NHL.com is providing in-depth analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, three questions facing the New Jersey Devils.
The arrivals of center Nico Hischier, the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, veteran forwards Brian Boyle and Marcus Johansson, and college free agent defenseman Will Butcher this offseason have given the New Jersey Devils reason for optimism.
"We're adding players, trying to build the organization the right way, and that takes time," coach John Hynes said. "We weren't happy how competitive our team was last year, so I think the step that needs to be taken this year is that the team has to be an extremely competitive team every night to give our fans an opportunity to be proud of what's on the ice."
[DEVILS 31 in 31: Season preview | Top prospects | Fantasy breakdown | Behind the numbers]
1. How will they replace Travis Zajac?
The top-line center could miss the first four months of the season after having surgery on Aug. 17 to repair a torn left pectoral muscle. Zajac, 32, has missed 20 games in the past five seasons. He averaged 19:43 of ice time last season, including 2:19 shorthanded, each the most among Devils forwards, and his 2:34 on the power play was third behind Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri.
Zajac also led the Devils by winning 54.7 percent of his faceoffs, and he has won at least 50 percent in each of his past 10 seasons. New Jersey likely will have Adam Henrique center the top line with Hall and Palmieri, with center Nico Hischier, the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, centering the second line. Center Brian Boyle, who signed a two-year contract on July 1, could see an increased role taking faceoffs and on the penalty kill in Zajac's absence.
Video: 31 in 31: New Jersey Devils 2017-18 season preview
2. What impact will Nico Hischier have?
Hischier will have every opportunity to produce. He will play center to begin the season and most likely be given the chance to play with forwards Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri, Adam Henrique and Johansson. Hynes knows Hischier has plenty of potential, but the rookie will need to prove he can withstand the rigors of the NHL, including the travel and schedule.
"Let's help him feel comfortable to play his best, and his play and maturity level will dictate what responsibilities and roles he deserves and where he could have success," Hynes said.
3. Will Cory Schneider rebound from his worst NHL season?
Schneider, 31, changed his workout location and regimen this offseason to focus on shoring up his game.
After finishing with an NHL career-high 2.82 goals-against average and career-low .908 save percentage in 60 games, the Devils hired goalie coach Roland Melanson, who worked with Schneider as goalie coach with the Vancouver Canucks from 2010-13.
"If they're making this move because they want me to get better as I get older, then I think that's a positive," Schneider said. "I don't take it as an indictment or a message; I take it more as, 'We want you to be the best you can be. We don't want you to go backwards or plateau,' and maybe this move signifies that and says, 'We're here to help you get better.'"
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