Q: With how much skill has been added to the forward group, there doesn't seem to be a lot of extra space for younger skilled guys, mainly Jesper Boqvist. Do you think a year in the AHL will serve him well or does he go back to Sweden if he doesn't make the team?
A: Jesper Boqvist is an interesting case because there are only two options for him this coming year. He'll either be on the Devils NHL roster or he'll have to go back to Sweden for the season. He's not eligible to play in the AHL because he currently has a signed contract in the Swedish Hockey League with Brynas. The only two options for Boqvist are to be on the NHL roster or to play Sweden, where he would not be eligible for a call-up to the Devils roster, he'd have to spend the entire season there.
The thought with Devils management is that there is room for Boqvist, but he'll have to earn it just like everyone else.
"You're absolutely right," assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald said. "There isn't a ton of room up-front and a lot of players vying for those final spots. Boqvist is certainly on the radar as a player who can push for one."
The good thing is that the two options are both beneficial in their own way. Both leagues, the NHL and SHL, will give the 20-year-old the chance to "play against men" and improve his game from that perspective.
During development camp, Fitzgerald had this to say about Boqvist's development:
"We are very excited about Jesper. We signed him for a reason: because he's a really good player. He's going to get every opportunity, every chance to make this team out of camp.
"There are areas of his game that will be at the top of this organization," he continued. "His skating, number one. He's got really good vision; he thinks offense he can create offense off the rush. The areas of improvement? We need him to get into the inside area's a little more at the National Hockey League level to score goals, and he can score some dirty ones too. He will get that opportunity, I think our fans are going to really enjoy watching him float around the ice because this guy floats. He can skate, it's effortless for him."
Q: Who do you think will benefit most from P.K.'s arrival?
A: An easy answer would be Subban himself. A fresh start can often help a player find their groove again. It's the old cliché of a 'change in scenery'. As a by-product of Subban returning to form after a season of dealing with injuries while in Nashville, the entire Devils team will benefit.
It's kind of like the trickledown effect, if Subban can find his personal game again, everyone will benefit.
I suppose that sounds like I'm sitting on the fence.
So, here are two specific areas where Subban's presence can surely be felt:
If you've watched Subban in the past, the defenseman has a knack for quarterbacking a power play. With his booming shot, he'll become another option from assistant coach Rick Kowalsky, who runs the man-advantage. The Devils power play was ranked 21st at the end of the 2018-19 NHL season with a 17.7 percent success rate, so there is certainly room for improvement and Subban will help manage that area of the Devils game.
Another beneficiary of his presence may very well be team captain, Andy Greene.
During the 2018-19 season, Greene was asked to play a lot of additional big minutes on the top pairing because of the injuries to the Devils lineup. Not only did Greene handle big 5-on-5 minutes but he was also counted on to be one of the primary penalty killers.
Greene played some very tough minutes over the course of the season.
Subban will likely find a spot on the Devils top pairing, where I imagine he could be paired with Sami Vatanen, against opponent's top lines. That frees up Greene to play on a second or third pairing with easier minutes and keeping him fresher for the penalty-kill, which already finished fourth in the NHL in efficiency at 84.3 percent.
Those fresh legs can go a long way. Greene was one of the stars of the penalty-kill, having played the most penalty-kill minutes in the league last season with 335.55 minutes, over 70 minutes more than Esa Lindell of the Dallas Stars.
Q: Jersey Joe asks: How is Nikita Gusev learning English?
A: Great question! As someone who interviews players, this is always something I think about - and luckily, so does the rest of the team!
In the past, the Devils organization has provided individual teaching for players and Nikita Gusev won't be an exception. Egor Yakovlev and Yegor Sharangovich participated in courses last year, and the individual teaching has been offered to other players in years past. As we draw closer to training camp and Gusev settles in New Jersey with his family, he will be helped in all possible ways.
On ice during training camp he will be well surrounded as well. There are several other Russian-speaking players at camp, as well as Binghamton assistant coach Sergei Brylin who often helps with translating when needed.
Q: Neil asks: What is the biggest thing that [Ray] Shero, [John] Hynes, and the organization are looking for in Cory Schneider and Blackwood going into the 2019/20 season?
A: Balance and consistency. Those are the first words that come to mind.
I think the expectation is that given no new additions to the goaltending depth, Schneider and Blackwood enter camp as the tandem that will start the new season. What I imagine Shero, Hynes and management are looking for is for both goaltenders to continue to build off the way the latter half of last season unfolded. It is unrealistic to suggest that the two goaltenders will alternate every other start, as they did to close out last year, but I imagine what is being looked for is a consistency from both players where the team can ride a hot hand and turn to the other when needed without missing a beat.
I suppose that's what every team is looking for from their goaltending tandem!
But because of how things have unfolded over the last few years, there's added focus and curiosity here. For Schneider, he'll be starting camp off a summer with a regular training regimen, rather than rehabbing from injury/surgery. That, no doubt, is a big plus for him to immediately jump into action once the team hits the ice for training camp. Don't underestimate the benefits of a full, healthy off-season. I read a great stat from NHL.com's Mike Morreale where he shared that Schneider is a full season removed from his hip surgery, which is a similar surgery that Nashville's Pekka Rinne had in 2013. That full year removed saw Rinne's numbers soar with a 2.18 GAA, .923 save percentage and four shutouts. If that's any indication of how long the recovery process can be, things are looking good for New Jersey.
And if Blackwood can continue to build off of his rookie season, the internal competition between the two goaltenders will serve this franchise well.
Q: Bill asks: There looks to be 1-2 open forward roster spots after the vets, Gusev, and Hughes. Of the young guns, who do you see filling that spot or 2 come opening night? Seney, Bastian, Rooney, Boqvist, McLeod, etc...
A: Internal competition is never a bad thing! In fact, it's something that every team wants to have. The more people pushing for a spot, the less complacent players will get. It is true, when you look up and down the roster it doesn't leave a ton of room, especially for some of the younger players that were on the Devils roster last season.
I think a lot depends on the impression Jesper Boqvist makes and whether he'll stay in the NHL or go back to Sweden. I know the team is very excited to see what he can do at this level - as I described in an earlier answer. If Boqvist doesn't look out of place, I think he'll take one of those open spots.
My next instinct would be to say that Kevin Rooney is a player that I can see fitting a bottom six role on the opening night roster. The 26-year-old played in 41 games last season and already has four seasons under his belt in the AHL while players like Brett Seney, Nate Bastian and Joey Anderson don't have the same amount of AHL seasoning that can prove to be a major asset. Rooney also requires waivers, while those younger players do not.
Here's the thing though - we know NHL seasons are long, injuries happen, and things can turn on a dime. I would expect, of those players you listed above, they'll all be high on a call-up list, should they not be on the opening night roster.
Q: Shane on Instagram asks: Can you see Jack Hughes getting any time on the first line this season? I could see maybe for a few games he plays on the wing beside Hall and Hischier.
A: If we know one thing about an NHL season it's that lines and pairings on opening night aren't the lines that you'll see all through the season. Chemistry changes, injuries happen, and different holes require filling.
I suspect that Hughes will be well insulated as he begins to adapt the NHL game, but if his raw talent is any indication, I don't see why Hughes wouldn't be an option at one point or another to get some top-line minutes. Both Hischier and Hughes are natural centers, so there might have to be some toying around.
Also, I don't know if you want to put all your fire-power on one line!
Q: Zach asks: With the forward additions, what do you believe are the expectations for Pavel Zacha this year? He seemed to start to come into his own offensively towards the end of last season, would love to see it continue!
A: I always like to remind people (and even sometimes I forget!) that despite 201 games in the NHL, Pavel Zacha is still only 22-years-old. Entering his fourth NHL season, Zacha might be up against the most internal competition since he's been in the league. But you're right, he really did seem to start to come into his own towards the end of the last season. In his final 11 games of the year, he posted nine points with three goals and six assists, as well as a 17.9 shooting percentage. He ended the year matching his career-high in points with 25, while posting a career-best 13 goals.
How Zacha performs in training camp and preseason will be a big determining factor on where he may end up in the lineup. I expect Zacha to come into training camp with something to prove, that the way he ended his 2018-19 season was just the beginning of cracking the nut. His defensive game has come along nicely and thrived in a penalty-killing role. I expect him to take a bigger step in that role as well.
Zacha can play and manage the third or fourth center role, which is where you might plug him in on the depth chart depending on if Hughes is able to jump right into that second-line role. Having a Hischier, Hughes, Zajac and Zacha punch down the middle isn't too shabby.