With the regular season starting tomorrow, our annual multi-part preview of the 2023-24 New Jersey Devils concludes today with predictions. We may not have a great track record with our predictions - see last season - but we will try our best as usual. I think you would want us to be right for this year for a change. Before I get into those, here are some guarantees:
The Devils are going to win some games they deserve to win. The Devils are going to win some games they do not deserve to win. The Devils are going to lose some games they deserve to win. The Devils are going to lose some games they do not deserve to win. There will be players who will do excellent things and get praised. There will be players who will do poor things and be criticized. Some of the People Who Matter will be bothered by both. Some of the People Who Matter will feel great about this team at some point. Injuries will happen. Bad breaks will happen. Reminders that hockey, like life, is not fair. Fortunate bounces and occurrences will happen. Greatness on the ice displayed for all to love will happen. Reminders that hockey, like life, is not fair.
The big difference is that the People Who Matter has a lot of reason to feel great about this season’s Devils team based on what happened in 2022-23. There are higher expectations - but those come with higher hopes. We at All About the Jersey will continue to document what happens, what we think should or should not happen, admit our errors, and keep it 100 with the People Who Matter. Thank you for continuing to read us, and I hope you continue to do so throughout this coming season. Without further introduction, our predictions for 2023-24:
Season Thoughts: I expect the team to grow. That doesn’t necessarily mean a better season point-wise but grow in terms of game readiness and not getting outclassed in the second round again. There might be some hiccups early on as there is some turnover in personnel but the stars should keep the team near the top while the ship rightens. Overall, the Devils proved last year that they are for real. This year they need to build off that. I expect they will.
A Bold Prediction: Vitek Vanecek and Akira Schmid lead the Devils to be one of the top-three tandems in the league by season’s end. Connor who?
X Factor: Losing Andrew Brunette. We shall see how much influence he had over last year’s success.
The 2023-24 Season Prediction: The Devils will finish second in the division, make the playoffs, and reach the Conference Finals.
Season Thoughts: The biggest thing for me this season will be how does this team handle expectations going forward. The Devils are the It-team and a chic pick to win the Stanley Cup this season. Traditional hockey media, analytics nerds, Vegas oddsmakers, and casual fans are in on the Devils. All of this might be too big an ask for a team that has had one successful season so far.
I do think it helps that the Devils experienced the high of winning a playoff series - beating their archrivals in the process - and the pain that comes with losing a playoff series last year. Veteran players like Ondrej Palat and Tyler Toffoli know what it takes to win a Cup, and now the rest of the Devils have an idea of that as well from their playoff run. If the Devils embrace the challenges that come with higher expectations, then the sky is the limit.
A Bold Prediction: Forget 100 points. Jack Hughes finds another level, becomes the first Devils player to score 120+ points in a season, establishes himself as the best American-born player in the NHL, and thanks to voter fatigue with Connor McDavid, wins his first Hart Trophy.
X Factor: Staying in the family, how is it anyone other than Luke Hughes? The Devils have a lot of minutes that need to be filled at the NHL level. There will be growing pains with the rookie, but if he can show the skills that make him one of the top prospects in the sport and is their answer to what Cale Makar, Charlie McAvoy, or Adam Fox provide to their respective teams, it takes the Devils upside to a whole other level.
The 2023-24 Season Prediction: The Devils will finish first in the Metropolitan Division and make the playoffs.
Season Thoughts: The Devils won’t break the franchise mark for points in a season this year. As much as I believe in Luke Hughes and how he will be in the running for the Calder Trophy, I just think that so much went right for this team in 2022-2023 that it is unlikely for that to happen again in 2023-2024. The team largely got very lucky on the injury front, outside of the major injury to Ondrej Palat. There’s a part of my brain that just tells me that it won’t happen like that two years in a row. Granted, this is a very deep Devils team, but any injuries to Jack Hughes or Nico Hischier and the team is surprisingly thin at center depth. I think it will take time for the defense to gel, but I expect it will happen as the season goes on. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Vitek Vanecek have a good bounce back season given his work with a therapist this offseason.
A Bold Prediction: That being said, Akira Schmid takes over as the number one goalie by the time the playoffs roll around.
X Factor: Green New Deal. I expect Travis Green to bring a renewed energy to the power play by making adjustments to how shorthanded teams are trying to attack the Devils PP, including not forcing Jack Hughes to try and carry the puck into the zone against a wall of defenders set up on the blue line.
The 2023-24 Season Prediction: The Devils will finish second in the division and make the playoffs. I also believe they make the Stanley Cup Final this year only to succumb to any number of Western powerhouses. All-in-all, a nice step forward towards the ultimate goal.
Season Thoughts: I think the last time there was this much hype around the Devils, I was in high school, and I graduated in 2005. This makes me both excited and a little nervous. First, how can you not be excited? This team has the goods to win it all, hands down. It has both talent and youth, and young talent means players who are going to improve even more. How is that not exciting? On the flip side, the hype also leads to expectations, and expectations can be intimidating to a team that hasn’t had any in a long time. Expectations can lead to disappointment, and I am a little nervous about a let down. I don’t expect to be let down, but it wouldn’t entirely floor me if it happened. The Devils have been doing that for a decade.
A Bold Prediction: The Devils will finish the season with both the highest CF% and xGF%, meaning they will be the best at possession and be expected to have the best goal differential. Last season, they were 4th and 2nd, respectively, so it doesn’t sound like a big jump. However, based on last year’s numbers, it will require a 6% jump in CF% and a 3.5% jump in xGF%. But they have the talent to do it, and I can see it happening.
X Factor: Power play performance. This team will be dynamite at 5 on 5, and that is most important. However, if they want to make the next jump to win the division and beyond, they need to improve their PP%. Last year, they ranked 13th in the NHL at 21.9%. This year they will need to have, at minimum, a top 10 power play if they want to win the Metro.
The 2023-24 Season Prediction: The Devils will win the Metropolitan Division.
Season Thoughts: As the one who wrote this about a month ago, I think expecting a repeat of the 2022-23 season is a fool’s game. That season had accomplishments and high-water marks hit both at the player and team level that that franchise has rarely seen, if ever seen before. I also wrote in that very post, “I think they will be very good. I think they will compete with Carolina to for the division lead once more.” It is possible that becomes an understatement by April 2024. The forward group could go toe-to-toe with just about any past Devils team’s forwards - including the 2000-01 squad. The defense will activate for more success. The goaltending should be decent at a minimum. Special teams could be a dual strength. I do not see 52 wins but I do see a lot of ‘W’s and great moments to come. Maybe even a division championship.
A Bold Prediction: The Devils have broke 300 goals three times in franchise history. The 1985-86 team scored 300 in 80 games (3.75 goals per game!), but they conceded 374 (4.675 per game!) so they are in the dustbin of history. The 1993-94 team scored 306 and the 1992-93 team has the franchise record at 308, both in 84-game seasons. The 2023-24 Devils will become the fourth team in franchise history to score 300 or more goals. By the way, that 2000-01 team? They had 295.
X Factor: Dawson Mercer. Is he going to play in the top-six? Is he going to create a killer third line? Where do you put a player this skilled in the lineup? Does it matter much given how Lindy Ruff changes lines between and in-games? Mercer is the definition of an X-factor because of how he can be utilized in multiple ways for effectiveness and the real question is how to get the most of out of him. We know he can produce. We know he is good off the puck. We know he has a kennel of DAWGs in him. Will Mercer be put in a position to thrive for a third straight season? Let us hope so.
The 2023-24 Season Prediction: I do not see 52 wins for the Devils but I see the division going like 2018-19 where six points separated first from fifth place. This time, it’ll be the New Jersey Devils in first in the Metropolitan Division.
Season Thoughts: After a 2021-22 season in which just about everything went wrong for the Devils, just about everything went right for them in 2022-23. Good injury luck, big time breakouts, the goaltending finally stabilizing. All of it came together to give us a wonderful ride all the way to the second round of the playoffs. This season I actually expect a little regression, but for the Devils to end up largely in the same place. This should still be a 100+ point team with very good to great puck possession numbers. Getting to 112 points (or more) again is not something I expect though.
If I had to generalize my thoughts, I anticipate the offense to be a little better, the defense to be a little worse, and the goaltending to be slightly worse. All of that probably adds up to 100-105 points and a comfortable playoff spot. Unless the team suffers through some truly catastrophic injuries this season, there is no excuse to not reach a triple digit point total in my eyes.
A Bold Prediction: John Marino will appear on multiple Norris Trophy ballots. Marino has not received any Norris votes in his young career, but I say that changes this season. With the Devils now looked at as a true contender, more attention will be paid to New Jersey. Dougie Hamilton will get most of the headlines when it comes to the defense corps, but Marino will be viewed as the defensive conscience of the Devils blueline. He will be matched up against top competition most nights, thrive with whoever he is paired with, and he will develop a reputation as one of the league’s premier shutdown defensemen. I’m certainly not saying he will win the award or even finish top ten in votes. What I am saying is that multiple (as in, at least two) voters will include Marino on their ballots at the end of the season.
X-Factor: Kevin Bahl. I am of the opinion that losing Damon Severson and Ryan Graves is going to be much more harmful to the Devils than most fans are expecting. I had my problems with both, but it will be difficult for players like Luke Hughes and Colin Miller to replace what was lost when those two left. Enter Kevin Bahl. The young, hulking defenseman looked very good in the preseason. This after a year in which I thought he looked completely overwhelmed at the beginning of the season, but showcased rapid improvement by the end of the season. He still was not perfect, but the strides he made were very promising.
I think Hamilton will take a step back but still be the true number one that can lead a blueline. I think Jonas Siegenthaler and John Marino will continue to provide a steady defensive presence. I think Hughes, Miller, and Brendan Smith will have their ups and downs while playing decently on a third pairing in some sort of rotation. Bahl is the true wildcard for me. If he takes a step back (or even a lateral step) in his development, the Devils could have some serious issues at defense that might not cost them a playoff spot, but could be the difference between a first round exit and a deep run. But if he takes another step forward, I think that will go a very long way toward replacing the contributions of Severson and Graves, giving the Devils a repeat of the strong play from their defensemen that they enjoyed a season ago.
The 2023-24 Season Prediction: The Devils will finish second in the division and make the playoffs. Pretty boring, same as last year. I think the Hurricanes are a regular season juggernaut that the Devils won’t be able to overcome, and I think the Rangers will nip at their heels all season long but eventually fall a few points short. As mentioned, I think 100-105 points is what we can expect from the Devils this season, with another first round matchup against the Rangers to look forward to.
Season Thoughts: After an explosive jump forward last season, the Devils will take a small step back during the 2023-2024 regular season as they experience some growing pains from the departures of Damon Severson and Ryan Graves—and the weight of newfound expectations. Tyler Toffoli becomes their primary goal-scorer not named Jack Hughes through the first half of the season while Timo Meier spends more time adjusting to Devils hockey, and the Devils will lose some games due to defensive mistakes from their young defensemen.
My prediction isn’t intended as doom and gloom, however. The Devils will need the first third of the season to bring everything together, then hit their stride a couple weeks before the trade deadline and power into the playoffs at full-steam. Though I expect them to finish with fewer points this season than last, the hard-won lessons they learned during the 2023 playoffs will position them to run through the first two rounds this year and make the conference finals. The Devils will also acquire a goaltender at the trade deadline.
A Bold Prediction: None of the Devils’ rookies will finish top-five in Calder voting. I think that Hughes and Nemec have the potential to bring more overall value to the Devils than rookie forwards that will score empty-calorie points for bad teams. Still, I expect a class of Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli, Logan Cooley, and others to generate more fanfare.
X-Factor: I originally was going to write special teams here. It was a fine answer that could prove true: a better power play and penalty kill would certainly help the Devils secure a higher playoff seeding and help them through the first two rounds, which actually see more penalties called (through the first four games) than the average regular season matchup.
But I chose to go with something that will have an effect on everything the Devils do this year: their young defense corps. Luke Hughes and Kevin Bahl are most likely locks to play out the regular season. Simon Nemec, we’ll see.
Either way, the Devils’ expect to replace the minutes Damon Severson and Ryan Graves handled with some combination of Hughes, Bahl, and potentially Nemec. Those three could cost the Devils games, or they could win them singlehandedly. The true answer is probably a mix of both.
The 2023-24 Season Prediction: The Devils will finish second in a weak Metropolitan Division and make the playoffs.
Season Thoughts: I think we’ll see the Devils pick up right where they left off last season, and I imagine they will end up finishing around the 110-115 point range again. If we get full seasons of new guys like Timo Meier, Tyler Toffoli and Luke Hughes and core players like Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, Nico Hischier and Dawson Mercer continue to ascend, it’s hard not to be optimistic about where things could go. Vitek Vanecek and Akira Schmid have shown themselves to be capable goaltenders for this team, and I expect they’ll also keep things rolling at a high level. Altogether, I think a fun season is in the offing.
A Bold Prediction: The Devils finish the season with the league’s top power play.
X Factor: The power play. With some new personnel, steps forward from the returning guys and a new coach, I think the man advantage is poised to make a big leap this season. We saw the power play click in the preseason, and I think it’ll keep rolling once the games are real.
The 2023-24 Season Prediction: The Devils will finish first in the division and make the playoffs.
Season Thoughts: I think the playoffs are a given, as the team’s year-to-year improvements, plus continued offseason additions, make this the most offensively threatening team the Devils have had since the early 2000s. Adding in solid defensive and two-way pieces to that means that the Devils can beat other teams in multiple ways - and they will be vastly improved in the spotlight compared to last year.
A Bold Prediction: I think the Devils will have two 100 point scorers this season: Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier.
X Factor: I think Luke Hughes is the X-Factor for the Devils. No pressure kid - but with Damon Severson being gone and unable to feast on bottom-nine competition, the Devils need another offensive creator to step up and fill that void on the back-end.
The 2023-24 Season Prediction: The Devils will finish first in the division (55-21-6) and make the Stanley Cup Final.
Thank you for reading this sixth and final part of our multi-part season preview of the 2023-24 Devils season. In case you missed the other parts, here are links to each one. Please feel free to leave your predictions in the comments. Thanks to everyone who wrote up the earlier parts in this series. Thank you again for reading.