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The Devils Have the Makings of an Excellent Forward Group

The Devils may be a flawed team, but one thing that has gone well for them is the development of their young forwards. Not to mention standout seasons from multiple prospects. I explore that more in today’s post.

NHL: DEC 31 Oilers at Devils Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2021-22 season has been a failure in terms of on-ice results. That is undeniably true, even by the low, low bar of ‘play meaningful games down the stretch.’ That said, they have at least made these games entertaining and worth watching for a number of reasons. First, I’ve never felt that this team has given up on the season, even though they are now only playing for pride and future contracts. Second, as we have seen several times this season, this team is capable of holding their own against the best teams in the league on any given night. Sure, they may also get blown out on a regular basis, but they are also capable of running the likes of Florida, Colorado, and Pittsburgh out of the building. Third, and most importantly, most of the key players for this team’s future are having excellent seasons. Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, and Nico Hischier are all having their best professional season to date. Players like Sharangovich, Mercer, Siegenthaler, and Severson are having very successful seasons as well. Other than the goalies, Ty Smith, and Dougie Hamilton, it is hard to find an important roster player that has had a bad season. That seems wrong to me. How can the 5th worst team in the league (by both standings points and points percentage ) have a bunch of their best players having career seasons, yet still suck? Is it really just down to goaltending? In answer, I would say, mostly? This is a very important question, and one that Fitzgerald has to get right or New Jersey will end up being the Oilers East. But it’s not the topic I’m discussing today, so I’ll get back on track. Finally, they’re just plain fun to watch. Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt in particular have been a pure delight. Every time they’re on the ice I am on the edge of my seat expecting to see something spectacular, and they often deliver. From a pure entertainment value standpoint, this alone makes the Devils worth watching, even months after they have been realistically eliminated from playoff contention.

What really gives me hope for the future of this team is how balanced the scoring has been. Sure, Hughes and Bratt have hogged most of the spotlight, and deservedly so, as they continue to pile up points on a nightly basis, but while they have been the drivers of the Devils offense, this is not a two-man team. The Devils could finish the season with as many as five 20 goal scorers. Among them, rookie Dawson Mercer and 2nd year pro Yegor Sharangovich. That’s five forwards, all age 23 or younger, who are capable of lighting the lamp for this team. And the team’s best goalscoring prospect isn’t even on the roster yet! That’s some serious scoring punch. The Devils forward core is shaping up to be something special, particularly if Holtz pans out. If Fitzgerald is able to complete and win a Pavel Zacha trade this offseason for an upgrade at the LW position, this group has the potential to be one of the best in the league. That may sound overly optimistic, (or even delusional depending on your perspective) but these are all players at the start of, or still a couple years away from their prime offensives seasons. Then there is this.

That’s good right? I think that’s good. The star power is here. The scoring depth is arriving, and there’s more on the way.

I brought up Holtz’s name earlier. He didn’t do much with his earlier call-up and the plan appears to be to keep him with Utica for the time being. Many of us fans know that Holtz is having a good year, but it’s nice to have an idea of just how good his season with the Comets has been.

You may notice from this list that, in addition to being 2nd in game score per game, Holtz is one of the youngest players on the list. Even if Holtz doesn’t end up being the 40 goal scorer we all hope he’ll turn out to be, he has a good chance of being an impact player in New Jersey as soon as next season.

Byron Bader’s model gives him a 54% chance of being a star in the NHL and a 99% chance of being an NHLer. Get hyped is right.

And speaking of one of the youngest players in their respective league, you may have heard that Jack Hughes has a younger brother and that the Devils drafted him. Luke Hughes may be a defenseman, but seeing as he is nearly a point per game player as an 18 year-old college player I think it’s safe to say he’s capable of bringing the offensive firepower.

Finally, there’s a player who hasn’t gotten nearly as much attention but is having a standout season himself, 21 year-old LW Arseni Gritsyuk, who, if you follow Brian’s prospect updates, you know has been tearing it up for his KHL team all year. There’s always less certainty with players coming from the KHL, now more-so than ever, but this type of production at this age in a professional league is impressive by any stretch of the imagination. Gritsyuk is under KHL contract for another season, but the Devils can bring him over in 2023 if they can get him signed and feel he is ready for the NHL.

In recent years it has been easy for me to check out on the Devils by this time of year. I’ve followed more March and April games via twitter than via broadcast since the 2017-18 season. That’s changed this year. It has been... fun... watching this team compete this season, despite their record. And there’s more help on the way. This is not the Devils year, but assuming the front office is able to find even average goaltending, all signs point to their time coming soon.

Your Thoughts

What do you think about the Devils forward core? Are you excited by the seasons of the likes of Hischier, Sharangovich, and Mercer? Do you think this team has enough up front to compete or do they need another big trade? Do you think Holtz is an impact player for the Devils next season? Does Gritsyuk come over after his current contract, or does he need more time? Or does Gritsyuk end up being dealt for a current NHLer? Leave your thoughts below and thank you for reading.