plays will go a long way to whether the team can turn that around in 2021. If it works, then the goal of a more competitive team should be reached. If not, well, it will likely be back to the drawing board for all involved as the Devils will have with a similarly bad record as they had last season.
Season Prediction: I think the Devils will finish 8th in the East Division, thus missing the playoffs once again. I do expect to see progress made with this team’s young core but think it will be another season of growing pains and adjustments to a new coaching staff. I do feel that this team will be entertaining to watch playing a more “high event” style though.
Bold Prediction: Ryan Murray proves to be a steadying defensive presence on the blue line and stands out as one of the most important players on the team, eventually earning himself a contract extension after March 12.
X-Factor: I think a lot of the Devils hopes will ride on Mackenzie Blackwood’s play. He’s already a promising young goaltender, but now with Corey Crawford’s retirement and the lack of depth behind him, he’ll have to shoulder a lot of pressure and workload. It will be interesting to see how he deals with this and what type of impact it has on his development.
Season Prediction: I’m going to say that 2021 will be a season of growth for the New Jersey Devils, but with a lot of growing pains along the way. I think the team will surprise a lot of people (particularly at the beginning of the season) but if anyone falls into a slump and/or the injury/illness bug strikes, the team just doesn’t have enough depth right now to survive it. I think the Devils miss the playoffs, but finish 6th in the division ahead of Buffalo and another team that loses too many games to said injury/illness issues.
Even if they don’t finish well, this season is about the young core players making improvements. If Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, Nico Hischier, MacKenzie Blackwood, and Ty Smith (among others) can all take a step forward, then anything else positive that happens is just icing on the cake.
Bold Prediction: Yegor Sharangovich notches 15 goals and establishes himself firmly as part of the team’s young core of the future.
X-Factor: MacKenzie Blackwood: last season, he stole a number of games behind a bad Devils team. If the team around him shows any signs of life, he could take away enough wins from opponents to make things very interesting in the standings.
Season Prediction: The Devils will hang around the playoff picture longer than we all expect this season but will ultimately fall off and finish dead last in the East Division.
Bold Prediction: Under Lindy Ruff’s new system, Jack Hughes thrives and takes the big step we’re all hoping for this season, firmly solidifying himself as the team’s No. 2 center and showing signs that he’ll push Nico Hischier for the top spot on the depth chart.
X-Factor: Depth scoring. The team’s top six looks like it could be a respectable enough group but beyond that seems a little dicey. I think we’ll see one or two pleasant surprises (Sharangovich for one) give the team a boost and fans some hope for the future but ultimately the lack of scoring down the lineup does us in.
Season Prediction: Despite the unique season and unique circumstances, I predict that the Devils finish dead last in the East Division, in a similar position to last season. Furthermore, I think the Devils will end up in the bottom 5 in the NHL, with a good shot at the #1 overall selection. They might not be a bottom 5 team in terms of talent, but given the division, that is how it should shake out. The East is just brutally tough, plain and simple. Perhaps Buffalo can surprise people with their offseason upgrades, but there is almost no chance that the Devils can surprise, even more so now after the retirement of Corey Crawford. The offense is shallow, the defense is young, and also shallow, and without Crawford, the goaltending is, wait for it, shallow. That is not good.
Bold Prediction: Nikita Gusev will approach a point per game and lead NJ in scoring. Last season, he produced 44 points in 66 games played. In his first season in the NHL, as he was getting adjusted to this league, that was still good for second best on the team, only one point behind Kyle Palmieri. This season, now that he is adjusted to the league, I think his point production will improve significantly, and he should get north of 50 points with 50+ games played. That will be tops on the team.
X-Factor: The growth and development of Mackenzie Blackwood. With Crawford now gone, the backup situation is far from ideal. If the answer for the season is a combo of Gilles Senn and Scott Wedgewood, then it really is all on Blackwood. If he can maintain his 5v5 success and improve his play on the PK, while also reaching 45 starts, he will give the team a chance to win plenty of games. If he struggles and regresses, the Devils may have difficulty winning more than 10 games.
Season Prediction: Everything would have to go very right for the Devils and very wrong for a lot of other teams for the Devils to make the playoffs so they’re likely going to miss them in this shortened season. They would be hard pressed to find themselves above 7th in the division but 6th is possible depending on how the Rangers look. I think the Devils finish in 7th ahead of Buffalo.
Bold Prediction: This isn’t too, too bold but with Nasreddine running the PK again, it will be a top 5 unit in the league throughout the season. The Devils will give up a fair amount of goals in even strength play but will be aggressive penalty killers and will finish top 5 in both PK percentage and SH goals.
X-Factor: Will Johnsson have a Palmieri-type development in a new setting? We hope so and with Nico at center upon his return, Johnsson should score a lot of goals and keep the Devils in games that they would’ve lost handily last season.
Season Prediction: I think the Devil’s are just too thin to realistically compete in a tough division, especially with the Crawford retirement, which is a killer. I don’t think they are going to be bad enough to be at the bottom of the league, but they seem destined for a 7th or 8th place finish in the East Division.
Bold Prediction: Ty Smith shows out as a legitimately impactful middle-pairing defenseman in his rookie season. He has beaten up on his junior counterparts enough and the NHL has seen enough young defensemen jump in and make an impact of late that this doesn’t feel too farfetched to me.
X-Factor: Whatever success this team does have feels like it depends on their twin first overall pick centers. If Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes each take a significant step forward, this can be a fun team to watch, even if the playoffs are a longshot.
I would like to thank Chris, John, Brian, Nate, Alex, Dan and Mike for providing their insight and predictions for this upcoming season, but now we turn to you, the readers. What are your predictions for the 2021 New Jersey Devils season? What bold claim(s) would you like to make? Who or what do you think is the X-Factor for this year’s team? Leave any and all comments below, thanks as always for reading and Lets Go Devils!