The concept of the New Jersey Devils repeating anything from the 2021-22 season might seem laughable to some, given just how poorly the team performed. Granted, if everyone from 2021-22 repeated their performance, we’d be right back here again, calling for changes, be they roster or coaching. That’s not to say that we don’t want to see different seasons out of everyone; three core pieces of the Devils in Jesper Bratt, Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier all had excellent seasons in their own way. While exceeding their point totals from last season would certainly be helpful, even just a repeat of those who performed strongly would be helpful.
Other players who some may consider core pieces also posted good to satisfactory numbers. Dawson Mercer as a rookie contributed well despite slowing down as the season wore on. He still demonstrated durability and will continue to grow as he spends more time at the NHL level. The polarizing Damon Severson posted his best season numerically of his career, while also playing some tough minutes while Dougie Hamilton was out hurt. Yegor Sharangovich being in that top six with only 46 points in 76 contests isn’t spectacular, but he still posted respectable numbers that could improve next season if he finds more consistency.
Beyond these six are where the problems begin to pile up; outside of a couple of defenders in Ryan Graves and Dougie Hamilton (who hopefully will post more points and be able to stay healthy next season) the rest of the supporting cast didn’t really do enough to help the team. We can sit here and lament the goaltending all we want, but the fact is that good teams have more than six players eclipsing 40 points during the season, and the Devils need more of them.
At the same time, to get back to the main point of this article, the Devils need the players who did eclipse 40 to not take any steps back next season. I don’t think anyone has to worry about Jack Hughes’ production, as despite missing 33 games, he still finished third on the team in scoring and was the only Devils to finish above a point per game pace. Jesper Bratt would be the next one I wouldn’t worry about, as he always played with the skill and effort to score 60-70 points per season. If he continues to be played with talented line mates, he’ll be fine next season as well.
I worry that Hischier could take a tiny step back only because he tends to get the tougher assignments on the team. My hope is that if his numbers do dip a bit, it’s because there have been other brought in on the team that are scoring more points than he does. If Nico plays a full season and drops below 50, it will be disappointing. Severson also could see a slight dip depending upon his usage, but if he keeps making those excellent stretch passes and not completely forgetting to play defense, he’s not someone I worry highly about either.
My concerns for non-repeats would be Sharangovich and Mercer, but for different reasons. Mercer could fall victim to the old sophomore slump, and realistically, if the Devils don’t make moves and he slots in at 3C, he may not have the support he needs offensively to repeat the numbers from this season. He worked well with Hughes and Sharangovich last season, so perhaps the Devils try that trio again in 2022-23. Speaking of Yegor, my concern with him is that he may have already reached his full potential as a forward; he’s entered/entering his prime years as a forward and perhaps he maxes out as a 45-50 point player that has reached the end of his development. Hopefully, I’m wrong and he adds another 10 or so points next season.
The only way I don’t worry about this group scoring less overall, is if the Devils somehow managed to acquire a bunch of players who outscore all six of them. The likelihood of that, however, is practically zero; with that established, the Devils need their core to keep growing while also getting better play in every zone of the ice. John discussed roughly a month ago how league average goaltending wouldn’t have been enough to make the Devils a playoff team; the core needs to add more points, and the organization needs to bring about a better supporting cast to boost point totals, both individual and in the standings.
If that can happen? hey, then maybe we’re analyzing play in a second round series this time next year, rather than analyzing what needs to be done to get there. For the team and all of the fans, let’s hope that becomes the case.
Do you think the Devils core will be able to repeat what they did this season? Do you think there needs to be a large improvement from this group or just a small step forward? Is the addition of depth and/or goaltending more important? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!