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New faces to supply offensive punch, depth

by Mike G. Morreale / New Jersey Devils

The New Jersey Devils believe they have a deeper, more talented team than they did at the end of last season.

Looking to upgrade an offense that was last in non-shootout goals (182) scored, the Devils acquired left wing Taylor Hall from the Edmonton Oilers in a trade for defenseman Adam Larsson on June 29.

New Jersey then signed defensemen Ben Lovejoy and Brandon Gormley, and forwards Vernon Fiddler and Luke Gazdic, traded for and signed forward Beau Bennett, and re-signed forwards Kyle Palmieri, Jacob Josefson, Devante Smith-Pelly, Reid Boucher and Sergey Kalinin, and defenseman Jon Merrill.

Add to that the prospects waiting for an opportunity, including center Pavel Zacha and defenseman Steven Santini, and there's reason to believe the Devils could challenge for a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"I think we're a lot better in terms of trying to become a deeper team at forward," general manager Ray Shero said. "We want to become a four-line team. Certainly the trade for Taylor Hall really helps us and sets the direction for where we want to go, and Lovejoy will fit into what we're trying to do. You can't replace Adam Larsson, but I think we're a better team now than when we ended last season."

When Shero hired coach John Hynes on June 2, 2015, he stressed the importance of being fast, attacking and supportive. It meant not only practicing fast, but thinking and defending fast. The Devils selected Zacha, a powerful center with skill and speed, with the No. 6 pick of the 2015 NHL Draft. The same day, New Jersey acquired Palmieri in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks.

Palmieri played all 82 games last season with NHL career highs in goals (30), assists (27) and points (57); his previous highs were 14 goals, 17 assists and 31 points. He signed a five-year, $23.25 million contract on July 7.

In the first round of the 2016 draft, the Devils targeted one of the fastest and most creative forwards on the board, choosing Michael McLeod of Mississauga of the Ontario Hockey League with the No. 12 pick. Less than a week later, the Devils traded for Hall.

"Taylor will help drive the way that we want to play; we want to be a fast attacking team," Hynes said. "When you look at his track record, he's a dominating player 5-on-5, and that's important. It's an area we feel our team had to be better."

The Devils finished 29th in the League last season in shot attempts playing 5-on-5, and were 30th with 2,094 unblocked shot attempts.

"Scoring is not easy 5-on-5, and we're going to make every effort as a coaching management group to find a way to produce more offense," Hynes said.

There are many familiar faces in the Devils lineup ready to resume their roles. Goaltender Cory Schneider was New Jersey's most valuable player last season; he went 27-25-6 with a 2.15 goals-against average and .924 save percentage in 58 games, and played in his first NHL All-Star Game. He missed 12 games with a right knee injury before returning April 2.

Center Adam Henrique and Palmieri each scored 30 goals for the first time in his NHL career, the first time in four seasons the Devils had two 30-goal scorers (in 2011-12, Ilya Kovalchuk scored 37, Zach Parise 31 and David Clarkson 30).

Left wing Michael Cammalleri might have scord 30 goals last season if not for an inflamed tendon in his right hand; he had 14 in 42 games. The Devils return three defensemen 25 or younger: Merrill (24), Damon Severson (22) and John Moore (25). There's a good chance Santini, 21, will join them. Captain Andy Greene, 33, is the glue holding the unit together. He'll return for his 11th NHL season.

"Every year is different," Hynes said, "and last season we were happy with certain things, but the focal point coming in as a coaching staff is to re-establish our identity in how we work, what our mindsets are going to be, and what our details and habits will be.

"We feel like we've developed a culture between the coaches and management and the players of who we are and how we want to work."

The additions of Lovejoy, 32, and Fiddler, 36, should pay dividends.

"[Lovejoy] brings experience and consistency along the blue line," Hynes said. "[Fiddler] brings value to your team in different ways, such as 5-on-5, special teams, faceoffs, leadership, and he can play multiple positions."

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