Before the season started, I did my Unpopular Opinions which were more popular than I expected. I thought since I typically do 10 things from each game that I'd do 10 Things from the First 20 Games so here you go! TL;DR - The Devils are the best team in all of hockey. So without further delay. . .
1. Goaltending Concerns - Sometimes I feel ike the Devils are tetering but you cannot deny that collectively they've been pretty solid. Vitek Vanecek has been beyond any expections that I had for him. Excluding his first game against the Red Wings, he's put up a 92.8% SV% on a 9-1-0 run through 12 appearances.
I'm still divided on Mackenzie Blackwood. I dont think he's been bad, but I dont think he's been great. Even excluding the first game against Philly, his SV% is still only 89% with a 4-1 record. He's being carried by scoring, which is not the case with Vanecek. At this point, I personally want to see the Devils' "backup" goalies, whether it be Blackwood, Schmid, Daws, or someday Bernier play a total of 30 games this year, which equates to 21 games the rest of the way, so basically once every two or three games. That would leave Vitek Vanecek with a career high 52 starts, or 41 the rest of the way. He has never started more than 42 games in a single season at any level of hockey. I'm fine with him being the 1A, but I'm not comfortable with a 60+ game workload for him.
2. Tomas Tatar - When I posted my Unpopular Takes in the presesaon the first one was "Tomas Tatar is a good player." He's been unreal this year, and a good solid 2-way veteran on the left wing. Scoring is incredibly important but a guy like Tatar brings balance to the top-6, and he's doing it with roughly the same ATOI as he did last season. Guys like Tatar and Ondrej Palat when he returns are going to be the little pieces acquired through free agency that pushes this team over the top and closer to their ultimate goals.
3. The Influence of PK Subban - I think that through his years on the team, PK's role changed significantly. I think he was acquired to be a top-4 defender, and at the time that was reasonable. By the time his years with the team wound down, I think he played a much more vital role.
PK Subban ended up being the heart and soul of this team through COVID and through one of the toughest years in team history. The fans might not have been able to see it, but I think that PK was the glue that held this team together through tough times, and I think he left a lasting impression on them which is a big reason that you see the unity that you see this season.
4. The Future of Jesper Bratt - My outlook of Jesper Bratt's future remains unchanged from where it was back in July. I think that this deal that he signed this year was a true bridge deal. I don't think its a coincidence that he signed a contract this year that kept the team down closer to the salary cap.
I think that talks are ongoing, and there is some indication of that. I think that when it comes down to it we will see one of two things happen. either Bratt will sign as soon as possible to put that distraction in the rearview mirror. Option 2 is they kick the can down the road and decide to focus on hockey, and negotiate in the off-season. either way, I think we see Jesper sign a 7 year, $8.5M contract.
5. Shutdown!! - Jonas Siegenthaler has been amazing. The numbers say it, and the NHL is realizing it. He's a perfect cover for Dougie Hamilton, however, for as good as Jonas Siegenthaler is as an individual player, I think what Ryan Graves and John Marino have done as a pairing has been absolutely amazing.
I think this is one of the major awards that is missing from the NHL. They obviously have the Norris Trophy but I think there might be a missing trophy for the best defensive pairing, like the Harvey/Johnson Award named after Doug Harvey and Tom Johnson from the Canadians or the Shore/Owen Award after Eddit Shore and George Owen. If that was the case, I think Graves and Marino would be front runners for it. They've been so solid as a shutdown pairing and exactly what the Devils have needed game after game.
6. The BMW Line - These guys have been great together, and are a great example of the sum being greater than its parts. I'm happy to see that some of the vitriol towards Michael McLeod has calmed a bit. He might not be what we expected from a draft pick as high as he was but he's definitely served a purpose.
Miles Wood has been delivering as he did two seasons ago, and although we lost him last year he's been a veteran voice in the locker room, an informal leader on the team, and he's been delivering on the ice. He's fast, and he gives 110% every night. Its such a great dynamic for this team.
Nathan Bastian has been the MVCP of this line though. He's playing in all situations, he's contributing on the PP1 even if his name doesn't always make the score sheet, and he's been a reliable penalty killer.
7. The Quiet Play of Jack Hughes - People have been wondering when Jack Hughes was going to get things cranking this year, and its amazing, he's had the quietest 21 points in 20 games that I think I've ever seen. He's got 18 points in the 14 games since the winning streak started. That's a pace of 79 points through the last 62 games of the season which puts him right at 100 points for the year. I think that's about where he is going to settle in.
His two-way play probably isn't quite where everyone wants it to be but that's not his job out there. Its also why Erik Haula has been playing with him, and that's why 2LW is the perfect spot for Ondrej Palat. I'm not saying that his defensive play has been completely without merit, he's made some fantastic takeaways but Hughes will never get a vote for the Selke Trophy. Still, he's an amazing player, and when its all said and done he will go down as one of the best players to put on a Devils uniform.
8. Black Friday Shopping - I got thinking the other day about what I would want to see Tom Fitzgerald go out and buy the Devils on Black Friday, and at this point, I'm not really sure. Twitter has been trying to sell Josh Anderson as a possible addition for the Devils, and down the road that MIGHT work. Thats a MASSIVE no from me with his contract, but Sean Monahan isn't, if I'm looking at Montreal. He's on an expiring contract with a M-NTC, and if Montreal would keep salary I think that we could offer them a few prospects and a draft pick for him.
Right now, however, I see no need for the Devils to trade for anyone. If Tom's making an Amazon Wish List, I think that another defenseman would be on my list, either handed, but I'd prefer a left handed guy. Smith has done well, but I think that 3LHD spot is the most vulnerable one on the team. I'm not interested in giving a kid a chance, I want a known commodity to round out this team.
9. The Quarter Season MVP? - So who is it? Jesper Bratt with his fantatstic point production? John Marino or Jonas Siegenthaler and their shutdown play? Jack Hughes' quiet offensive production? All are fantastic, but for me, it goes to Nico Hischier.
People use the word "Selke" when talking about Nico, and really, I think that's an extremely realistic prediction. Nico has been an unbelievable two-way player this year and is playing better than I every expected him to. Take a bow, Captain. My award goes to you.
10. Prediciton for the Next 10 Games - I thought that the Devils would be 7-2-1 through their first 10 games, and I put them at around 7-3-0 for their second. I'm happy to say while I was close on the first 10, I was off on the second. I never expected 16-4-0 through 20 games.
The Devils have a tougher run through the next 10 games. They've got the Caps, the Rangers twice, and the Dallas Stars on their schedule. While I think they come down to earth a little bit more, I think the Capitals continue to have their number, I think they split with the Rangers, and they lose to the Stars in OT. There could be another loss in there, so I'm going with a conservative 6-3-1 through the next 10 games. That would put the Devils at 22-7-1 through 30 games.
So those are some of my thoughts through the first 20 games. What do you guys think? What else would you add? If anyone is going to be in Philly on December 3rd, let me know. Its First Responder Night and I MIGHT be going to the game, and would love to meet up if anyone is there.
Thanks for reading!