With a freshly cut 23-man roster, the New Jersey Devils stepped onto the practice ice in Newark on Wednesday. In preparation for the 2017-18 NHL season, Coach John Hynes had his players on the ice for a full hour, getting their legs ready for what awaits Saturday afternoon against the Colorado Avalanche.
Taylor Hall, Pavel Zacha and Kyle Palmieri, while Nico Hischier centered a line with Marcus Johansson and Drew Stafford on his wings. It is likely these are the top two lines Hynes will begin the season with, having watched chemistry develop over the past few weeks.
Much like we have seen during the preseason, the top line featured
Carrying eight defensemen on the roster means there was an extra pairing at practice. That consisted of Dalton Prout and Steven Santini, who rotated as the final pairing during drills.
On Wednesday, NewJerseyDevils.com sat down with General Manager Ray Shero to discuss the opening day roster - including the choice to carry eight defensemen - and what went in to making those roster decisions.
The three rookies who made the squad participated in practice Wednesday: Will Butcher, Jesper Bratt and first-overall pick in this summer's draft, Nico Hischier.
"I think every day everybody sees [Hischier] getting more comfortable on the ice and off the ice as well," Shero said. "As camp went on and playing with our veterans, his creativity and vision is certainly something that we didn't have in this organization. He is everything we hoped so far that he would be."
Butcher joined the Devils as a college free agent this summer. The Hobey Baker Award winner has shown he can compete at the NHL level, participating in five of the Devils' seven preseason games. Coach Hynes has used him on the power play, showcasing his hard shot and offensive instincts.
Bratt made the team after a very strong preseason showing. He recorded two goals and three assists in four preseason games.
"This is a sixth-round pick," Shero said. "He has been fantastic. Every day and every exhibition game he has made an impact. When you ask about surprises, that's been a nice surprise, but at the same time that's how an organization moves along."
Getting down to the 23-man roster was not an easy decision, Shero said.
"I think day one of training camp, the players really came to camp in great shape," he said. "They know last year was not acceptable, and I believe some of the players that we added, certainly the new players have really pushed the pace and really bought in to what we're trying to do here."
Brian Boyle, Michael McLeod and Travis Zajac are all listed as designated injured, non-roster players and didn't practice Wednesday. McLeod was present, though, watching from the sidelines.
The Devils open their season on Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. against the Colorado Avalanche. Tickets are still available and can be purchased here.