New Jersey Devils 2015-16 preview
COACH: John Hynes
2014-15 RECORD: 32-36-14, 78 points (seventh in Metro, missed playoffs)
VITAL SIGNS: 2.15 goals-for per game (28th); 2.55 goals-against per game (17th); 19.3 power play pct. (8th); 80.6 penalty kill pct (21st); PDO: 100.5 (10th); Corsi For pct.: 45.8 (28th); Fenwick For pct.: 45.4 (28th); face-off pct.: 47.3 (28th)
NOTABLE ARRIVALS: RW Kyle Palmieri, D John Moore, D David Schlemko, RW Jiri Tlusty, coach John Hynes, RW Lee Stempiak
NOTABLE DEPARTURES: D Bryce Salvador, C Scott Gomez, RW Michael Ryder, RW-C Dainius Zubrus, LW Ryane Clowe, LW Martin Havlat, RW Steve Bernier, D Peter Harrold
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
Michael Cammalleri – Travis Zajac – Kyle Palmieri
Patrik Elias (injured) – Adam Henrique – Jiri Tlusty
Tuomo Ruutu – Jacob Josefson – Lee Stempniak
Reid Boucher – Stephen Gionta – Jordin Tootoo
Andy Greene – Adam Larsson
Damon Severson – Eric Gelinas
David Schlemko – Jon Merrill
OUTLOOK: With longtime czar Lou Lamoriello now toiling in Toronto, former Penguins GM Ray Shero—whose résumé sports a Stanley Cup (2009) as well as a Final appearance (2008)—has his work cut out for him in Newark. Getting the Devils back to some semblance of their mini-dynasty status (four trips to the Final from 1995 to 2003; three Cups) will be a hell of a task. He starts by overhauling a roster assembled by Lamoriello, who seemed to have lost his touch (four playoff DNQ's since 2011).
The Devils’ offense was godawful last season, scoring only 2.15 goals per game (28th), topped by Mike Cammalleri’s 27 tallies. Adam Henrique and the departed Steve Bernier ranked second with 16 apiece. How much firepower new forwards Kyle Palmieri, Jiri Tlusty and Lee Stempniak provide remains to be seen, but it’s probably reasonable to assume you won’t be seeing the second coming of Gretzky’s Oilers lighting up The Rock. Center Travis Zajac, formerly a 20-goal, 60-point man, hasn't approached those numbers in five years. It will be the unenviable task of new coach John Hynes, who was hired by Shero out of Pittsburgh’s AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre Scranton where he went 231-126-27 in five seasons, to find a way to goose some goals out of this group. Shero has said he expects the Devils to become a faster, more attack-oriented team after decades of being notoriously defense-first, though Hynes’s philosophy is a balance of each aspect.
There are some bright and hopeful spots, particularly on the back line. Goaltender Cory Schneider (2.26 GAA, .925 save pct. last season) has shown that he’s capable of keeping the Devils in games they would otherwise lose by a healthy margin. Budding star Adam Larsson (24 points) came on strong at the end of last season and was rewarded with a new six-year deal. He and veteran Andy Greene (22 points) form a solid top pair, and behind them are four defenders—John Moore, Damon Severson, Jon Merrill and Eric Gelinas, all 24 or younger—who are being counted on to develop steadily. Adding more youth, such as prospect Pavel Zacha, a highly skilled forward who was New Jersey’s top pick in this year’s draft, will be key as the Devils move forward. Hynes, at 40 the NHL’s youngest coach, could be an inspired choice to guide a roster that will surely skew younger as the last of Lou’s old warhorses are replaced.
There’s little doubt that the Devils are in for a rough season in the stacked and highly competitive Metro Division, but the change that’s underway has been long overdue.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Kyle Palmieri
After five seasons with Anaheim, the 24-year-old winger was traded to his hometown Devils (he grew up in Montvale, NJ) during the off-season in exchange for two draft picks. Palmieri’s play improved each season with the Ducks. He scored a career-high 14 goals in 57 games last season and had a strong showing against Chicago in the Western Conference Finals. The Devils like his versatility, speed and offensive upside. If his progress continues he could give New Jersey a top line that can’t be taken lightly.
PREDICTION: 73 points, seventh in Metro